Michel Tamblyn, president and CEO of the Kobo Rakuten group, summarized the power of the Readmagine and other online experiences at the end of his presentation with his conviction that after the pandemic it is smart to prioritize investment in people rather than buildings.
Readmagine 2020 managed to adapt to the impossibility of bringing the participants together at Casa del Lector as in previous editions through a collaboration and digitization strategy. This organization along with Digital Publishing Summit adapted to the difficulties that arose for a physical event during the first wave of Covid-19 for a meeting very much based on the interaction of some professionals with others at the very beginning of June. The bet that involved quite a few risks has catapulted Readmagine as a global event, which during these days is bringing together 550 professionals from the international publishing industry.
Tamblyn was introduced by Rüdiger Wischenbart and begun admitting that the industry is living in an “uncharted territory asking questions in your business that you never asked before, most of them are new questions that I never thought that I even ask” questions like what are we going to do if there are no more new books to release in two or three months, what happens if we can’t manufacture new reading devices this year, is it better to give away ten million books or sell a hundred thousand of them…what if people have to make a choice between books and food”.
The CEO of Rakuten Kobo said that what he learned so far fell into three categories:
- What was learned about how Kobo works as a company during this (and implications forward).
- What was learned about readers and relationship to reading.
- What was learned about the industry as a whole.
What Rakuten Kobo would eventually discover, Tamblyn said, is that the more difficult challenge for the company was the manufacturing halt. “We were able to sell more e-readers with all of our 10,000 stores closed than we had forecasted to sell with them open,”. With “agility and speed,” the company’s international retailers had “decided to put their promotional focus” on e-reading as the pandemic descended on them.
And what the company had learned in this part of the experience was that it’s important to diversify vendors beyond one geographical area, because it’s not enough to have multiple vendors in the same market: “And the same is true of any children’s book publisher doing all their colour printing work in China.”
He also declared: «This is a perfect time for the ebook. Over the course of 60 days, we gave away over 15 million books to people who were staying safe at home. The results were surprising…»
«A return to the physical experience around the book will be possible as long as there is no vaccine?Pleasure visits to bookstores, book clubs…
It will be interesting to see the commitment & reactions of people in the coming months»
When the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez organizers of Readmagine asked Tamblyn for a personal motto he proposed this one: “Under stress, we learn what is essential in reading – the words, the stories, knowledge, escape or immersion. Everything else is just means of delivery”.
The conversation with Tamblyn was more inspirational than business-like and was very welcomed by the large number of Readmagine / Digital Publishing Summit participants, because it was just the kind of message professionals needed to hear after the first months of general lockdown in most countries. .
Michael Tamblyn, President and Chief Executive Officer at Rakuten Kobo, drives growth, profitability and international expansion in a fiercely competitive market. He combines a passion for reading with a deep focus on hardware and software experiences. In addition to leading Rakuten Kobo, the global digital bookseller, He advises startups focused on aging and technology as Chief Entrepreneur of Age-Well NCE, is on the board of directors of the Law Commission of Ontario, Ontario’s law reform body, as well as The Power Plant, Toronto’s foremost contemporary art gallery. Michael has been a part of Rakuten Kobo’s executive team since its inception in 2009, and previously held the role of Chief Content Officer. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario.