Above: photo by Brian Doben
You’ve had a varied career in book publishing. What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in your 15 years in the industry?
Milena Alberti: Like so many media categories, the biggest change for trade book publishing has been digitization. It feels as if I’ve been living in an HBS case study over the last 15 years, as the book industry has been transforming itself into a more digital industry. As recently as five years ago, some of the crystal ball folks said, “Oh, physical books are going to go the same way as some other media that have seen a decline as a result of digitization.” To the contrary, book consumption overall has remained stable over the last two decades. What digitization has really done is expand our ability to reach our consumers.
How has digitization changed the ways in which a publishing company interacts with its customers?
MA: Traditionally, publishing has been a business-to-business industry, selling books to retailers. At Penguin Random House, our greatest priority now is marketing our books directly to readers and getting to know their habits and preferences, in close collaboration with our booksellers. Today we are very much a reader-centric company.
Will bookstores survive in this changing industry?
MA: Yes. Our goal is to maintain the most diversified marketplace possible and to strengthen the physical bookstore channel of distribution. Now, you can walk into a supermarket or a Walmart or a Target and find a variety of books on sale. There is Barnes & Noble, and there are local, independent bookstores. And there is also an emerging special-markets channel: We used to never sell books to Michaels, but with the emergence of high-end coloring books, the craft store now sells our products.
Is the rise of self-publishing a challenge to traditional book publishers?
MA: We see self-publishing as a complementary alternative to the more traditional book publishers for aspiring authors. And it has allowed us to discover a lot of wonderful new self-published writers who want their future books to be published by commercial publishers.
If you were one of those people with a crystal ball, what would you predict for the future of book publishing?
MA: I see the demand for books, both in print and in digital formats, remaining strong and stable. So many changes and disruptions have occurred in the book industry, yet our top line, our readership, and their book consumption have stayed stable over the last 20 years.
That stability may even tip toward growth as we develop the next generation of readers. There are always worries that kids are distracted from reading books by video games or by other forms of media, but we have seen our young adult’s and our children’s business grow over the last couple of years. It would be our proudest accomplishment to provide them with the best books possible in every format.
Return to The Year in Books 2016
Class of MBA 2001, Section D