Eric Huang of Penguin Books on collaboration & re-defining the role of Publishers

A few weeks ago Sophie interviewed Eric Huang for BookMachine, in the run up to the Unplugged event which emc design are proudly sponsoring. Eric talked about his role at Penguin and how they are working and collaborating with new companies to strengthen their offer as a publisher.

There is no doubt that Penguin is going through an interesting transition, attempting to re-define and break the mold, while bringing content to their audiences in new ways and with new people…

1) Penguin seems to be re-positioning themselves from publisher to content providers and media producers do you feel this is the case?

Absolutely. The ambition at Penguin Children’s is to be a multimedia storyteller. This means publishing books for bricks and mortar retail, as well as for mobile and tablet devices. But it also means being an active driver of storytelling on TV and film and consumer products. And to do this, we’ve made many partnerships with people and companies from sister media industries.

2) So practically if you’re talking to all of these different types of companies and creating new products how has this impacted on the way the content is produced and how are you as publishers adding value to these collaborations?

It’s been fascinating working with writers from TV and gaming. We all approach storytelling in slightly different ways. Traditionally, we in book publishing have focused on one storytelling unit – or a trilogy. TV writers imagine story arcs over 13 or 52 episodes! Games writers really think about the player – the consumer and their experience within a story world. But we, the book publishers … We were the first!

3) What has been the biggest challenge for Penguin in the approach you have used to bring content to new audiences?

The biggest challenge has been thinking about brand and the larger story world before thinking about the book we’re publishing – be it digital or physical. We’ve also had to look at new business models to accommodate our larger ambitions for our stories to become entertainment brands.

4) How is this new business model working for you?

So far so good, although we’re in the process of launching these new brands, so we shall see!

5) What do you think has been Penguin’s most successful collaboration so far?

There’s a lot that we are about to release that I think, and hope, is going to be very successful, but currently it’s probably the partnership with Mind Candy on Moshi Monsters. The editors and designers at Penguin have helped to create rich back stories behind the online characters and locations through our publishing. And we’ve learned a lot about how gamers tell stories via the web.

6) Looking ahead, maybe 10-15 years, what do you think the future is for Penguin?

I would love it if the children’s publishing industry became drivers of entertainment brands. Our ambition at Penguin Children’s is to be an entertainment company, not unlike Pixar or Nintendo, but one that creates entertainment brands through publishing physical books, ebooks and apps.

7) Do you think Penguin will always be in a position to commit to publishing – especially if it becomes economically unviable?

Penguin will always be a publisher at heart. I don’t believe it will ever be unviable to be a publisher, though the definition of what it means to publish will change to encompass more formats and platforms.

8) Do you have any advice for publishers who are looking to develop partnerships and collaborations?

Go to non-publishing events and be part of the media world. The collaborators that you will want and need to be working with won’t necessarily be at Bologna Book Fair.

9) Are publishers recognising the need to work with each other more?

I think the challenge for our industry as a whole is to recognise what it means to be a publisher today.

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emc design is a leading print & digital design agency for publishing.
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