“You know, if you sweat on your Kindle it’s gonna blow up.” This was the tongue-in-cheek response of Chris Murphy, Vice President of Trade Sales at Hachette, when told by a student that she takes her Kindle to the gym. In one of the incredible advantages of the Pace Publishing program, Professor Soares’ General Interest Books class was privileged to have Mr. Murphy as a guest speaker last Thursday. While this quote showcases Mr. Murphy’s sense of humor, it also hints at the very real desire to ensure that print does not die at the hand of digital. As Mr. Murphy said at the start of his lecture, “We don’t sell ebooks.”
Chris Murphy’s history in publishing is as diverse as it is impressive. He began his publishing career around 30 years ago in medical publishing, moving on to trade magazines and even test preps before finally landing in trade book publishing. Over the course of his career he was privileged to work for Warner, Hyperion, Scholastic, and Hachette. Whether by special insight or extraordinary good luck, Mr. Murphy also has a record of being in the right place at the right time. He worked on sales not only for Harry Potter, but also for the Twilight series. He currently has account responsibilities with national retailers, and imprint responsibilities with Hachette’s diverse imprints.
Mr. Murphy first spoke to the class about how the Sales Department actually operates at Hachette and other companies. He described the sell-in process of getting retailers and wholesalers to buy the book, and explained how technology has affected the lives of the sales team. In one example, he related how a sales rep was snowed in, but was still able to have a sales meeting with a client via video-conference on the iPad. Mr. Murphy was also good enough to bring in some sales materials, including several Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of YA titles for the perusal of the class. Mr. Murphy noted how his input is used by other departments, including editorial and design, to help make sure that a cover and a title will sell.
However, the questions of the class were indicative of what many students are most curious about – how ebooks and digitalization are affecting a sales team that sells print books. Mr. Murphy was quick to point out that, despite the challenges to the sales team, publishing companies overall are growing with the advancement of these technologies. However, a sales team does not sell ebooks, and as ebooks eat into the market share of hardcover and paperback, sales teams are feeling the effects. Mr. Murphy explained that he must keep abreast of trends in ebooks so that he may understand how their numbers affect other formats. Sales staffs are still figuring out these questions in an era of incredible change and, therefore, estimates of things like reprints are more difficult to judge. Moreover, the size of a sales staff may have to change, as the size of their print orders decreases.
Of course, people with an understanding of sales will always be essential to the running of a publishing business. While sales forces may be in a period of transition, the key thought that Mr. Murphy gave students was a positive one. “Publishing is a great career….Times are tough for the p-book, but for reading, times are good.”