Sourcebooks rides wave of changes

Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, Inc.

While the book publishing industry may be undergoing a transformation, at Naperville-based Sourcebooks, Dominique Raccah is embracing the change with a confidence grounded in creativity.

By fostering an entrepreneurial    workplace even as her company has become one of the largest independent book publishers in the nation, Raccah sees a bright future.

“We are pioneers in the most old-fashioned way. We are at the beginning again,” said Raccah, founder, publisher and chief executive of Sourcebooks.

The Naperville book publisher was the second publisher in the United States to obtain an Apple developer’s license to develop iPhone apps, Raccah said. Launched in February 2009, its $4.99 Most Baby Names app has become a top-seller, drawn from the company’s popular Complete Book of Baby Names book.

Sourcebooks now has 54 apps in development and also is expanding its line of digital and mixed media books to deliver content in whatever form the customer prefers.  “We’ve become a technology company,” said Raccah, who started the book publishing business in 1987 in her Naperville home.

“We are moving to a future where books can be with you always” in different print and digital formats, Raccah said. Sourcebooks’ goal, Raccah said, is to put the right book into consumers’ hands when they need it.

Sourcebooks now has eight imprints and employs about 70 workers. It has grown partly by buying smaller, niche publishers at a rate of about one acquisition a year and by creating new products for the digital age.    “Book publishing is in transformation,” Raccah said. “You have to explore lots of different areas because you’re not going to know what’s going to work upfront.”

The company’s focus on innovation stems from a workplace culture that allows employees to try new ideas and product lines.    Raccah encourages the sole proprietors she has acquired to become employees and continue their entrepreneurial spirit within the company.

Sourcebooks picked up Deb Werksman in 1998, when it acquired her Hysteria press specializing in humor. Werksman saw joining Sourcebooks as a way to focus on what she did best, while gaining the infrastructure and support of a large company. “I had an opportunity to be an entrepreneur in an entrepreneurial environment without having to own the company,” said Werksman, who maintained her Bridgeport, CT, location after the acquisition.

Sourcebooks offered her the chance to manage the Casablanca imprint of non-fiction romance books.    “I was able to build my piece of the business very aggressively with enormous support,” she said.    In 2006, Werksman saw an opportunity to expand outside her category with a Jane Austen-related novel, and she became a romance fiction editor. “It’s such an entrepreneurial and innovative environment that good ideas can come from everybody,” Werksman said.

Today Sourcebooks Landmark, A fiction label    Werksman    WORKS ON, is the leading publisher of Jane Austen-related literature, while Sourcebooks Casablanca publishes 70 to 80 romance titles a year, the company said.

Raccah sets the tone because she is willing to hear suggestions from anyone, Werksman said. What I m asking for may be rejected, but I ll know why, she said. It    not like, `Go back to your desk, we re not doing it that way.’

Encouraging employees to come forward with ideas will spur innovation.    “Any strong innovative culture is based on open communication across the organization,” said Lisa Gundry, professor of management and director of the Leo V. Ryan Center for Creativity and Innovation at DePaul Unversity’s Kellstadt School of Business.

What’s more, inherent in an innovative culture is a willingness to let employees take risks without fear of punishment if they’re not successful, Gundry said.    Raccah took her own big risk when she left a career in advertising at Leo Burnett and invested $17,000 in retirement funds to launch Sourcebooks. While the company initially focused on books for the banking industry, Raccah quickly realized other markets were larger and more interesting.

Now Raccah encourages employees to look for new opportunities. We re always looking for the next thing, said Lynn Dilger, vice president and director of technology and content delivery.     Anyone can say, what do we think about doing this?

Often, the idea generation and product development is a collective process. As digital publishing emerged, “We’ve worked hard to have the discussion about all of the things digital across all levels of the company,” said Todd Stocke, editorial director. “You have to bridge departments that might not necessarily appear to bridge easily,” Stocke said.

Looking at the growing number of iPhone users, Sourcebooks saw an opportunity to re-purpose some of its content. Working together, we thought, `What would be a great app?’ We wanted to create an experience that a little different than just reading the book,    Dilger said.

That type of collaboration often breeds innovation, Gundry said. “Innovation or change doesn’t reside in one individual’s mind alone,” she said. By laying out challenges and encouraging employees to    work together to diagnose the problem,    she said, “they will be much more likely to come up with strategies to promote growth,” she said.