BookBrunch Q&A: Midas PR CEO Jason Bartholomew

To kick off 2020, Midas PR CEO Jason Bartholomew, sat down with BookBrunch to talk publishing, his career so far and how the industry is changing:

Describe your current job in one sentence
Aside from the day-to-day actions of running a business, my key focus is on business development, which comprises cultivating potential clients as well as ensuring Midas is delivering the best possible service to our current clients.

What was your first job in the book industry?
I started as a sub rights assistant at Little, Brown & Company in New York City circa 1998.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
There are so many individuals who influence one’s career that it is hard to isolate just one person – but if forced I’d choose David Young. David became the CEO of Time Warner Book Group – subsequently bought by Hachette – when I still worked in the New York office. He played a key role in helping me move from New York to the London Hachette offices – a promotion for me professionally and a big move personally. David had an uncanny flair at leadership with the ability to seamlessly combine professional expertise with a genuine personal interest in his staff. He would remember your partner’s name, your kid’s name, and what you did for your holidays. As publishing grows more corporate, David managed to retain the personal side of the business. Without his knowing it (sorry, David!), he became a mentor for me as the type of professional I would like to be.

How has the industry changed since your first job?
There have been so many changes since I started in 1998, but the most notable for me was seeing the loss of certain sales channels.

One of my first jobs as a sub rights assistant was to sell reprint and book club rights. Both are sales channels that mostly no longer exist, but what a glorious era it was when one could sell a James Patterson title to a book club for a seven-figure deal – an incredible amount of money for any sub-rights deal, let alone for domestic rights.

Given the time we’re in of the publishing conglomerates vying for global market positioning – from land-grabbing for English-language sales territories to battling with literary agents for world rights – it seems laughable now to think of a major publisher sub-licensing one of its authors to a rival publisher for the paperback publication; but we used to do it, and the advances could be big!

What’s the biggest challenge in your job?
Midas doesn’t enjoy the long-tail benefits of royalty payments for past deals. We are a short to long-term contract business and only financially viable with the clients currently on our books. With such thin margins our biggest challenge is to ensure we’re offering added value to a wide range of clients, but at a fee that hits the sweet spot of being affordable while still allowing Midas to make enough to pay the bills. Midas currently is lucky to have a diverse number of retained clients, but we can of course never become complacent!

What are the most interesting things you’re seeing at the moment in the industry?
I love that independent bookstores are having a resurgence – those stores play such a key role in hand-selling and creating bestsellers – but simultaneously publishers now have a larger variety of routes to market. Consumers want their content delivered in new ways, so publishers are adjusting to becoming content creators to fit those needs.

Whether that’s delivering a book to consumers who want to read in the form of text messages in bite-size chunks, or listening via audiobooks, the market is pushing publishers to find ways of both delivering to the traditional bookstores while also appealing to a digitally minded younger audience.

There will be bumps in the road of this process for the industry, but this is leading to more creative, entrepreneurial, and – I’d argue – exciting change.

What do you most like doing when you’re not working?
On any given weekend you can find me shepherding three young children to various school or sporting events, parties, or eating at the local Pizza Express – but with a smile on my face!

What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. The book publishes later in January with Tinder Press, and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC. It’s such a beautifully rendered and haunting story. Being an American, I find the USA’s horrible treatment of Central and Latin American immigrants (specifically in this case) a never-ending source of shame. This book strikes all the right notes in encapsulating this ongoing struggle with amazing characters.

What are you reading now?
I have some child-like hyperactive inability to read one book at a time. I always have several books on the go. At the moment I am toggling between Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum, and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. However, the book I am most excited to read is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, which Midas is lucky enough to work on, and which Headline is publishing in March.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audio books?
I am 100% dedicated to paper. My technological advancements ceased in the 1990s. If a manuscript is emailed to me, I will print it out on paper and read that way. I do recycle those pages of course; I am not a barbarian.

Published in BookBrunch on 07 January 2020

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