On April 4th, 6 p.m. onwards, Pace University’s annual Eliot Schein Lecture provided an illuminating glimpse into the future of publishing, all from the comfort of Zoom. This year’s lecturer, Maja Thomas, Chief Innovation Officer at Hachette Livre, the parent company of Hachette Book Group, brought her wealth of experience and expertise to the virtual stage. 

Maja Thomas, based in California and serving as the Director of the Hachette Innovation Program, is no stranger to the complexities of the publishing industry. Her role spans continents as she collaborates internationally, fostering partnerships between Hachette and both startups and established technological giants. Her mission? To spearhead digital transformation within the publishing industry by leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence. 

The theme of her lecture, “Innovation in Publishing: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” promised an engaging exploration of the risks and rewards inherent in pushing the boundaries of traditional publishing norms. Throughout the lecture, Thomas delved into various facets of innovation within the publishing landscape, highlighting both the potential pitfalls and the transformative power of embracing change. She discussed the challenges publishers face in adapting to new formats and platforms in an era dominated by digital consumption. From e-books to audiobooks, the landscape of publishing is evolving rapidly, requiring publishers to stay agile and innovative. 

During the session, Thomas kept the audience engaged and interactive by posing questions in the chat. Participants were encouraged to share their last beach read and on which beach, as well as their predictions on how soon AI would start impacting the publishing workflow. This interactive element added depth and inclusivity to the discussion, fostering a sense of community among attendees. 

Moderated by Program Director, Professor Manuela Soares, Thomas’s presentation was punctuated by three “Aha!” moments that shaped her journey in the publishing industry. The first occurred during her time at Atlantic Records when she heard David Sedaris speaking on the car radio and decided she wanted to work with him someday. The second moment came while visiting the Media Lab at MIT, where she encountered an E Ink display for the first time and realized its potential to revolutionize the publishing industry. And the third “Aha!” moment came with the introduction of ChatGPT, an innovative AI tool that has the potential to transform various aspects of the publishing workflow. 

At the conclusion of her presentation, Maja Thomas graciously opened the floor to questions from the audience, sparking a lively discussion that delved deep into the implications of AI technology and ChatGPT in the publishing industry. Participants eagerly raised their concerns about the potential impact on creativity and job security within the field. Thomas addressed each question in detail offering insights into the revolutionizing role that ChatGPT can play in the future of publishing. Her thoughtful responses not only shed light on the transformative power of AI but also underscored the importance of embracing innovation while safeguarding the core values of creativity and human ingenuity in publishing. 

Collaboration lies at the heart of innovation. By fostering a culture of collaboration, publishers can tap into external expertise and resources to drive meaningful change. Innovation inherently involves risk-taking. Thomas talked about embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success, fostering a culture where experimentation and iteration are celebrated rather than feared. By learning from failures, publishers can refine their strategies and stay ahead of the curve. 

As we reflect on Maja Thomas’s insights, it becomes clear that the future of publishing is intricately linked to innovation and adaptability. By embracing change, harnessing technology, and fostering collaboration, publishers can navigate the evolving landscape with confidence and resilience. 

In conclusion, the Eliot Schein Lecture with Maja Thomas provided a thought-provoking exploration of the challenges and opportunities facing the publishing industry. As we look towards the future, one thing is certain: innovation will continue to shape the way we create, distribute, and consume content.