5 Questions for Tim Oliver of Macmillan Education [INTERVIEW]
Ahead of Oxford’s next BookMachine event on Thursday 27 June, guest speaker Tim Oliver has kindly answered some questions about all things digital!
Tim is Head of the Digital Publishing Unit for Macmillan Education. Over 10 years’ experience in digital project management, extensive involvement with learning management systems and previous roles in trade, academic, NGO publishing and startups in the first dotcom era have imbued him with a passion for traditional, new and emerging publishing media.
1. Is there a digital development / product on the horizon that you’re particularly interested in?
Publishing has always been a complex industry, and the ebook revolution has made it more so. The additional intricacies within the educational sector with its multi-format digital publishing have been further increased by emerging technologies. Where ActionScript used to be the default programming language for interactive content, the steady decline of Flash in favour of new application frameworks and web standards has changed the landscape and made an increasing range of solutions available. The general aim today is to simplify the options for both commissioning editors and customers so that the same content can be made available through different media without the need to recreate it multiple times. That’s easier said than done. Print still dominates publishers’ revenues, and while ‘digital-first’ is the new Holy Grail of publishing, certainly for educational projects, there are still no obvious off-the-shelf guidelines to achieving that end. We are though in the process of building new kinds of workflows to enable this ambition, which is exciting. So, I’m interested in creating innovative types of content for new technologies, devising products for multiple devices and making the workflow more efficient along the way.
2. Do you have one key nugget of advice to offer to anyone that is starting work in digital publishing?
Be able to prove an interest and capability in tech. That doesn’t mean you need to be able to programme or wield every Creative Suite tool adeptly, but you should be able to demonstrate knowledge, interest or experience in the recent history of digital publishing, whether it’s through vocational training, extra-curricula courses, personal experience or a portfolio of your own work. I started in publishing through an internship with a small London publisher, hanging around long enough until I could convince them to start paying me. That was my springboard, and later I found my forte in Production after trying my hand at most of the publishing functions. In my second role, I had responsibility for commissioning and managing the organisation’s website, among other tasks, and have leant towards that area ever since. Now that digital is implicit within publishing, opportunities can follow once you have a foot in the door through temping or relevant roles in related industries. And once you’re in publishing, involvement in digital publishing will naturally follow nowadays.
3. Which three words best describe Macmillan Education’s Digital Publishing Unit?
Processes. Mentoring. Busy.
4. What has been your proudest moment at Macmillan?
There have been a few, such as involvement in various successful and award-winning products, seeing digital-only publishing projects move into profitability, and contributing to interactive components which really do enhance the learning experience. I can’t single out one particular moment, as I’m pleased every time we publish something new, but perhaps I get most satisfaction from having brought software development for some of our products in-house so that we can now truly call ourselves digital publishers.
5. What make and model was your first computer?
Commodore Vic 20. I remember playing a lot of chess and endless games involving asteroids and aliens. It was also easy to get to grips with basic programming, such as making shapes move across the screen and creating quizzes, which opened my eyes to the basics of programming and the visual power of pixels. I soon started coveting my friend’s ZX Spectrum though, and I’ve been impatient to get my hands on the latest gadgets ever since.