Business profile: Pan Macmillan

Business profile: Pan Macmillan

It may be grey and absolutely sheeting it down outside of Pan Macmillan’s offices near King’s Cross, but it is positively sunny inside. The night before I meet Geoff Duffield and Jeremy Trevathan, Andrea Camilleri’s The Potter’s Field won the Crime Writers Association’s International Dagger. As Duffield whisks me through corridors up to a meeting room, colleagues pass with a cheery greeting and some variation on: “Hey, great news about Camilleri!”

Duffield, Trevathan and their senior Pan Mac colleagues have been part of a reshuffle, with roles being reassigned in May by m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson in order to respond to a rapidly changing market. Duffield has had the greatest change, moving from group sales and marketing director to the new role of creative director, with a remit to expand author brand development internationally across adult and children’s publishing, with design also added to his brief.

It is perhaps fitting to meet Duffield the day after the Camilleri win. The Inspector Montalbano author’s sales have been climbing in the UK—helped by the Italian-made series recently broadcast on the BBC—but he has not really achieved “big brand” status, something Pan Mac are intent upon rectifying. Duffield says: “The win is great, but we had been in the planning stages already to help build his brand. His sales have been growing very steadily, and we have been watching it and marketing tactically. We’re planning for 2013; it’ll be the year of Camilleri.”

Changing times

Trevathan, who was previously fiction publisher, now spearheads Pan Macmillan’s entire adult publishing, with Picador publisher Paul Baggaley and non-fiction publisher Jon Butler both reporting to him (although Mantle publisher Maria Rejt continues to report directly to Forbes Watson). Meanwhile, digital director Sara Lloyd has been appointed to the new role of digital and communications director, adding marketing, publicity and external communications to her remit.

Trevathan insists that the restructure is not as radical as it seems. He says: “A lot of it is formalising things we had already been doing. But the reasoning behind it was that non-fiction and the literary market are a bit compromised by the current retail climate. And there was a little bit of a feeling that we were publishing in those areas to fill the budget.

“What [Forbes Watson] wants to do is free everyone up to publish what they think will work and sell, rather than fulfil budgets. What it does is allow us to have a structure where commercial fiction is our bedrock of the adult division. It allows non-fiction and Picador to be as creative and innovative as they can be without worrying about hitting targets.”

Trevathan underlines that the current market requires a different focus from publishers. “If you take it simplistically, [Duffield’s] role is concentrating around developing the author, [Lloyd’s] role is about reaching out to readers and the retailers. In the past, publishers used to reach readers through retailers. The retailers are still vitally important, but now publishers have to reach out and find readers themselves.”

It does seem obvious that in this digital online world, big brands are increasingly important. But how does one go about building new author brands, or repositioning established ones, on a practical level? “You have to use data as your basis,” says Duffield.

This is something Pan Mac is increasingly doing. The publisher has an enviable digital reach on its various consumer-facing websites and on social media—“tens of thousands of people come to our platforms,” says Duffield—using them as a kind of large online focus group. He adds: “We’re now using performance measures that haven’t traditionally been used in books. These are digital measures that enable us to judge how people respond to brands. You can now measure things like the ‘love’ of a brand.”

Building brands

Duffield says the key is using the approach not just for its authors like Jeffrey Archer, Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett, Peter James and Julia Donaldson. “We are applying this process to authors who are not yet brands. It’s about building the brands of the future globally.”

Some of those brand authors—Smith, Archer and Follett in particular—a few years ago may have been seen as, shall we say, not exactly cutting edge. Trevathan argues that is a strength in the current market. He says: “We are lucky, as we have a roster of brands which a few years ago people would have said were old warhorses. As challenging as the market is now, readers and retailers cluster around those that they are familiar with. The irony is that having that loyalty from readers for those brands means that we are able to have the latitude to reinvent them.”

Both Duffield and Trevathan have been at Pan Mac for a long time, more than 10 and 15 years respectively. Duffield had worked in various marketing and sales roles around all the houses including Penguin, Random House, Orion and HarperCollins, where he was group marketing director before he moved to Pan Mac. Trevathan started in production—he was production manager at Viking when the company was printing The Satanic Verses—and has worked at a number of rights and editorial positions at Pan Mac since the mid-’90s. They agree on what has kept them at Pan Mac: the “supportive, almost anti-corporate” atmosphere.

Both men have seen a lot of changes in publishing, and agree that the market is the toughest they have seen. Yet Trevathan praises the mood fostered by boss Forbes Watson. He says: “In past years we might have sat here in a similar current retail market and got really depressed. Which I think, quite frankly, might be happening at some of the other houses. Now, I think there is an atmosphere where people aren’t panicking, and we are looking for opportunities in the downturn.”

Say hello to Bello

One of Pan Mac’s big digital projects was last year’s launch of Bello, a digital-only list of out-of-print titles from clients and estates of Curtis Brown. The imprint launched in November 2011 with around 120 titles, and by the end of 2012 it will have close to 500 e-books available. Trevathan says the project is “on target”. He adds: “What we hadn’t expected is that everyone would pile in and copy us so quickly. There has been more competition for copyrights and that has made things slower than expected. It’s a start-up and a long tail business model, and will make money two or three years out.”