In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine is featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Michael Bhaskar, Co-founder & Publishing Director at new digital publisher Canelo and guest speaker at our Oxford event.
1. We all know that there has been enormous change and evolution in the publishing industry recently. What would you say, in your opinion, has made the biggest impact on the industry in the last 5 years?
In trade publishing, the transition in retail. Consolidation, shifting to online and ebook; it’s these that have flowed through to create all the other changes we talk about so much like discoverability and direct to consumer marketing. In academic publishing I would tentatively say open access…but it may be that the biggest changes there are yet to come.
2. Which individuals or companies do you think have been major game changers or influencers in this time period and why?
Firstly, obviously, Amazon. It has swept all before it. Then the ongoing growth in scale amongst publishers, whether that is Pearson or Penguin Random House. In terms of startups there are almost too many to mention, have a look at the (now slightly outdated) list I keep. To my mind Wattpad is incredibly exciting – it is to words what Youtube is to moving images.
3. What projects have you been personally involved in in the past 5 years which have particularly excited you?
Probably the first thing was implementing profitable, workable, scalable and robust digital publishing systems across a few publishers. Not the most exciting, but operationally the most important. Then there are all the other projects. I felt privileged to be along for the ride that was 80 Days, an incredibly app project in every way from a spectacular team. It was fantastic on every level. Working as commissioning editor for the Ideas in Profile series was also great, and indeed working with a host of authors on anything from straight books to interactive experiences. However, without doubt, I would have to say that starting Canelo beats them all.
4. As publishing professionals, how can we best equip ourselves skills-wise to deal with big changes and developments in our industry?
I’m often asked this question and the truth is I don’t know. I think the best skills to have aren’t so much definite skills as attitudes. These are adaptability, an open mind and brute perseverance against all the odds. Software, technology, marketing techniques, they all change. Being able to ride the changes is probably more important in the long run than hyper specialised skills, although fully prepared to be wrong on that.
5. We wouldn’t want you to reveal all of your insights before the big event, but can you give us one example of a trend or major development that you think might occur over the next 5 years in publishing?
I’ve just finishing drafting a book about it, so maybe I’m biased (plug alert: it’s called CURATION, out next year). But I believe that the biggest issue facing publishing is oversupply. We operate in saturated markets. This has been greatly exacerbated by the digital age. The raw stuff publishers deal with – information, entertainment, knowledge, culture – are now widely available, concentrated onto our screens and devices, all formats and forms mixing and competing with an extraordinary intensity. Small islands of exclusivity, the monopoly of copyright, is all that protects publishers from the maelstrom. The question I think is this: when content of all kinds is everywhere and superabundant, will copyright be enough to base a whole industry on?
Join Michael at ‘Publishing: The Next 5 Years’ in Oxford.