Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Simon and Schuster is Looking at Limited Lending Library eBook Models

Michael Healy and Carolyn Reidy
Today's installment of the Publishing Point series of CEO interviews featured Simon and Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy. Reidy was appointed to her current position at the very bottom of the economic cycle; she has had a lot on her plate to say the least. Although she knew when she took the job that she'd need to steer the company through a transition to a purely digital product, she had no idea it would happen as quickly as we're seeing.

Michael Healy, who didn't appear to be unemployed yet, again played the role of master interlocutor. He started out by asking the obligatory question about S&S's reaction to yesterday's decision on the Google Books Settlement.
We of course are disappointed that the judge didn't approve it, although I would also say that it wasn't so surprising that he didn't just approve it in total. Along with the other publishers who were party to the suit, we do hope that it's just another way-station on what will be a final settlement. I think he did give some indication in his ruling on ways that we can get to a final settlement and I think that all parties involved have a hope that we'll get there and there will be further conversations about it; it'll just take us longer to get there.
Healy, the Executive Director Designate of the Book Rights Registry that would be created by the settlement, joked that "this particular party certainly hopes that we get there!" Reidy continued:
I'm sure you do. And we all do, because there are real principles involved in the whole thing that we'd like to see preserved and definitely settled for the good of all of us.
Healy then asked if Reidy shared the optimism about growth in the book industry recently expressed by Len Riggio, Chairman of Barnes&Noble. Reidy does:
I share the optimism because I think that even though  there are negative fallouts occurring, as you see with bookstores closing and things like that, the ease by which consumers can acquire books, the ease by which people can publish books, also of selling and being able to put books in front of consumers the variety of ways you can market, all of these things are just exploding. and we don't yet have the same grasp of them that we did of the old system but there are so many opportunities facing us that I'm I definitely share the optimism about it, there's no doubt about it. The biggest question is whether or not you're going to take the old market and transform it into a new way of consuming or whether it'll get bigger; of course we all hope its going to get bigger. That's the biggest question in front of us: can we in fact enlarge the market for reading by using all the new tools and opportunities in front of us.
Reidy discussed at length the many challenges facing a publishing CEO in times of technological change. 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, a publishing CEO would be wrestling with questions of production systems and bandwidth pipes and why a best-selling crossword puzzle iPad App couldn't just be moved to the iBookstore. She believes that the biggest problem facing publishers is maintaining their ability to create value compared to the many entities ready and willing to disintermediate them.

Healy's last question concerned Harper-Collins and the "eye of the hurricane" that they've found themselves in regarding their change in ebook lending policies. Reidy's answer was succinct:
Simon and Schuster does not yet sell ebooks to libraries. We have not yet found a business model that makes us happy. That's why we're not in it
Later, in the Q&A period, I pressed Ready about finding a business model for providing ebooks to libraries: "libraries are worried about whether they'll survive the transition to digital books and funding difficulties at the same time. Are you at all worried about the survival of libraries across the transition to ebooks?" I asked.
There's a part of me that worries about it, but I'm first worried about my company... and my authors, and their survival. So we have met with several people who are trying to come up with a solution to sell into libraries and there are people who are working on various and sundry different models that are not just sell one ebook and let it be loaned forever, and in fact we met with one last week. So we've actually been meeting with people and think there will come a solution that we can live with. We just haven't seen one yet.
I hope that Reidy also finds a model that will allow libraries to thrive in time to help Simon and Schuster grow the market for reading.
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1 comment:

  1. This does raise an interesting possibility: if Simon & Schuster and Macmillian decide that they can live with the approach that HarperCollins has now taken and enter the library ebook market, it could present libraries with a dilemma. One the one hand, getting two more of the big six to participate would mean more access for their patrons. On the other hand, it might also mean normalizing the interference in library's patron registration and consortial policies that HarperCollins is seeking.