Victoria Barnsley of HarperCollins: ‘In some respects, publishing 12 years ago had more in common with publishing in the last century than now.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Observer
HaperCollins’s chief executive is about to launch an e-atlas – and, she says, that’s not the only way the world is changing.
By Juliette Garside
As the trays of cheese and wine begin to circulate for this autumn’s book launch season, one of the UK’s biggest publishing houses will be pinning its hopes not on a hardback, but on an app designed for tablet computers.
Alongside celebrity autobiographies from Victoria Pendleton and Cheryl Cole, and John Major’s history of music hall, HarperCollins will be unveiling a digital reinvention of the Collins World Atlas. “It’s the culmination of years of work, and it’s going to be really ground-breaking,” says Victoria Barnsley, UK and international chief executive of the book publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
The app presents a collection of globes suspended in space. One shows a satellite view; others are themed by population, energy or telecommunications. A few swipes, and the world lights up according to which areas have mobile coverage, or consume most oil. The information is, of course, always up to date.
“We can’t think of ourselves as book publishers any longer. We have to see ourselves as, you know,” Barnsley hesitates to use the cliché, “multimedia content producers.”
Her flower-scented Hammersmith office, with its plush upholstery and charcoal-grey walls so dark the eyes have to adjust, is a world away from the warehouses across town on east London’s Silicon Roundabout, where most new digital products are being produced.
But HarperCollins appears to have wholeheartedly embraced the e-book revolution that followed the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle reader in the UK in 2009. Barnsley predicts that within 18 months, over half of revenues from her fiction titles will be digital: they already are in America.