On being told that she had won the 2013 FutureBook Innovation Award as Most Inspirational Digital Publishing Person, Sourcebooks’ founding publisher and c.e.o. Dominique Raccah said: “This digital transformation has created a community among us.”
“So isn’t it ironic, Dominique?” I asked her when we tweeted her for our #PorterMeets live interview from her office near Chicago. “We normally think of ‘digital disruption', not of community.”
She’s right, of course. And while Raccah’s company’s many digitally adept operations frequently look to me like an artful consortium of widely varied initiatives, she’s standing by to set me straight on that one, too:
Nothing like a good answer to prompt more questions:
Philip takes her up on the flirt:
It’s Philip Jones, in fact, who as chair of The Bookseller’s FutureBook Innovation Awards judges commented on what he calls Raccah’s “passion for digital".
Her own interpretation of this, she told us, “may be more about being an entrepreneur and having a passion for the new".
And it’s that energy that has given rise to Sourcebooks’ newsmaking initiatives in digital publishing.
Raccah speaks with real intensity on the conference circuit, for example, about how going “need-first” into her company’s CollegeCountdown.com university-prep resources business. By this, she refers to how her team analysed what students and their families most needed before creating the service to pick up where young people’s high-school experience had dropped them off.
Her Sourcebooks “Shakesperience” series took the same approach, bringing the multi-level digital engagement trend into an interactive presentation of the plays with in-book visuals, audio, and video featuring excerpts of great performances of the roles with introductions by Sir Derek Jacobi.
Most recently, the news was about an unprecedented arrangement with Allen Lau’s vast 20m-member content-sharing community Wattpad.
She describes three main areas of engagement with Wattpad:
1. The development of new distribution for Wattpad authors (every digital writer’s dream these days);
2. Watty Award winners support (the Wattys identify strong work from Wattpad in categories of “Popular,” “On the Rise,” and “Undiscovered”); and
3. Sourcebooks’ own YA authors’ use of the Wattpad platform. (SourcebooksFire is Raccah’s three-year-old YA imprint.)
Two Sourcebooks-Wattpad authors, in fact, have gained visibility of late: Ali Novak (My Life With the Walter Boys, due out in March 2014) and Natasha Preston (Silence and Broken Silence; her The Cellar is due out in the spring).
Having worked closely with entrepreneurial authors over the years, particularly through Wattpad, Raccah says that distribution has become critical for writers surrounded by so much digitally enabled material.
“For all authors, there’s a deluge of content,” she says, “so how do you break through the noise?”
But what may be closest to Raccah’s heart?
PutMeInTheStory.com lets parents personalize books for children with their pictures and names. For boys, for example, there’s My Name Is Not Alexander, which places a kid’s picture and name beside great heroes of the past. For girls, My Name Is Not Isabella and Kristi Yamaguchi’s Dream Big, Little Pig encourage big dreams and goals in young readers. All three of these books have become New York Times bestsellers.
The program has been almost irrepressible since its inception in 2012, gathering deals with such world-beating outfits as Sesame Street, Berenstain Bears, and Hello Kitty, along with lavish press coverage and awards…such as…
Raccah credits much of Sourcebooks’ success to an iterative process, testing and re-iterating initiatives and developments to be sure they respond to consumer need and reader interest. In this, she’s been a flag-bearer in the industry for the so-called “agile” approach, which advocates development in close collaboration with users for in-process evaluation.
When I asked her whether we can look to see more publishers following Sourcebooks’ lead and deploying the iterative agile approach, however, she expressed some doubts:
Some of the industry resistance to an adoption of data as a prime component, Raccah said, has to do with the idea of publishing being a creative field, thought by some to be beyond benefitting from the technical assets of data analysis.
“But today,” she said, “data can inform creative” work. “We can do so much more now that we have better information from readers.”
Raccah may be soon to offer a new look at what data gathering can do. The information her team has been putting together from the roll-out of the Put Me in the Story program has generated new ideas.
We don’t know at this point what that tantalizing tweet means. But it sounds as if Raccah has a concept in the works to expand the Put Me in the Story technique to the wider field.
As ever, there’s probably a new surprise—and maybe inspiration--just around the corner from Illinois and the busy house of Sourcebooks soon, the consumer’s interest at its core.