Jeremy is based in Silicon Valley and leads key business development initiatives at Shazam. Prior to working in the tech industry, he spent several years at HarperCollins Publishers in London after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, with a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. You can connect with him here.
Tell us a bit about your job.
I work on Shazam’s business development team and lead partnerships focused on user growth and new revenue opportunities. I’m also a commercial advisor for a digital marketing and analytics startup called Amplespot.
How ( if at all ) did the skills and experience you acquired working for a traditional book publisher help you in subsequent roles at Samsung and Shazam?
The lessons I learned from publishing were influenced by a few historically unique events that took place while I was working in the industry. In particular: the financial crisis and its aftermath, the birth of the app economy, and Amazon’s rise as the western world’s dominant bookseller. These events taught me that no assumption or status quo is sacrosanct and that you must always be ready to move fast so that you can take advantage of disruption when it comes.
On the flip side — spending my formative years immersed in an industry with famously long production cycles forced me to develop a long-term perspective on product and commercial strategy that’s been a useful counterweight to the faster-paced environments I’ve worked in since. It requires a different kind of thinking to anticipate trends and make big bets on the next zeitgeist. And books take a long time to make! You have to plan for unforeseen complications that may come up ten months down the line when you have twenty thousand books chugging across the ocean on a cargo ship. I learned a lot watching talented publishers mingle gut-decisions with foresight.
How might digital innovation continue to disrupt traditional content owning brands?
I think there are two angles to look at here: 1) structural shifts in the way content is financed and distributed; 2) a longer-term evolution in content creation.
A big finance story in the music space last week was the move by Royalty Exchange to offer investors the chance to buy shares in a music rights portfolio that includes Eminem’s catalogue. It’s not hard to imagine content ownership increasingly decoupled from content production. What changes in a world where royalty rights are owned by pension funds and day traders rather than authors or publishers? Does anything change? And when it comes to distribution, consider that Netflix spent $6bn on original content productions last year. Together with Amazon and Hulu, they are starting to outspend legacy studios on content destined for exclusive distribution on their platforms. Some streaming music platforms, like Saavn, have launched their own labels. Another music streaming service was recently called out for publishing original generic content in their popular playlists. Maybe this points to a greater trend towards vertical integration within the content industry.
From a content creation standpoint, I think that data and machine learning will continue to upend traditional processes. Today, book publishers have unprecedented access to user data at a scale that simply wasn’t feasible in the world of bricks and mortar distribution. User info like gender / age / income / timestamp(s) / location(s) / device type has clear value for sales and marketing activities and is probably starting to influence commissioning decisions. Beyond enhanced demographic data, advances in machine learning could make the kind of corpus analyses that dictionaries have been doing for decades relevant to commercial publishers. Could you train an algorithm to find the next big author by teaching it what bestsellers look like and then unleashing it on Wattpad? Could you feed an AI enough cold war spy novels so that you could train it to output something that’s enough like John Le Carre to sell commercially? I’m sure some publishers are already experimenting with things like this.
Tell us the next big thing in tech.
I’d wager that the biggest tech stories in the next five years will be autonomous vehicles and augmented reality. I think both have the potential to be interesting for book publishers.
When Level 5 autonomy (i.e. fully self-driving cars) arrives, people who used to drive will have lots of leisure time during their commutes. Maybe they’ll fill it by reading.
Mass-market augmented reality will create huge opportunities to layer content onto users’ surroundings in real time. I get really excited imagining the awesome experiences that people will build for AR using content that is in book format today.
What books have influenced you the most?
A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.