Profile: Robin Harvie, publisher at HarperCollins commissioning non-fiction print and digital

Profile: Robin Harvie, publisher at HarperCollins commissioning non-fiction print and digital

I am pulling together profile pieces from digital publishing professionals. The profiles explain job responsibilities and all of the digital touch points within the different roles. I would like profiles from professionals covering all areas of the industry. If you would like to be involved, please email me at This is Robin Harvie's profile, he is a publisher at HarperCollins commissioning non-fictions and digital projects across both the 4th Estate list and The Friday Project.


The Friday Project was originally conceived to take the best of the web and put words between covers, and on this list I published the UK’s first interactive eBook for the general election. The author had written an original polemic, which we then gave readers the chance to respond to through the website that collated a forum of discussion content that was then edited for a second edition of the book – truly a manifesto by the people and for the people. The eBook edition of It’s All Their Fault was filled with web hyperlinks to external content such as video and audio footage, statistical data and extra information that enriched the readers’ experience of the polemic without getting in the way of the central arguments of the book.

On the 4th Estate list I have just published the new book by the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, called The Num8er My5teries. The book is filled with puzzles and games to play that explain the mathematical problems that Marcus writing about, and allow people to get inside the maths and see how it works for themselves. The book is also the first in the UK to include QR – quick response – codes that the reader scans with their smartphone which will then take them to the relevant website that shows more detail about the problem being discussed. My favourite is the video of Roberto Carlos scoring taking a free kick against France that demonstrates chaotic motion.

We have also developed a gaming app out of the book. Alongside video content of Marcus explaining some of the mathematical problems, there are also a variety of games to play that the reader to engage directly with some of the oldest problems in mathematics.


For me, what is most exciting about digital technology is that eBooks and apps make it possible to reconceive books for devices that people use to email, call, play games and tweet, in a way that allows an author to reach people who have rarely bought books before. And I have now started having conversations about collaboration with people in the gaming industry, where before this would never have happened. Such collaborations are beginning to break down barriers. Three years ago the government launched a scheme to provide funding to UK companies that collaborate on digital initiatives in an attempt to stimulate new ideas. Similarly, Artist's eBooks ( has been set up to explore "new platforms and formats" for authors. One book that it features, Niven Govinden's L'histoire de Bexhill Baudelaire, includes links to YouTube videos which comprise the book's soundtrack.

The future offers much more. One of the most intriguing prospects for me is to use social networking facilities to conduct mass-participation experiments to explain the science discussed in a book. You can already download for nothing an app that allows you to join the Galaxy Zoo project to help astronomers explore the universe. Twitter and Facebook offer the opportunity to create communities bound together by the experience of reading a particular book. The app that lets you read the series of Scott Pilgrim comics on your smartphone is already exploiting the power of social networking to create dialogue between readers, who use the characters from the comics as their avatars.

Marvel Comics' app gives you access to more than 500 comic books, featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor and more of the world's most popular superheroes. The app brings the world of Marvel to iPad owners with each comic presented at high resolution, and includes a search engine and innovative viewing options. But apps such as this also often feature a comic shop locator, allowing users to source a local retailer – an indication that the app editions are at present being seen as supplementary to the printed book, not a cannibalisation of an existing market. Reading experiences can take many forms. I am always on the lookout for new ways to convey the excitement of the books I publish, and I see it as part of my job to always be on the lookout for new technologies that can help enrich a reader's experience.