Zando, from publisher Michelle Obama, wants to change book publishing

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What are we talking about when we talk about To become?

As for Michelle Obama’s memoir, we explain how it sold over two million copies in the first two weeks and how, since debuting in 2018, it has sold. about 14 million pounds in total. We’re talking about the fact that it’s one of the best-selling books of the decade, so popular that even after two years Crown – the publisher of the book, an imprint of Penguin Random House – hasn’t released an edition. pocket less expensive.

There are many factors that contribute to a successful book like this, most of which we can lay at the feet of Mrs. Obama herself. But what we’re not talking about is the complex and refined device that helped propel To become from a critically acclaimed infallible success to a truly cultural phenomenon. We’re not talking about Molly Stern.

You see, Molly Stern is the editor of To become and was senior vice president and publisher at Crown when the book debuted. While the release of a book that was potentially part of a $ 65 million deal involves many executors, Stern was a leading force, and this outing was light years beyond your typical Barnes & Nobles tour. It included an international arena tour to stadiums like the Barclays Center, with talks hosted by full-fledged superstars from Oprah Winfrey to Sarah Jessica Parker to Stephen Colbert, a multiplatform deal with Hearst magazines, and possibly a Netflix documentary. This is how you sell 14 million books.

Now, Stern wants to replicate this non-traditional pattern for every book she publishes – not at Penguin Random House, but at Zando, his new independent publishing house. When such a powerful player goes out on their own, with a whole new model of how the industry operates, what does it mean for book publishing? And how could that change the future of literature for readers like you?

Consolidators and upstarts

Molly Stern left Crown after the imprint merged with Random House, two divisions under the umbrella of Penguin Random House. The largest publishing house itself became PRH after the merger of Penguin Group and Random House in 2013, making it the largest book publisher in the United States. Just a few weeks ago, it was announced that the giant would be merging again, this time with Simon and Schuster – condensing the Big Five publishers into the Big Four. In other words, the history of book publishing over the past decade has been combine to survive.

This tactic has its perks – like being able to catch money makers like the two Obamas’ memoirs – but these mainstream publishers aren’t known for their innovation either. And while the political book boom of the Trump era has been a boon to the Big Five, reading habits are changing. Readers care where they buy their books now (whether it’s for bargain prices on Amazon or at Bookshop, the anti-Amazon); they listen to more audiobooks than ever (Stern advised Spotify on this front between Crown and Zando); and they buy based on what celebrities and other influencers recommend (at Crown, Stern helped Sarah Jessica Parker create her own imprint).

Our goal is to harness and extend the most persuasive magic of all: genuine enthusiasm.

Molly Stern, Founder and CEO of Zando

At Zando, Stern hopes to incorporate all of these and other lessons she has learned during her successful career into what she calls “A new, nimble publishing house for the modern age, one that… embraces collaboration and makes the most of all the new ways readers get to great work.” The subtext here is that companies like Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Hachette are old-timers who don’t have the capacity to disrupt the industry like Zando can.

The rise of the famous curator

Who are the literary tastes makers of 2020? Many would indicate stars like Reese witherspoon, Jenna Bush Hager and (again) Oprah Winfrey, whose book clubs have pushed titles onto bestseller lists, as well as celebrities who have directly associated with publishers on their own footsteps, like Sarah Jessica Parker, Stormzy and the late Anthony Bourdain (yes, he had his own book outpost). Whether the celebrities who gain greater influence over literary conversation are exciting or obnoxious to you, it’s happening – and Zando goes so far as to include the trend in his mission statement.

“We are working with a select group of beloved public figures, platforms and institutions, releasing a carefully chosen list of books that reflect the genuine passions and interests of these partners,” the company said. declares on its website. “The goal: to spark meaningful cultural conversations, reach a new audience of dedicated readers… and raise the bestseller list. “

As Editors Weekly Make it clear, Zando will both publish his own list of books and work with celebrities and brands to create their own imprints. For example, the company is opening up to the possibility of partnering up with someone like LeBron James to endorse a book, or going one step further and launching, say, LeBron James Books, where he chooses which books will be published under his name. Although they have not yet announced any partners, the company says the first projects will be detailed soon and the first books are expected to be released in fall 2021.

We do know the financial and institutional backers behind Zando, however, and they reflect a great deal of confidence in Stern’s leadership and vision. As The New York Times Details, the company received an investment from Sister, the content creation company founded by Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert Murdoch. Elisabeth will sit on Zando’s board, as will David Benioff – yes, HBO co-creator Game Of Thrones.

They have the money, they have the experience and they would have the power to star. It remains to be seen whether this model can compete with the big publishers – or more importantly, produce books that are truly worth reading.

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