Olivia Whenman

Digital Business Manager Pan MacMillan

For Olivia Whenman, the rise of audio books sees oral storytelling ‘coming full circle’. Here, she shares the day-to-day of life as a Digital Business Manager at Pan Macmillan, and offers advice for those looking to get into her line of work.

Can you describe your current role for us?

I am the Digital Business Manager at Pan Macmillan Australia. My role encompasses ebook and audiobook production, etailer account management, and marketing and sales. The nature of the role is heavily focused on the online digital spaces and platforms that lend themselves to ebooks, audiobooks and other digital products rather than the bricks and mortar spaces we all recognise as traditionally for print. My department is therefore aptly named the Digital Department. My team is a small, dedicated group of creative people that work really hard to produce digital publications and distribute, sell and market them online.

What does a typical day in your job look like?

It can vary depending on what stage we are in the production workflow. In the beginning stages I focus on our monthly schedules/programmes and familiarising myself with the frontlist releases. This includes pre-production preparation for audiobooks such as narrator casting, organising the recording studio/s, and prepping manuscripts. In the middle it can look like pitching new books to our key digital retailers (etailers). From a production standpoint it involves managing recordings of audiobook titles and overseeing the conversion of ebooks into specific digital formats. The end stages encompass the distribution of final assets, the title onsale itself and most importantly etailer marketing promotions and evergreen metadata processes, which ensure that titles (frontlist and backlist) are surfacing in as many places online as possible.

What was your pathway to working in publishing?

I studied a Bachelor of Media at Macquarie University. Alongside the core digital media subjects I focused on publishing units to help curate a degree that I felt was as modern for the industry as possible. I was also an editor of the university student magazine and had a side hustle as a freelance writer, copywriter and copyeditor. After graduating I decided to continue with freelance work until I saw an opportunity at Pan Macmillan in 2016 and I've been there ever since!

I joined Pan Macmillan Australia as an assistant. This role was a great foundation for me to learn the ropes and gain as much knowledge about the digital business as possible. I’ve since worked my way up to the role I am in now. When I first started I was drawn to digital as it was an area of growth and five years later I still find it the most interesting area of the industry.

What would you say are the three most crucial skills needed to be successful at your job?

Communication – Being able to communicate succinctly and quickly is a must especially when factoring in my two other crucial skills. If I’m not communicating effectively this can have a snowball effect that could impact other people and departments or even slow down the resolution process, which could impact customers or etailers.

Collaboration and teamwork – My role relies heavily on being able to collaborate and work with a lot of different people internally and externally. Be it the production team that supplies us with all our files, to the etailers that merchandise and sell our titles on their platforms or the audio engineers, voice actors and authors we work with in the audio studio. This is a role that requires a lot of moving parts and people!

Problem solving – Sometimes the digital space can feel like the wild west so I’ve really had to sharpen my problem solving skills to adapt to everything it throws at me. The key bit of advice I would give anyone starting out in the industry, not just in digital publishing, is that when posed with a problem, try to think of 2-3 solutions to pitch to your manager or teammates on how to fix it. Even if those solutions don’t end up being the right ones, proactive problem solving is really valuable in the workforce and something that I always encourage. The upside is the more you do it the better you get at it!

What excites you about working in publishing right now?

Being a part of what is considered the ‘youngest’ part of the business gives me the opportunity to be involved in some really innovative and interesting publishing projects.

But what excites me the most about these projects is the storytelling. Australia has an incredibly rich history of storytelling and I've been lucky to work on audiobooks like No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani and The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar, among other fantastic titles on the Pan Macmillan list.

Audiobooks reflect the history of storytelling coming full circle. Oral storytelling is the oldest form of storytelling and although the audiobook industry is relatively new, the concept of listening to stories is ancient. So bringing stories to life in audio is really exciting as it’s going back to basics. This is even more special when it’s the author telling their own story. You learn a lot about a book when you watch an author ‘breathe’ it to life.

Where do you see the audio market headed in the future? And do you see your role having to change or adapt?

Audio is still a relatively small part of the overall publishing industry but when combined with other areas like podcasting and long/short form storytelling on social media platforms, ‘audio’ is actually something we all probably come across everyday in some capacity. There’s also that element of being able to multi-task that is unique to audiobooks and something I really love about it. We can listen to an audiobook while on our daily jog or when gardening or cooking dinner, which is something we can’t do when physically reading a print or ebook. We also have to consider the value that audiobooks have in making stories more accessible for a lot of people.

With ongoing digital convergence I see the audiobook market becoming even more integrated into our day to day life. The two areas that I’ll be keeping an eye on are new audiobook experiences (e.g. new ways of interacting with audio) and new technologies (e.g. how the devices and apps we use to listen to audio evolve). Learning and adapting is also something that I’m always doing given the nature of the digital space!

What advice would you offer to someone looking to get into your area of work?

If ‘digital’ is an area of publishing that you’re keen on it’s really important that you have a good grasp on the core concepts of metadata as well as the online retail platforms for ebooks and audiobooks. Experience in coding or sound engineering for production can also be really valuable skills to have in your toolkit. The key thing to know is that this area of the industry is constantly evolving and changing so being open to learning and upskilling is also a must.