HarperCollins UK c.e.o Charlie Redmayne has urged publishers “living in a rose-tinted world” to beware the threat of cyber attacks which are “increasingly sophisticated and are happening all the time”.
Closing the FutureBook Conference with his views on the changes taken place in the industry since he took the podium at the same event two years ago, he warned that publishers were “not seeing the risks” as direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing becomes an “increasingly important” part of the industry.
He acknowledged the opportunities publishers have in gaining insight into customers’ behaviours. HarperCollins, for example, has been harvesting data through assets such as BookPerk and CookPerk and online festivals such as BFI LoveFest to send custoemers more targeted email campaigns and D2C propositions.
With “more and more data flying around” than ever, Redmayne said: “[Publishers] are increasingly threatened by those who want to access our systems, our email accounts, our consumer databases and even our bank accounts – the very systems which keep us operating.
The cyber attack on Sony in November 2014 resulted in vast amounts of personal information being accessed and shared, including millions of private emails. The attack, led by The Guardians of Peace hacker group in opposition to the comedy film The Interview, about a plot to assassinate North Korean Kim Jong-un, saw the film pulled and other Sony films pirated as a consequence.
Talk Talk, meanwhile, was hacked a year later with 157,000 customers’ personal details accessed and 15,600 bank account numbers and sort codes stolen.
Redmayne said: “Every single day we are being attacked – from the most complex hacking attacks to Trojan viruses; and the wave upon wave of phishing emails – some ridiculous but some very clever – one mistake, one slip by a member of staff and they are in.”
He added: “The attack on Sony should have been a wake-up call for us all in the entertainment industries but I don’t think it has been."
To mitigate the risks, Redmayne emphasised the need to protect authors - their IP, their information and reputations and to protect customers. “With direct customer relationships comes responsibility for keeping them safe,” he said. Publishers have to protect reputations with a mindful, more self-aware approach when writing internal emails, and to protect financial security, he added.
“To do business today – whether we are big companies or small companies, we have to take this very seriously – and it requires both rigour and investment.
“I think many publishers are living in a rose tinted world – assuming it will never happen to them – it will,” he said.
Speaking on the subject of Amazon’s role in the book industry, Redmayne said the e-tailer’s impact “continues to grow” but added that the company “has changed.”
“It used to care about offering the widest possible selection and the cheapest possible price (but) now that it has built its market share to such a huge level, it is now also focused on delivering margin – something which is predictably being funded by authors and by publishers," Redmayne said. “This eats into our authors income and creates an un-level playing field.”
The HarperCollins UK chief reminded the audience that the pre-eminence of a single channel was a “threat to us all” and that the company continued to move into - and heavily support - new and increasingly influential business models – such as e-book subscriptions - making it harder for others to compete – “particularly because if anyone has the nerve to innovate with a new model then Amazon can and will follow suit.”
He added that the company continued to grow its own publishing and self-publishing programmes and was seeking to support these “by massively increasing their prominence on the pages of its stores.”
“There is an obvious risk here to publishers and authors….and indeed Amazon itself, who risk neglecting its own customer promise – to present the widest possible selection of books and to curate based on quality and consumer interest.”
However he added: “At the end of the day Amazon is a great retailer – and can be a great partner…it deserves to be a mighty player in our industry, but at the same time we should understand that it is fundamentally different to publishers (and) cares first about its customers and shareholders . Publishers care first about authors – and therein lies the difference."
Redmayne also spoke about the issue of rights ownership in publishing, which he said challenged the industry’s ability to develop interesting propositions “of huge potential value” to authors.
He said the industry’s “failure to pass the rights ball to each other for the greater good of a publishing property or brand” meant that publishers were missing opportunities to tell stories on other platforms, extend the reach of content and discover new audiences.
“We should focus our creativity to come up with the best multi-platform and business solutions – and then sort the rights issue out in a fair, transparent and appropriate way,” he said.
“As an industry, we have to release ourselves from convention to experiment and be led by the needs of our authors and the demands of our readers,” Redmayne concluded. “But we also need support the high street, libraries and other companies that are finding new channels to our readers."