Meet Jane Friedman, Queen of the Backlist

This pioneer of audio publishing and digital rights, a force majeure in the publishing world, be in Milford for the Readers and Writers Festival next month

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  • Jane Friedman

One of Friedman's mottos is that “a good book is a good book is a good book.”

By Marilyn Rosenthal

— Jane Friedman, who will appear on the panel "Words Won’t Die" at the Milford Readers and Writers Festival next month, is a dynamo who's has had a fantastic career at the top levels in the publishing world.

She always knew she wanted to be in publishing and was determined to get there. One way to break into publishing in earlier days was to start as a secretary and work your way up. And she did, indeed.

She started as a Dictaphone typist in the foreign rights department of Random House. Shortly afterward, she worked her way into the publicity department of Knopf, a division of Random House, and moved up the ranks quickly by being innovative as well as stalwart. She was the inventor of the author’s tour, a powerful publicity and marketing tool. She also was the first to embrace audio publishing, which was relatively unheard of in the day.

After 29 years at Knopf she had various titles to her credit, such as executive vice president of the Knopf Publishing Group, executive vice president of Random House, publisher of Vintage books, and founder and president of Random House Audio.

Friedman made her first major publishing move to become global CEO of Harper Collins, where she earned the title "Queen of the Backlist." The backlist is a list of in-print books maintained and sold by the publishing company, as opposed to newly published books, which are often referred to as the frontlist. Backlist books are often classics, but not necessarily. They certainly are the backbone of a publishing house, and often account for 40 percent of its revenue.

Friedman decided to resurrect the backlist and turn it digital. Since digital rights were unheard of before 1994, copyright issues were not a problem. So, she got the digital rights to books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Sophie’s Choice." And that was another publishing coup for her.

After 11 years at Harper Collins, Friedman was once again ready for her next adventure. Understanding that the digital revolution made everything available, she started Open Road Integrated Media with Jeffrey Sharp, a movie producer, and turned books into movies. Open Road digitized backlist literature and non- fiction content and made these titles come alive on the Internet. They published a variety of well-known authors such as William Styron, Pat Conroy, Alice Walker, Pearl S. Buck, and Dee Brown. Their current catalog has 10,000 titles.

Friedman left Open Road 14 months ago and is voraciously pursuing her substantial knowledge of the publishing industry by consulting with various literary agencies, startup-publishers, and working with any kind of intellectual property. She is openly willing to share her wealth of knowledge and sits on several publishing boards.

One of Friedman's mottos is that “a good book is a good book is a good book.”

Friedman will appeal on the "Words Won’t Die" panel with Brooke Warner, publisher of She Writes Press — an innovative hybrid publisher for women authors — and Julie Barton, self-published author of "Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself," which was picked up by Penquin Random House and turned into a New York Times bestseller. The panel is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Milford Theater, 114 East Catharine St., Milford, Pa.

The Milford Readers and Writers Festival will be held from Sept. 28 through 30. For more information visit

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