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Know Your Readers! Rebecca Smart and the Tailored Business Model

Rebecca Smart

When it comes to growing branded startups from the ground up there is no one better than Osprey Publishing’s CEO Rebecca Smart to advise on how to use tailored and effective digital marketing strategies to grow your business. Having won a Future Book Award for the Most Inspiring Digital Person, Smart believes that the answers to developing your business, be it startup or imprint is simple: Know your readers!

PI       You have been described as having a ‘gritty pragmatism combined with an ability to dream’. What does this mean in terms of the way you work in the industry?

RS       I’m not quite sure what the person who said it had in mind, but I do think that I have a combination of technical, creative and commercial skills that are important in leading a publishing business. I am also able to move rapidly between considering a broad view of a project and thinking about the crucial details of how it can be implemented, and I think that is very important. Finally, I have a big focus on developing people and on creating leaders – you don’t have to be in a position of authority to lead and often the person best equipped to lead a project is the person closest to the reader.

PI       As a winner of a Future Book award for the Most Inspiring Digital Person, you have been defined as somewhat of a digital expert. What would you say is the most essential element that digital publishers need to have to survive in this rapidly-changing industry landscape?

RS       Know your readers. If you focus on readers and develop a community then you add something for authors and you can create a symbiotic relationship in which publisher and author work together to deliver something exciting to the reader. At the conference I’ll be talking about some examples of how we’ve done this at Osprey.

PI       Your business has grown 30% over the last three years and you say that this is because of the fact that you define yourselves by the customers you serve. Is it really that simple?

RS       Yes and no! We’ve been able to attract investment to grow because we have a customer-focused strategy that works well in the increasingly online world. That investment has been used to begin new initiatives and acquire some smaller companies – it’s been a period of both growth and great change.

PI        What do you see as the most challenging aspect of digital publishing?

RS        I think that in the UK (and to a greater extent in the USA) digital publishing has moved beyond product innovation and into a phase of business model innovation. The next challenge is what books can and will become and how publishers can continue to build compelling content offerings that readers want to pay for. Essentially what does it look like when the closed book meets the open web?

PI        Does social media sell more books?

RS       I think it can – whether, as a pure marketing exercise, it sells enough more to justify the time investment is another matter. I see it more as a part of a relationship between people – it cannot be used simply to sell.

PI       Is it just a matter of time before smaller independent publishers are subsumed by these larger operations?

RS      I think we will see consolidation in the industry, but I also think there will be an increasing number of start-ups that are experimenting with new business models and reaching very targeted groups of readers.

PI       How can small start-ups survive in a climate that is dominated by much bigger multinationals such as Google or Amazon?

RS      Start-ups are in the wonderful position of being able to rethink everything. They can avoid what might be called ‘publishing pipeline hell’ and be quick to market. They can be really focused and lean. They have many advantages – and they can make use of those online channels to their advantage.

PI      You have described your mantra in terms of ‘more bigger experiments’. Is this really possible for already under-resourced companies?

RS     It’s tough. Managing a declining revenue stream while investing in a new one is no picnic. Publishers need to be creative in thinking about cashflow in experiments, and use partners wherever possible.

PI      What is the problem that you come across most when coaching small publishers?

RS     Cash, always cash.

Want to hear some more? Rebecca will be joining us to speak at our upcoming trade day on Friday, 15 November. Book your tickets now by going to

For more information on our programme and speakers, go to   or

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