Alumni in the Spotlight – March

Alumni SpotlightKelley L. Allen, is a 2002 Pace University M.S. in Publishing alumna and director of Diesel- eBooks.com.

Since graduating from Pace, Ms. Allen has had a successful career working with technology and with eBooks in particular. In this interview, in addition to sharing her insights on the industry and offering a bit of advice to students and alumni, Ms. Allen will tell us a bit about how her career has evolved and continues to grow in today’s dynamic publishing environment.

If you are an alumni and would like to be interviewed or, if you would like to suggest alumni for future interviews, please email Professor Jane Denning at jdenning@pace.edu. Be sure to include all of the relevant contact information.

Prof. Denning: Hi Kelley and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been nine years since you graduated from the M.S. in Publishing program. What have you been doing with yourself since then?

KLAKLA: Been doing lots!

Currently, I am a partner of Diesel-eBooks.com. Previously, I was the Director of eBook Content at Sony, the Director of New Media at Random House, and ePublishing Manager over at Hachette.

Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career?

KLA: It’s simply astonishing how the industry has changed in a mere decade. Back in 2002, the New York Times was the place to look for jobs and was one of the thickest parts of the paper.

My career since Pace has been a constant roller coaster in a very positive way. I used to joke that I didn’t go into eBooks for the job security since it use to be considered a highly specialized and tiny niche in the publishing world. This is no longer the case. Everyone wants in on the digital party now. Some of my peers used to advise me to get out of eBooks since “there was no future in it.” I’m glad I stuck to my guns.s

Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about how our educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.

KLA: Pace was and continues to be an invaluable tool for me as I progress through my career. Because of the depth and quality of my professors and education, I am well versed in many aspects of the book publishing world.

I noticed that at the publishing houses that I worked at, most employees tend to get pigeon-holed into their respective niche. So, if you start in editing, you stay in editing. Same with production, marketing, biz dev, etc.  Since my Pace education was so well-rounded, I can tackle a variety of jobs across a wider spectrum of specialties.  On a single day, I could be asked to whittle together a banner using Photoshop, negotiate a contract, plan a marketing calendar or write SQL queries for our database.  Because of Pace I can juggle many hats with confidence and competence.

Prof. Denning: How have you been involved in the program since graduating?

KLA: Very active. It’s important to pay it forward and to empower current Pace Publishing students.  Since graduating, I have guest lectured a few dozen times at various Pace classes, all on the topic of digital publishing.  In addition, I am currently on the Board of Directors for the program. Back in 2006, I was invited to be one of the guest lecturers for Pace’s First International Digital Publishing Conference in Wuhan, China.  A wonderful experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Prof. Denning: Where did you intern when you were in Graduate school? Was it a valuable experience?

KLA: Technically, I didn’t intern in graduate school since I was working full time. However, I really lucked out since my job almost fully encompassed many of the courses that I took in the program.  Back in 2000, I worked with Warren Adler, author of the “The War of the Roses” and “Random Hearts” running an indie press, digitally publishing both his frontlist and large backlist of titles. He was one of the first authors to fully embrace digital and did a lot to spearhead the digital movement back then. At my Pace classes at night, I would be learning all about editing, production, legal, subrights, marketing, etc. and then practically applying those skills to my job the very next day.

Prof. Denning: What was the topic of your thesis paper? What advice would you give to students who still have to write their papers?

KLA: I wrote a comprehensive business plan about running a publishing marketing firm with a focus on eBooks (naturally).

As for advice, I always recommend for students to pick a topic that really excites and electrifies them.

Prof. Denning: I know you just hired a Pace Publishing student to intern at Diesel. How does the Diesel internship differ from more traditional internships?

KLA: Yes, we hired the intrepid Simon Fong as our intern, who has completely gone beyond the call of duty already. Since Diesel is completely virtual, I have only met with Simon once in person. Lots of calling and e-mail flying back and forth! However, with Simon’s very busy schedule, this arrangement has a lot more flexibility. There are no set hours. Everything is based on performance.  It’s a win-win situation from my perspective.

Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested in writing and publishing? Where did that passion come from?

KLA: I have always possessed an interest in writing. Originally at Pace, I was focusing on magazines as my concentration and worked briefly as an editor at a magazine in the late 90s but found it wasn’t my cup of tea.  I was forced by fate into books and really have no regrets. I love working in books, particularly in the digital (ever growing) niche of that industry.

Prof. Denning: What led you to become a partner of Diesel-eBooks?

KLA: For a good portion of my career, I worked at these rather large multi-billion dollar corporations and decided it was time to go back to my indie and entrepreneurial roots. The owner of Diesel-eBooks, Scott Redford, and I have known each other for years and I was really impressed by Diesel when I finally had the chance to look under the hood. I joined our tight-knit team back in 2009. We run one really lean and mean machine. I don’t think I have even been happier professionally. There’s a lot of frustration and upset when you own a business but the pure satisfaction of being the captain of your own destiny outweighs the pressure of the risks by far.

Prof. Denning: Can you tell us a bit more about Diesel-eBooks?

KLA: Diesel-eBooks.com was launched in December 2004 by Scott Redford and is now one of the leading independent eBook retailers with over 2.4 million titles. We recently revamped the entire site, adding a completely new backend, changed our business model in order to better leverage our publisher relationships and just launched a brand new custom affiliate program.

Scott and I have a few other surprises in store for Diesel for 2011. So stay tuned.

Whereas Amazon only offers their proprietary format and iBooks only offers ePub, Diesel sells a variety of formats: ePub, PDF, Mobipocket, MS Lit and Palm. If allowed, we have the capability to sell titles without dreaded DRM.

Our platform has an incredible amount of flexibility, so we are able to offer our customers the ability to create their own bundles. On the B2B front, that same flexibility serves as well since we are currently negotiating various customized deals with potential partners.

Our customer service department goes the extra mile for our customers.

Scott and I also simply love eBooks in general. I do believe that affinity reverberates throughout the store.

Prof. Denning: On your webpage for Diesel, you state that your customer “may be surprised to hear that we don’t view eBooks as our core business. Yes, we sell them by the boatload. That’s the product. Our real business, however, is to provide a fun, positive, engaging customer experience. That’s what we strive for. That’s what we hopefully deliver.” Can you tell me what you mean by that?

KLA: The Diesel eBook Team and I spend a lot of time listening to our customers – what can we do that will provide a better customer experience is a question that I ask myself on a daily basis. We added quite a lot of customized bells and whistles to Diesel-eBooks to make it fun and user-friendly.

Prof. Denning: Has social media played a role in the success and growth of Diesel eBooks?

KLA: Not until I joined the show!  Now we currently have a very active Facebook community that I talk to on a daily basis. We also use Twitter and Goodreads as well. We also have a Diesel-eBooks.com blog that just celebrated its first year anniversary.

Prof. Denning: What do you think the future holds for book publishers? Do you think the launch of designated eBook readers and the iPad (and subsequent tablets) forever changed publishing?

KLA: This is such an interesting time to be involved in this industry since the world of publishing as we know it will be completely different in a few short years. The big NYC houses are here to stay but their power will be diminished somewhat. The vibrancy of Indie and Self Publishing will become the norm. I also predict a huge struggle between Amazon and “everyone else”, as Amazon tries to muscle itself as a dominant force in the publishing supply chain by completely getting rid of publishing houses in the traditional sense of the word. They are already bypassing the big houses and attempted to get “exclusive content” from as many authors as possible. From what I can see, they have a whole team, offering publishers and bigger authors huge sums of money to offer their content exclusively. If Amazon reaches a critical mass, this could be a very danger force in the publishing and the business ecosystem.

Prof. Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in book publishing are today?

KLA: Right now, Romance is where it is at. Romance, as an eBook genre, is hot and sexy. Always has been and always will be.

Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future eBooks?

KLA: In five years, the textbook industry will be a completely different place than today in 2011. Up until the advent of the iPad, eBooks with complicated production elements such as graphics, 4C photos, tables, etc, where extremely expensive to convert.  Now, since the hardware has come light years since even the mid-2000s, the world of textbooks and graphic novels will explode as the textbook and education publishers begin to change their business and even their production models to accommodate this brave new digital world.

Prof. Denning: What do you think are the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?

KLA: It’s most important for students and for professionals to understand and leverage the power of networking. You can be the smartest cookie in the house or the hardest worker in your department but if nobody hears you within your professional context, opportunity might pass you by.

Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?

KLA: It’s so important to keep in close touch with your Pace classmates. The student body is very diverse in their respective careers and you never know when you might run into one of your classmates, especially since Publishing is such a small field.

Matter of fact, one of my Pace classmates, Jody Bachimann, introduced me to one of her HR contacts at AOL Time Warner way back in the early 2000s. That single introduction really opened a lot of doors for me and I am always grateful to Dr. Bachimann for launching my career in the right direction.
Prof. Denning: Would you be interested in guest lecturing or teaching a course in the program? If so, what would be the focus of your lecture/course?

KLA: Absolutely! I have already done quite a lot of guest lecturing with Pace and would be delighted to teach a course, just as long as it deal with eBooks and digital publishing. It’s always important to pay it forward.

Prof. Denning: Thanks Kelley!