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Interviews Rebecca Smart, CEO - Osprey Publishing

Published by FirstyNews

Rebecca Smart, CEO – Osprey Publishing

“There’s something a bit magical about seeing big, sometimes mad, ideas become reality,” says Rebecca Smart, Osprey’s CEO since 2009. The company’s acquisition of history and heritage publisher Shire Books in 2007 raised no eyebrows in the industry, being seen as a natural addition to Osprey’s strong military history niche. But when, in 2010, the company bought science fiction publisher Angry Robot, a few eyebrows did go up. “It was seen as a strange thing to do,” Rebecca recalls, “but, for us, it was a very clear and strong fit for the growing group. We knew from customer surveys that many of our military history readers also read SF.”

Since the Angry Robot acquisition, Osprey has launched three new imprints – Strange Chemistry (young adult SF), Exhibit A (crime) and Osprey Adventures. Like Angry Robot, all Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A titles will be simultaneously released in print, digital and audio format, while Osprey Adventures takes the company into the world of apps and games. The company has also acquired Duncan Baird Publishers, leading independent publisher of illustrated lifestyle titles, a new niche for Osprey.

The emphasis on niche publishing and brand building runs through all the company’s endeavours. “The changing retail and media landscape means that customers are either searching for a specific product or looking for voices online in which they can believe and with which they identify,” Rebecca says. “This means that building a relationship with a group of readers is very important, and a brand is a way of communicating to that group what a company stands for.”

Whereas many people get into book publishing by accident, in Rebecca’s case it was the obvious choice given her interest in literature, languages and design, and in how ideas and stories could be expressed as commercial products. Working in book production, which she did with Reed and then with Osprey from 1998, was a natural extension of this interest. “It also meant that once digital was on the horizon I didn’t hesitate to seize every opportunity to come up with new ideas for communicating with readers.”

One such idea was the Angry Robot ‘Clonefiles initiative’, based on giving away an eBook with each print book bought from certain bookshops. It has proved a winning formula. “The customer gets a free eBook, the bookshop engages readers in conversations about digital and we’re able to build the community around Angry Robot,” explains Rebecca. Osprey is now developing an eCommerce platform to enable it to sell a flexible range of bundles and subscriptions.

It was for this sort of far-sighted thinking that Rebecca won the FutureBook ‘Most Inspiring Digital Person of the Year’ award in 2011.  “I think I won it because I was being honest about the challenges we faced at Osprey in changing the business to suit the new landscape. The biggest challenges were, and are, nothing to do with technology, however, but about proving our value to readers. Why should authors continue to publish with existing publishers rather than self-publish? Why should readers come to publishers for stories and information? We can’t be protectionist, whether it’s via DRM or griping about the power of Amazon – we have to compete on equal terms to matter to readers.”

Since becoming CEO, Rebecca has turned Osprey into a major force in UK publishing. It now has a strong portfolio of imprints covering global, multi-language sales in print and digital. She is proud of this achievement, but what makes her even prouder is watching people in Osprey develop and achieve their goals. “Seeing people grow through the company makes me particularly happy,” she says. For Osprey staff, there must be something a bit magical about having a CEO to whom nurturing those she works with is as important as nurturing the company she heads.

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