The Future of Publishing: How to thrive in the evolving book world
This is a guest post by Anna Cunnane. Anna is Senior Data Executive at Abrams & Chronicle Books. Anna was winner of the Trailblazer Awards 2018, she is part of BookMachine Team Unplugged and was Chair of the Society of Young Publishers (2015-16). Here she reviews a panel she was asked to speak on at The London Book Fair 2018.
The panel I was invited to speak on at the London Book Fair was of particular interest to all ambitious publishing professionals, because it touched on how to stay ahead of the curve. As panellists, we were asked to comment on the skills young publishers need to ensure that they (and the industry as a whole) need to thrive.
The speakers on the panel were:
- Abiola Bello, Co-Founder, The Author School and Hashtag Press
- Anna Cunnane, Senior Data Executive, Abrams & Chronicle Book ltd
- Clio Cornish, Editor, HarperCollins
- Heather McDaid, Founder and Publisher, 404 Ink
- David Roche, Non-executive Chairman, The London Book Fair
The future of Publishing
David began by asking us several questions about where we believed publishing was heading and what we needed to do now to be at the forefront of new technologies and business models in the future. The panel agreed that nobody knows what the future of publishing will look like. To make sure we are in the best shape possible to meet the future we need to do much more to encourage diversity in our workforce and in the books we publish.
Being agile and proactive in career development
The panellists stressed flexibility as an advantage in a fast changing publishing landscape. Publishers now are adopting more agile workflows which demand collaboration across departments. Innovation can often come from outsiders who are not used to publishing conventions and can spot opportunities or offer better ways of doing things. It was noticeable that both Abiola and Heather had started their own companies and barriers to entry in publishing whether formal education requirements or geography were cited as a source of frustration. In the unpredictable job market of the future portfolio careers could replace the typical desk job. The publishers who are proactive about their professional development now and who are actively building new skills will be the most successful in 5-10 years.
On the use of data
David asked us how consumer data and insight is affecting acquisitions, and whether editorial ‘flair’ is going to become a relic of the past. Clio commented that data insight does inform acquisitions decisions but some publishers have had bad experiences, for example with Youtube stars, that means they are less likely to offer big advances based solely on this. She noted that recent bestsellers such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine can be put down to the traditional ingredients of a great story, editorial passion and a committed marketing and publicity effort. I would add that where data can be really useful is when it’s applied less to content and more to platforms. Smart phones have created a resurgence in audio that publishers were not expecting and streaming services such as Netflix are encouraging ‘binge’ watching which may influence reading habits.
Battling for consumer attention
So how can we as publishers take on other forms of media and win the battle for consumer attention? First as mentioned above we need to expand our hiring practices to bring people into the industry who never would have considered a career in publishing. We need to invest in and promote a wider range of talent who will help us reach out to untapped audiences. Other industries are outstripping us in this regard – a direct comparison shows that the size of the UK book and e-book market (£2.02 billion in 2017) is less than half of UK gaming market (£.5.11 billion for the same period). But there are opportunities to be grasped – millennials tend to value experiences over owning things and they want to make purchases that align with their values. Some of the ways publishers can monetise these trends include live storytelling events, clever engagement marketing and an industry that reflects wider society.
Finding innovation in publishing
Finally, David asked us if the next big technology revolution was likely to come from within the publishing community or someone from outside. We agreed that it could come from a start-up within the community but none of us believed that the publishing culture up until now has really supported this. A lack of professionalism indicated in low entry salaries and unpaid interns means that ambitious young people don’t have much incentive to work in publishing. Around the margins of the book industry exciting things are happening and sales are booming. Larger trade publishers in particular could look to smaller publishers and STM/educational publishers for how to create a culture of innovation.
All the panellists acknowledged that these changes mean financial risk and take long term vision. Yet if we continue to hide behind our role as cultural gatekeepers and resist engaging with the future we are risking our irrelevance.