5 Questions for Michael Bhaskar [INTERVIEW]

michaelMichael Bhaskar is Digital Publishing Director at Profile Books. He has worked at Pan Macmillan, a literary agency and an economics research firm and is author of a forthcoming book about publishing. He can be found on Twitter as @ajaxlogos. He’s one of our top speakers at BookMachine Unplugged, so we thought we’d find out a little bit more:

1. How did you end up working in publishing?

In my final term at university it occurred to me I needed to find a job, quickly. I’d done some work experience in publishing in the summers so I wrote a few letters and was lucky enough that someone was going on maternity leave at the literary agency Rogers, Coleridge and White, and so they needed extra help. It was the foot in the door.


2. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned? (without giving away your talk idea…)

Quite a few: everything is more complicated than you think it’s going to be, time and money are in even more chronic shortages than you imagine them to be, too often it’s not what you know but who you know that counts and when it comes to digital publishing, attitude and self-definition are more important than hard skills. Hard-skills can be acquired if you have the right mentality, but not the other way round. One other thing I have learnt is that everyone misjudges the publishing industry. They think we sell more units, make more money, have more power and enjoy easier lives than is really true; in reality this is a scrappy, small industry where most products have track records to make other media industries wince.


3. What is the main focus of your forthcoming book?

My book looks at two questions – firstly, what is publishing? When you start thinking about it, it’s not obvious. The classic idea is publishing is to make something public. Yet the idea of public is itself so confused and fuzzy it doesn’t tell us anything. This question matters today because as publishers try to reconfigure themselves for a digital age it is becoming obvious everyone and anyone can be a publisher. If we can’t say what that means in the first place it’s not only a strange position but means publishing’s identity will, eventually, approach crisis. Which, at the least, isn’t good for business. Along the way I look at many of the great printers, publishers, media theorists, business gurus and assorted characters who make the whole thing so interesting.


4. What project are you most proud of?

No one project in particular. The thing I am proudest of is building sizeable, profitable and sustainable revenue streams from digital products, whatever they are and wherever they come, for publishers. When you look at the struggles to monetize digital content most industries have gone through, on the whole we haven’t done too badly.


5. And your biggest prediction for the industry this year?

In writing the book I’ve done a lot of research on the history of publishing. One of things that immediately becomes clear is the timescales most of us use in our professional lives aren’t very good at understanding deep changes in technology and economics. So, for example, the printing press was invented in the 1450s but the modern idea of a publisher didn’t emerge until the end of the eighteenth century. The important changes happen more gradually than most people think. So here is my prediction for 2013: nothing epoch making will occur!

Hear Michael talk at BookMachine Unplugged on Thursday 21st February in London.