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Category: Future of Publishing

George Walkley

Looking foreword: The next 5 years of publishing

Here’s George Walkley’s foreword to the latest BookMachine book (published Spring 2016) and a taster of what’s to come:

Much of the debate about the future of publishing has concentrated on the print versus ebook dynamic. That is unsurprising, at least in as much as ebooks represent one of the most important commercial developments or our industry in recent years. In particular, they have allowed many authors to successfully publish themselves, reading to a parallel set of conversations about traditional versus self-publishing.

If only the world were so simple, and could be reduced to these sort of binary variables.

Print, ebooks, traditional publishers (large and small) and self-published authors will all coexist, as part of a future that is more messy and fragmented than the industry we know today.

As publishers, we’ve innovated around business models and delivery formats, but barely begun to realise the potential of genuine innovation around how we entertain and educate readers. In future, authors and publishers will offer a broader range of books and other media, products and services, print and digital, narrative text and non-linear content. Those will be delivered to readers via an increasing range of stores, platforms and devices, and sold according to multiple commercial models. They will face ever greater competition from a broad range of media, especially when consumed on a smartphone or tablet which also affords access to every other form of content. Some of the intermediaries and businesses in those processes will be long established in the world of books. Some of them won’t exist today and will emerge from the next decade.

The greatest challenge for publishers will be managing the range of processes and outcomes implied by these variables: structures, resources and capabilities established over many years may still be relevant for parts of the book market, but will seem, at best, situationally appropriate. Any publisher with scale and breadth of output will find itself having to manage multiple new processes alongside their existing business – and those who avoid that challenge by electing to specialise in particular niches may find their market smaller and returns diminishing.

In that context, the fundamental skills for publishers will be agility and learning. I believe that the publishers who are alive to creative, technological and commercial possibilities – those in fact who have the sort of professional curiosity and drive on display in this volume – will be the people who create the future of this industry.

George Walkley is Head of Digital for the Hachette UK Group with responsibility for enabling and driving implementation of digital initiatives and strategy across the group, including ebooks and apps. Since 2005 he has held various positions in marketing, business management and digital strategy at Time Warner Book Group and latterly Little, Brown Book Group.

How crowdfunding is changing publishing: Mathew Clayton interview

Mathew Clayton is as an editor, events organiser and writer. Currently, he works as the Head of Publishing at the innovative crowdfunding publisher Unbound and runs a literary tent at Glastonbury Festival. Here Sarah Ann Juckes, co-host of the free BookMachine Brighton event (How crowdfunding is changing publishing, 8th June). interviews him.

1) You’ve had a varied career in literature as an editor, festival programmer and publisher at Unbound. What drew you to working with books initially?

When I left college, I set up a second hand bookstall. Every Saturday I went round jumble sales and bought all the half decent books I could find, then I sold them to students at Sussex University. I really enjoyed doing this, but I wanted to move to London, and managed to get a job working for the Guardian in their PR department. My boss was also involved in the Guardian’s book publishing – they had an imprint with Fourth Estate and I started helping her with that. Fourth Estate were then a small, exciting and fast growing independent publisher. I was hooked.

2) Has any of these roles changed your view of the industry and/or books?

Festivals are really interesting, as they are part of a new emerging literary culture that includes book groups, creative writing courses, independent bookshops and crowdfunding. None of these thriving sectors have emerged from within the traditional industry, they have all been developed independently by writers and readers.

And everyone involved in publishing should, at some point, sell books. You gain a real understanding of how difficult it is to get people to try something new.

3) As Head of Publishing at Unbound, do you think there is a certain type of literature that lends itself particularly well to crowdfunding?

I think non-fiction is easier to fund than fiction and it really helps if you have an established network of people that are interested in your work. But underpinning that is the need to be the kind of person that wants to establish a network of people that are interested in your work, rather than simply hoping that someone else will do it for you.

4) What are the biggest mistakes you feel other publishers are making today?

Not building direct relationships with readers. In three years of programming literary events at the Brighton Festival, no publisher ever asked if it would be possible to get email addresses of the people that paid to see their authors. Publishers don’t own bookshops, they don’t run festivals, they don’t organise book clubs. I realise I am generalising here a little, but their whole way of operating is to sell via shops – they are used to keeping readers at a distance. This is very short-sighted.

5) What do you think the future holds for crowdfunding books?

At its heart, our model of publishing is selling books direct to readers in advance of publication. More and more people will do this – any new publisher that doesn’t try and do this is mad. I don’t think many traditional publishers will try crowdfunding, as they will not be able to culturally get their head around the idea that a book might fail before it is even published. From a personal perspective, I love commissioning books in this way – I have far more freedom than I ever had when working for Random House, Octopus or Michael O’Mara.

Grab your free ticket to hear more from Mathew at our Snapshots III book launch event here. BookMachine Brighton is hosted by Sarah Ann Juckes and Isheeta Mustafi.

We are also hosting events for the launch of Snapshots III in London and Oxford on the 8th June, and Cambridge on the 13th. Join us.

Business books

The business of publishing: on writing a book live

You’d think that publishers would be in the perfect position to turn their hand to writing a book, wouldn’t you? Especially one who actually began her career – back in the Cretaceous Period – as a writer: my first gig fresh out of university in 1991 was to write a dictionary of saints’ lives for W & R Chambers. (I’d turned up for a speculative interview on the day they’d been let down by an author. In publishing, as in life, it’s all about putting yourself in the way of opportunities then grabbing them with both hands.)

But actually, publishing and writing are wildly different skill sets. As a publisher you take a big-picture view, creating a commercially focused commissioning strategy, putting in place systems and processes to optimize throughput of titles. You’re out there networking at conferences or lunching agents, getting sales reps fired up about your latest acquisition, planning a new campaign with your marketing team. You’re taking what the authors give you and making it fly. It’s creative alright, but it’s a special type of creativity: collaborative, coordinating, commercial.

As a writer, you’re typically sitting alone at your keyboard for days at a time. You’re immersed deep, deep in your subject; there are probably only a handful of people in the world with your level of expertise and you’re too worried about them stealing or rubbishing your ideas to talk to them about your book. Whereas your editor has a stake in many titles simultaneously, you’re completely invested in this one. It can be a lonely business. You need deep reserves of self-belief and stickability to build a sustained, original narrative from a blank page.

It took a conversation with my friend Sue, herself a powerful coach, to make me see that I’m naturally a publisher, not a writer: I’m an extrovert, I get my energy from connecting and engaging with others, not sitting alone with a keyboard. The interesting thing is that this holds true for many people, particularly entrepreneurs, many of whom have fascinating books inside them that will probably never get out if they don’t find a new way to write, one that suits their busy, multitasking lives and extrovert personalities.

And in any case, why should a business book be created as something apart from the business? Can’t it be created dynamically from its day-to-day activities, becoming an intrinsic part of the business itself? I’ve spent my career at the forefront of innovation in the publishing industry, so it seemed logical to treat this business book challenge as a live experiment in the book business.

So earlier this month I launched The Extraordinary Business Book Club, a weekly podcast featuring a wide range of high-profile authors, gurus, futurists, publishers and business and writing experts all exploring what it means to write and publish a business book today, and giving their views and experience on the best approaches, techniques and tools to get the job done. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing: trying out their ideas and writing my own business book live, week by week, reporting on my progress and discoveries, and encouraging others to do the same.

I’ll be blogging weekly for BookMachine on what comes up from the publishing perspective – the way the self-publishing and hybrid markets are evolving, the emergence of new services and tools (as I write, I’m just about to record an interview on the emergence of social selling), the role of agents, how authors can work alongside publishers on promotion, and so on.

If you have something interesting to say about the future of business books – or authors with interesting stories to tell about the writing of their books and how they work alongside their business – I’d love to hear from you: drop me a line on alison@alisonjones.com. And why not subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or at http://extraordinarybusinessbooks.com/?

Most authors have just one publisher checking on their progress and holding them accountable: I feel simultaneously privileged and terrified to have the entire BookMachine community on my back.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

My 2016 ebook marketplace hopes and wishes

Rather than speculate on what might happen in the ebook sector this year I thought it would be wiser to simply list the developments I’d like to see. So although some, and perhaps all, of these are a long shot, here’s my short list of hopes and wishes for the ebook market this year.

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Self-employed in publishing

Hope and Confidence: An optimistic future for publishing

Some weeks ago, I was explaining the returns system and how integral it had become to the industry to a friend.

“I get it,” he smiled, “publishing’s built on its broken bits.”

The comment was said without malice, but it gnawed at me. Is publishing really that ‘broken’? I don’t believe it for a minute, but is that naïve idealism, or do we have a real reason to hold out hope for the future?

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