John Bond has spent over twenty years in UK trade publishing, encompassing roles such as Marketing Director at Penguin and Group Sales and Marketing Director at HarperCollins. In April this year, he co-founded whitefox, a service designed to ‘cut through the clutter, using the right talent for the right project in the right way.’
1. On your Website you mention a ‘fragmented publishing landscape’. What does this mean exactly and how might this change?
Waterstones are selling the Kindle. Agents are publishing. Publishers are finally having to understand their consumers and if not sell, at least market to them effectively. And at the same time work out what to do with their warehouses. Writers, published or unpublished, have the ability to cut out large physical distribution machines should they choose to do that. It’s like Alice in Wonderland compared to where we were even five years ago. Everything is up in the air, but in a good way.
2. What do you think the key is to successfully collaboration between in-house and outsourced project workers?
The key is being able to navigate your way though the inevitable tensions between operational efficiency and creative producers. If you’ve worked in publishing for decades, you appreciate the importance of the relationship between those parts of an organisation if you want to get anything done. We come from trade publishing. It is the only language we speak. But we do have a fresh perspective on how it might work a bit better for everyone. And there are already a myriad of existing relationships between external freelancers and different in-house publishing functions. More than most writers would imagine. We just want to organise that space so that everyone can work out what they really value in the publishing process and pay for it only when they need it.
3. Whitefox is going to help publishers streamline their workflows and focus on what they are good at; creating content. Is there any other ways, given the breadth of expertise on your team, that you think you can help?
We’ve already been asked to outsource Finance and HR services. And increasingly provide affordable, bespoke marketing and PR solutions. When we started whitefox, we went out pitching that we could do anything, which I think made people believe we weren’t focussed enough, so we created as big a network as possible within editorial and design. But actually I’d say we’ve had as many publishers and agents and self-publishing requests for help with cost-effective, quantifiable marketing. Our approach has been to say, we know there are pressures, how can we help alleviate those via access to our database.
4. On a personal level, what major changes have you experienced going from running huge divisions of large publishing houses to setting up a new company?
Both are challenging in different ways. Running a 150 strong UK and International Sales and Marketing machine is effectively a management role, almost regardless of what the company are producing. A start-up feels liberating and allows you to be ruthlessly focussed and decisive, even if there’s no IT dept to call when your Blackberry packs up, or a seemingly inexhaustable supply of printer ink cartridges. I miss my creative colleagues all being in one large office. But we’re having fun collaborating with so many enthusiastic, energised, productive people all over the place. I had to quickly get used to my emails not being automatically answered or phone calls returned, because I no longer sat on a main board with a grand title. So I used that as a spur to rediscover some of the hustling and pitching I’d always loved when I first started out in publishing.
5. And finally, what is your top tip for anyone wanting to make a difference in the publishing industry?
Don’t be seduced into thinking that promotion, a shiny new title and large organisational responsibility actually amount to anything tangible in the end. If you can’t quantify your value to the content producers, start having one eye on retraining. The world will always need plumbers and psycho-therapists.