David Wilk talks with Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks

dominique-e1343235975545-150x150Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Dominique Raccah is the founder and CEO of independent publisher Sourcebooks, based in Naperville, Illinois, which she began in 1987 after an earlier career in advertising. Reflecting Raccah’s background and interests, Sourcebooks has always been strongly oriented toward marketing and promotion, devoting countless hours and dedicating significant resources to research, intelligence and outreach, and to understanding what customers want. This significantly differentiates Sourcebooks from most other independent publishers, so many of whom are more focused on developing content as opposed to what the customer needs or wants.

But Raccah is more than a smart marketer. She is a highly capable business person, an active entrepreneur, and somewhat of a visionary in terms of technology, business structure. She has been  and continues to be willing and able to pivot on her business models and plans much more quickly and readily than most of her peers.

At this stage, after more than a quarter century of successful innovation, she has become a thought leader in the book industry and her presentations about publishing and business structure and opportunities are often models of clarity and deep perception, that are valued by colleagues and competitors alike. In November 2013 she was named FutureBook’s Most Inspiring Digital Publishing Person of 2013.

Indicative of the ways Raccah has embraced technology to drive her business forward, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune last year she said that digital technology “has been transformative because it allows you to tackle new kinds of problems and create new ways of connecting books and readers.”

In our conversation, which took place in New York City in January, 2015, we covered a wide range of topics, from the history of Sourcebooks, through the present business and publishing landscape that interests and motivates Dominique as she continues to moves her company forward in a highly challenging environment. Much of our conversation focuses on Raccah’s industry leading efforts to work directly with readers to make Sourcebooks’ publishing brands meaningful to readers, and to learn directly what consumers want in their reading experiences. After a concerted effort over the past few years, Sourcebooks is now one of the leaders in the book industry in selling books directly to readers. It was a pleasure speaking with Dominique – who gives a great interview – and I hope this is a conversation that will be both useful and valuable to anyone interested in contemporary publishing.

Sourcebooks features a long list of innovative and successful publishing programs and projects, including Poetry Speaks, The Shakesperience, an interactive iBook that combines audio, video and a glossary to aid understanding of Shakespeare’s plays, and Put Me In The Story, which customizes children’s picture books with the reader’s own name and photos to get kids excited about reading.

Raccah has a master’s degree in quantitative psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle and worked at Leo Burnett’s quantitative research department before starting Sourcebooks in her home in 1987.

Sourcebooks now has 120 employees, eight imprints and publishes more than 350 titles annually, several of which have been national best-sellers in recent years.

Some worthwhile links:

Dominique’s TedX slideshare The Book in Transformation: A Publisher Vision for the Future

Chicago Tribune interview with Dominique Raccah

Mercy Pilkington article Sourcebooks Dominique Raccah Speaks on Driving Innovation

Put Me in the Story site460_345_resize Sourcebooks image

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Kathy Meis of Bublish

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

There has been alot of talk around the publishing business this year about “book discovery” as it is clear that the decline of bricks and mortar bookstores has lessened the opportunity for readers to discover books they want to read through the kinds of browsing and personal recommending that have been the hallmarks of physical bookselling up to now.  Online bookselling and even social media have thus far been less than perfect mechanisms for either writers or readers, with lots of frustration expressed especially by publishers and writers about the whole process.  We’re not sure we know what readers think about all this, but there is doubtless much to be inferred.

The relatively steep decline in overall sales of print books, and the increase in the concentration of sales to best sellers (witness 50 Shades of Gray, among others) suggest that readers are not finding it easy or practical to take advantage of the online availability of just about every book in print.  There are too many books and not enough connection tools for most of them.

Meanwhile, there are intelligent people out there seeking to solve these twin “problems” of too many choices for readers, and ineffective online marketing tools for authors and publishers.  One new project that is the result of some deep thinking about both issues is Bublish, which seeks to create opportunities for social discovery of books by readers.  One of the founders is Kathy Meis, whom I met briefly at this year’s IDPF summit at Book Expo in New York City.

Here is what Kathy said about Bublish in an online interview she did recently with Madison Woods:

With Bublish, authors share book bubbles, and readers get to browse through them. A book bubble consists of an excerpt and an author’s insight about that excerpt. We call this the story behind the story. Both of these elements are presented in a beautifully designed book bubble that also includes the author’s photo and bio, the book’s cover and synopsis as well as links to the author’s website. It’s about as close to the bookstore discovery experience as you can get online. And because we match writers and readers by genre and keywords, we can connect the right authors and books with the right readers without ruining the serendipity of browsing. In an age of immense content abundance, you need a few filters when you’re looking for good books.

Bublish is designed to solve a number of problems for writers and readers. For authors, Bublish will let them repurpose their best writing, the content of their books, and enrich it with the story behind the story. This creates an entirely fresh piece of content for authors to share across multiple social networks. Authors have a lot of demands on their time. We think it’s important to make it as easy and effective as possible for them to facilitate discovery of their work without feeling like salespeople. With Bublish, the social conversation starts with the voice of the author, just like it does in the bookstore. And since authors can create and share book bubbles in seconds, Bublish significantly lightens the author’s promotional content load.

For readers, Bublish recreates online all the pleasure of the bookstore discovery experience. No ads, no algorithms, no distractions…just browsing. Of course, once a reader finds a book or author they love, they’ll want to share it. Word-of-mouth continues to be the most popular way for readers to find new books. That’s why book bubbles are highly shareable across multiple social networks. Finally, Bublish will create a wonderful community for writers and readers to engage around stories. Imagine getting an invitation to chat with one of your favorite authors or being able to follow the book bubbles of an author you’ve never even heard of before.

In my interview with Kathy we talked about Bublish and also about many of the perplexing issues surrounding writing and reading, as we enter a new stage in the ways that writers, publishers and readers will relate to each other, indeed a very exciting and challenging time for us all.

Kathy Meis has been a professional writer for more than twenty years. She founded Serendipite Studios to empower those who create and enhance quality content. You can follow her on Twitter @katmeis or @BublishMe.