The Tech Tuesday concept, launched by the London Book Fair, is designed as a series of informative networking evenings, bringing together selected panelists from the publishing industry and offering an insight on how publishing business develops and thrives in the digital era, where technology infuses every aspect of the creative industries.
The theme of the third appointment, held on June 24th and chaired by Jacks Thomas, Director of The London Book Fair, was ‘creativity’, and whether that hard-to-define skill was enough to future-proof the industry. What other skillsets are required for publishing to thrive in the new creative landscape in which the book business finds itself?
Publishing needs to behave with more swagger and confidence, said Penguin Random House Group HR Director Neil Morrison. ‘It’s not good at working out what it is good at and shouting about it,’ he said. ‘It’s too apologetic at the moment, and it’s not helped by a media that wants to talk it down.’
There were certainly plenty of c-words bandied about alongside ‘creativity’. Peter McKay, Chief Executive of the Publishing Training Centre – the event’s sponsors – wanted to add ‘commercial’, and Lisa Milton, MD of Orion General, wanted to add ‘consumer’. ‘Is ‘creative’ enough?’ McKay repeated. ‘In a word, ‘no’. It never has been. All creative ideas need to be commercial, and along the way there is a lot of ‘process grind’ to allow those ideas to be shared’.
In Milton’s view, creativity and commercial are both critical (another c-word!) to what publishers do, ‘but I want to add ‘consumer’ too’. ‘Consumer insight is very important – we have to understand our readers and communicate – my final c-word! – with them. Sometimes I think trade publishing is a little narrow-minded at the moment. We see something that works – Minecraft, baking – and we all imitate it. Part of our success with Gone Girl was about all elements of the business working together and communicating with our readers’.
Digital consultant and former MD of Penguin Digital Anna Rafferty said that ‘knowing a book is good for the market frequently comes from data now – there is an idea that the nose for a good book means someone who is very good at reading data’. For her, the biggest change brought by digital is the direct access to readers it allows, a shift that Faber’s CEO Stephen Page frequently mentions.
How is digital affecting recruitment? ‘Everyone’s job is digital now,’ said Milton. ‘Editors are having to take on more and more responsibility, more skills. They need to know about key words and search engine optimisation and social media strategy, and they need to have a voice on Twitter and they need to be the media ‘go to’ person. Each day their job is evolving.’
Rafferty believes digital has allowed other companies to become publishers, that in some senses everyone is – or can be – a publisher now. ‘This means publishing travels, and that means we might lose people to other areas, to big brands that have a publishing strategy’.
On this point, McKay added that it was very important for publishers to develop programs ‘to retain engaged, motivated people. Staff development internally is very important’. This was picked up by Morrison too, who added: ‘You need organisations that are open, that are willing to change. In order to develop internally, you need people who are hungry for change. Publishing is both arrogant and insecure – arrogant because it is not willing to learn, and insecure because it doesn’t realise what it is good at.
‘It is a hugely creative industry full of passion and imaginative ideas that can change the world – we all know that. But is it attractive enough to a wide group of people? Is it doing enough out reach to different groups?’
That was a challenge of sorts, one that will be interesting to see play out in the months ahead. Meanwhile, one curious, final thought: this particular Tech Tuesday was an industry event without a single mention of Amazon or Hachette. Excuse for a final c-word? Cool.
To keep on following the Tech Tuesdays debates visit the LBFwebiste