The recent infusion of $11 million into Open Road Integrated Media by private equity firm NewSpring Capital and others should come as no surprise to those librarians familiar with company CEO Jane Friedman. In only a few years, the former HarperCollins CEO and her team took the digital publishing and multimedia marketing company from distributing a handful of pre-1994 titles by major 20th-century authors like William Styron to over 4,000 titles from 500 authors.
Notably, in late 2009, Friedman wrested titles like Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner from Styron’s publisher, Random House, which contended that it owned the electronic publishing rights. Ultimately, Random House dropped its claim, putting into play books by other major writers.
In a blog post in late August, when she announced the financing, Friedman said, “At its heart, Open Road is a marketing company committed to using the latest technological resources to connect our authors with readers. While we feel like we have hit our stride…we realized there is still much to be done—with the goal in mind of helping authors reach more readers than ever before.”
The company, she said, planned to use the investment to “enhance the technology platform that drives our marketing efforts” and expand by creating new businesses like Open Road Distribution, which already had nearly 40 publishers. It recently branched out on the children’s side, adding Fred Bowen’s sports novels from Peachtree Publishers, for example. Friedman also said Open Road would grow its International Publishing Partners Translation Program, which launched with partners like Mondadori (Italy) and Barcelona ebooks.
Building the buzz
Marketing was—and remains—key to Friedman’s concept of giving great literary and popular backlist titles new, profitable life as ebooks. “We never stop marketing books,” said Mary McAveney, Open Road marketing advisor. Librarians responded, not just by purchasing ebooks but by incorporating the online marketing materials—a treasure trove of reading lists, featured titles, author photos and bios, video interviews, and more—into their own websites. “We often see language from our newsletters and blog posts on [library] websites,” said Rachel Chou, Open Road chief marketing officer.
Friedman also knew, as do librarians, that once readers got into a particular author or series, they wanted all the books in that series—which could be made available digitally.
“The average fan wants to read the whole collection, not the first two out of eight,” said Chou. “Marketing has run with that angle,” she said, putting together author packages and launching a romance newsletter and Mystery & Thriller Bulletin, in addition to the Open Road Reader, a monthly literary fiction and general newsletter. “We’re slowly adding genre,” said Chou. In mid-September, Open Road announced publication of sf author Samuel Delany’s Nevèrÿon titles, along with his best-selling Dhalgren, Nebula award winner Babel-17, and several more.
Open Road also embraced the e-card download, handing out 4″ x 6″ cards of over a dozen titles at library conferences and last spring’s BookExpo America for easy download of review copies—and no lugging galleys home. These included a handful of its “E-riginals,” like Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World. Though publisher Tina Pohlman said there are no plans to expand the number of e-originals, several fall releases drew attention recently: Adam Langer’s literary mystery The Salinger Contract (Sept.) and a recently discovered unpublished novel by Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck, The Eternal Wonder (Oct. 22).
While librarians adapted content from Open Road, the company returned the favor, drawing on advice from them. “We’ve connected with a lot of librarians,” said Pohlman, to get ideas on what books to publish digitally. “Now, we’ll be formalizing an advisory group.”
The company was also in talks about ebook models, said Chou, with everything on the table, including subscriptions. “We are actively talking to librarians or library groups that host their own servers,” said Chou. “Libraries are a healthy part of our business—they’re consistently in the top ten accounts.” And, she said, given “Jane’s history [with libraries], we absolutely want to figure out different models that will work for libraries.”