tv Interview with Michael Pietsch CSPAN June 5, 2016 6:00pm-6:31pm EDT
focus on a specific kind of book it's great to bring two types of people together. publishing is a collective activity. you want to have groups that are focused around individual titles. to have one brand across all that individuality. they have different personalities in different kinds of books that they love in different ways to bring it into the world. you want to have that branding, not because consumers care so much but the people in between the publisher and the reader, all the tv interviewers and reviewers and bloggers, librarians and booksellers, they, they know those brands and publishing groups and they know the personality and it leads to both who come in with that type
of group. you want to have those types of groups because of that focus of energy. it's person to when you read a book and you love it, tell us about it. publishing is that influential. >> how long has chef been around? >> it has been in the u.s. for ten years. it's the third largest publisher in the world. it goes back to the 1820s. they had a plan to expand internationally from france because they saw the books were selling all over the world and were often published first in english or in spanish. we expanded with companies in the u.k. and the u.s. and spain and they've hired this time warner book group ten years ago. >> you are headquartered now in new york. >> yes. >> all major publishers are.
do you want to know why? >> go-ahead. >> we had to think about this because recently we moved offices. i had to think, we could be anywhere. any business could be anywhere. why are all the big publishers in new york? i read some history's about it and the reason the big biggest publishers were in new york historically was because of the erie canal. there used to be publishers in boston and philadelphia and new york is the cities were about the same size. when the erie canal was completed, the cost of getting books from the inland market to new york was so much lower that it was profitable to them and they could offer more money to authors and sometimes a bigger audience. new york became the place authors came. that's why they used to be in new york but the erie canal isn't in business anymore. i thought about that and publishers are in new york because of marketing
opportunities and media. their first job is to get their books heard. there are hundreds of thousands of books every year. to get your books noticed is the first job. you get your books noticed through relationships with media and tv. all the media companies are in new york. that is the lifeblood of the business and that is why publishers are in new york. >> , which of your business comes from international? >> business in the u.s. is about 10% internationally. i would would like it to be more american entertainment products are just getting bigger and bigger around the world. and now an e-book can be sold and bought in many, many countries around the world. international sales are growing. there certainly around 10% and i expect them to be more in the future. >> how did you get into this business? >> i got into book publishing
basically because i'm a helpless reader. i'm one of those kids who was always known as having his nose in a book. i love talking about books and i love poetry and novels and all kinds of nonfiction. i just love reading. i was part of a big family and my theory is that i found privacy in books and i could disappear into a book and have my own world. i went college thinking i would become a lawyer ended up majoring in english instead is i wanted to read and talk about books. when i thought about what i would do for a living after i finish college, i heard of this thing called publishing and i looked around and found in internship in boston i walked in the door and literally never looked back from that first minute of being inside a set of rooms where people were reading
manuscripts and thinking about what books they should acquire and their business relationship with the author, publicizing those books and packaging and designing and everything that goes into it. the pleasure of thinking about how to take a book, once you find a book and then communicate the idea, i just find it completely compelling. totally what i want to be doing all the time. publishing is full of people like that. that's the type of people who are drawn to publishing. they want to think about how they can get that out into the world. >> what was your first job? my first job was dog spotting. that just means you come in and do whatever we tell you to do. it was a small place that gave me the opportunity to do everything that i was a sales representative in the midwest for a few weeks. i was working with a designer and cutting in pasting and
reviewing invoices. the best part was, when i was brought brought into the office, i was brought into a library and in this library there was a shelf and there was a stack of manuscripts and boxes which is the way they used to come in. i got to take home as many of those boxes as i wanted and open them up and she was inside and come back and say what do you think. should we publish this book? do you think this is something people would pay money to read. that is the essential question. would people pay money to read this. i got to see everything and see the thrill of the teamwork of that and it was a great way to begin because you get to see all the pieces and that foundation has served me really well. >> how did your career advance after that question that came to new york and all the major publishers were here in new york i was an editorial assistant and
got to work on some books that my boss brought in so i got to begin doing the work of an assistant which includes always reading and reading. then i became an editor and i had the enormous pleasure of working on several hemingway books. the thrill of that was just beyond exciting. it was a great place to begin acquiring books and to be acquiring anything means you are trusted with the publishers money. you are essentially an investor. i think you should trust your money and investing in this book because we can make money on it for these reasons. that's how i switched to an investor. that was a great risk they took on the kid and a great
responsibility. >> one of the smart decisions you have made? and one of the not so smart decisions you have made? >> of the smart decisions, there have been, i'm happy to say i think there have been a lot of them. i would say working with james patterson. i became his editor at one point and i can't take all the credit because he was already published when i got to know him, but it was great working with him. i would say persuading my bosses to invest in the novel infinite gesture was a great investment. >> you had to persuade them to benchmark. >> it was a partial. it was 150 pages of a book that would be some unspecified length but would be very long.
it was challenging work. it's hard to see what the big story is going to be. his previous books, the reason i was offered the book was because his previous book had sold millions of copy. my boss look at that and rightly say, are you sure? i was able to get support of other readers and house who were very excited about what he was writing and what he was working on. i was able to get support for his new book and there have been so many rewards in the way of how that book has affected people's lives. >> is it different than being the editor that marks up the transcripts and the manuscripts? >> the difference in the tween outline editor is usually not large. almost all acquiring editors are
also editing the books they acquire. some acquire the books that they do and wreak turn it over, but i don't know any editors who just acquire someone else to edit. that craft is really an incredibly intimate to the organization because what the writer is doing is trusting your advice. trusting to listen to your advice. they don't have to take it. the editor is someone who the authors trust to make suggestions. sometimes the author takes them and sometimes that is a very small change and sometimes it's really thinking about the trajectory of a book and things
that aren't making sense the way a nonfiction book opens of the way the stories laid out. the range is enormous. but that, what the publisher does with the writer is the glue of the relationship. >> how has that served you as ceo? >> having been an editor, i believe it served me very well as ceo because i worked directly with riders as anyone does on their words. the editor is not. it's a business manager. you work overseas and then you work with your marketers and packagers and designers on the message and the timing and what the book is like.
all that is the foundation for becoming the ceo because your seeing that the unit of commerce is what becomes the book. i've done that and working intimately with the authors and their agents and you get an understanding of the financial aspect of the relationship in their lives and how it appeals to them. so how the ceo really understands how authors feel about the relationship and how important the author is to our enterprise is a great strength. also i continue to edit a couple books a year. i love that kind of work and i wouldn't give up that pleasure. >> so if you're still doing that , who are some of the authors you still work with? >> i've only been doing this, i'm been ceo for three years. in that time, i've been editing two or three books a year. just last year i worked with stacy ship on a book called the
which is about the salem witch trial. she is a superb writer. i worked on a biography with peter on his two-volume biography of elvis presley. he is superb writer. to me this is just pleasurable. i also worked with james patterson on his novel that came out in november. i love doing that on the page level as well as the business level. >> james patterson has become quite an industry in many ways and quite a force in the public publishing world. have you been a part of that? >> i've been working with james patterson for going on 20 years. i started working with him as his editor when he was still publishing one book a year. i became his editor at the time
and at that point the science of publishing was one book a year, packaging, bessler sellers and he came up with this idea and i have to say that the executives at the time who oversee the company just said that's crazy talk. this works. why would we do that. that's too soon. this is what's working. why would we mess with that. he said michael, when you finish a novel and really love it, do you you put it down and say great i really want to wait a year and i had to say no and he said well then i think you should try that. we were able to spur suede the executives of the company that we should try it and of course it sold more than the first book has. it makes sense. he looks at the reader first, not just the business side and builds from there.
so working with him as a writer and seeing his balance of suspense and emotion has been great for me. also seeing his understanding of what readers respond to. he has a brilliant mind for how organizations work and how retail works. he was the chairman of an organization before he became an author. he was in marketing. he approaches it from a readers point of view. he wants to do one book a year and it's grown to doing 500 hardcovers for adults every year and they're all great. he works with co-authors and he works with them so he can bring his ideas faster than if he did himself. he's built an incredibly successful series of children's book. that's his passion to getting the next generation of readers interested in reading. he has a new idea that were launching next june which comes
out of the reader. as a reader himself and looking at how crowded everyone's lives are, for a lot of readers books are too long. he came up with the idea of packing all the thrills into a short novel that's only 120 pages that he can finish in a night in a night. you get all the thrills in half the time. they are paperbacks that are only 499. new stories, to a month thrillers so they will be in checkout lines and other places to get people to go ha, i know his books are great. for 99 and they get the pleasure of reading back in their lives again. it's a whole new approach to books so they can be as revolutionary as his other. >> so far we haven't found the finance side of the ceo guy.
where does that guy come in. that comes in as an editor. if you really care about being successful as an editor, you have to understand this is a business. if you're recommending books that don't make money you need to understand why they don't make money and know how they can make money. from the first minute i walk through the door i was always looking at all the financial information i could get. you want to do well by your riders by understanding the business. you do well by the people who employ you by doing well for the business. if you're not profitable you won't be employed. you have to make sure you understand and manage your portfolio and manager projects. then after a certain number of years, i was promoted from an editor and then i came 25 years years ago as an editor and became editor-in-chief where you are responsible for managing a group of people and then as publisher. as a publisher you're responsible for the publishing division. that means you have to care about every detail, advances,
publicity costs and where you're spending money on marketing, everything, everything that goes into making it a successful publication and successful publishing organization. overseeing the division is a good step towards running the p&l of the entire company. >> so they are a publicly traded company that is controlled by the family. that's a mixed media company that has television, radio, book publishing and some other businesses. >> to whom do you report? >> i report to the global ceo. he is a brilliant strategist and statistician and financial mind who understands the range of
what goes into publishing successfully. when i first entered this job, the first time we got to talk together, from his publishing in france and england and spain, i asked what of those universal lessons that apply everywhere. he said there are no universal rules. it's local. they have their own way of marketing and i would never buy a company to come in and say do it this way. i've tried a couple times and said here's a book that was successful in one country you should publish it here. it doesn't work. you have to have someone in the publishing group that believes in it and put their ideas behind it and invest themselves in it. so each book needs to be published the way it needs to be published. >> you speak any french?
>> just enough to get myself in trouble. i can ask you a question but then i can understand the answer because they talk too fast. i am not helpful to them. our meetings are conducted in english. >> when you have us daft meeting, who is around the table >> we have a monthly toward meeting and the board is composed of all seven divisions and has each of the major functions. our chief operating officer, our chief counsel, our head of hr, marketing director and committee case and stricter. i'm probably leaving someone out but people with all the major functions are there. we talk about how we are going to get to our budget and our strategic initiatives. >> is book publishing a modern business? >> in it is a 19th century
business. it has changed more now than in the hundred years before. it is not a leading-edge modern business because the experience of reading is ancient and unchanged experience. because reading a book is a 12 or 15 our experience, it takes time and books are portable the day they were invented. i can turn around and say books are incredibly martyr modern and the rest of media is just catching up with books. all these other forms of media want portable before. now they are through way of our phones but books were portable before other media.
we have readers of every kind of format. when i say it's a 19th century business, the relationship, but not much has changed. it the number of books published here each need attention. the focus of that, acquiring a lot of books and synthesizing and developing and marketing them, that really hasn't changed much. digitization changed wonderfully and that anybody can buy a book the second they think about it. they don't have to go to a bookstore if they don't want to. you can have a conversation with someone and they say they love a book and you can have it on your ipad the next minute. that immersive experience is still unchanged.
that's part of the reason why books have not changed as much because the experience of reading a book, people really like the physical incarnation of the book. it's a souvenir of the journey stuck in your head. it's different than reading on your screen. you retain it better and you understand it better. digital has taken about 20% of the business. about 80% of our businesses our business is still print. that has leveled off completely but over the past two years, it hit a peak and it has been declining. print sales have been growing. independent retails have been growing. they been thriving and growing and to me it's a sign of the healthy deep roots of our industry. they are the first readers. there thriving and that's great
part of our business. >> has the digital revolution been painful? has it been a disruptor to the bic business? >> it has been a disruptor. i would not say it's nearly as disruptive as it's been in magazines and movies and television. those were much more radically transformed. digitalization and publishers have had to get bigger to spread their cost on a larger basis because the market has grown and the concentration of retail power in the hands of really big book retailers have a harder time getting books in front of audiences that have grown a lot.
it's why you now see them. it's not a radical transformation like you're seeing in many other businesses. >> 2016, the health of the publishing industry. >> the health is very strong. i feel like it has a very stable foundation because the demand for books is timeless. >> the biggest challenge is the quality of the entertainment on that device. now you've got a device in your books on there but your games on there too. the number of things that are continuing for people in the same channel, digitally speaking, that's a big challenge and we have to make sure that folks remain and we need to make
sure that they stand out even more so than i do. we have to come out with some new formats of books. games are a narrative base and i think there's a place where games and books can meet and new kinds of books that will be really exciting. the foundation of publishing, reading, reading, writing it's really, really strong. >> what do you spend the majority of your day doing? >> i spend the majority of my day, this is a tough question because each day is different. >> i think i spend the majority of my time working with the publishers on publishing their books, on what books were acquiring and how were bringing them into the world. maybe half my time goes there and the rest of my time i'm thinking about strategy and the future and organization of the company and finances and all the things we need to think about to run a healthy company.
the core the business is the publishing and i spend as much time there as i can. i love it and it's fun. >> give us a sense, i don't know how to do this. how many books did your publishing company sell or what's your revenue or how many employees. give us a sense of how big? >> there are five publishers in new york that are pretty big. the very biggest five publishers are all pretty close in size. the two -- there are two really giant companies and three that are about the same size. among the big five, we have by
far the smallest type of accounts by far. we are still smaller by a substantial number than the next biggest. the very biggest are mcmillan and they publish many more books than we do. i think it gives attention to the writer. we are being selective in making sure that we really have time to partner with the writer on the editing and marketing and communicate about the whole experience of the partnership. we have something that is unique and that the strength of ours and we want to keep it that way. >> as a publicly traded complete, what are your revenues for the year? >> our revenues were $600 million in 2015. we just acquired perseus which is about a 90 million-dollar company. that is a 15% in our our revenue. >> that sounds like a lot of money but when you compare it to a car company or a google or
facebook, it's pretty small. >> we are much smaller than those major media companies that you are thinking about, absolutely. >> it's an industry built up out of all these different products. every book is a string of words that one writer created that no one else could have created. there are hundreds of thousands of them that are different from anyone else out there. >> he is the ceo of the shut publishing company. he has been our guest. thank you very much. >> this is book tv on c-span2. here is our primetime lineup. starting shortly they recall the national guard shooting of students on may 4, 1970. then they profile the men and women who continue to hunt down nazi war criminals.