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Quantum 2018

Don’t Delegate the Future: FutureBook event report

Friday’s FutureBook Conference, organised by The Bookseller, presented three conferences in one: alongside the main FutureBook programme, there were parallel streams on The Audiobook Revolution and EdTech for Publishers.

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2017 in review: Interview with Holly Harley

Holly Harley is a senior editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, where she works on literary non-fiction including history, science, memoir and current affairs. She joined W&N in 2012 as an editorial assistant, prior to working for Gwyneth Paltrow’s website goop. Norah Myers interviews her here.

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A year in review: Interview with Lara Borlenghi

Lara Borlenghi has been Finance Director at Pan Macmillan for five years. Prior to this, Lara worked for 15 years in a variety of finance roles for different media companies, including Warner Music, Grazia magazine, Magic Radio and BBC Worldwide. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

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Infrastructure of publishing business

The reinvention of storytelling

Thousands of years ago, we told stories to each other. The best stories were those that could be repeated over and over again, changing little, those that embodied tribal memory, with strong, often repetitive structure and big heroes and villains. There wasn’t much by way of interior monologue or intertextuality.

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Audio publishing: Common misconceptions

Louise Newton is an Audio Assistant at Little, Brown Book Group, and works across all imprints at Little, Brown on fiction and non-fiction titles. Louise is London Chair for the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and assists the Royal Society of Literature at their events.

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membership economy

Draw me a picture: Why books are becoming more visual

When your satnav tells you your journey will take 58 minutes, are you one of those people who immediately things to themselves: ‘I bet I can bring it in in under 55.’?

I’m increasingly seeing ‘estimated reading time’ on blogs and articles these days, and I find that has a similar effect. ‘Six minutes? Rubbish. That’s 3 at the most.’

Which I do realise isn’t a very helpful attitude with which to approach either a journey or a piece of text.

But apart from tapping into our innate competitiveness, what purpose do estimated reading times serve?

Author and academic entrepreneur Heather McGowan, my guest in the Extraordinary Business Book Club last week, made the point tellingly:

If you looked at it in terms of newspapers, which is just an easy unit to understand, in the 1980s, we had the equivalent of about 40 newspapers coming at us every day. In 2008, it became 174 newspapers. In 2014, it became 280 newspapers, so we have this huge amount of content that’s coming at us every day. I think it’s giving us a fair amount of fatigue.’

There’s a famous Microsoft study on what technology is doing to our attention spans. From a frankly not wildly impressive 12 seconds in 2000, we are now down to 8 seconds, apparently. That’s just below goldfish standard (9 seconds, though how they measure this defeats me).

In one sense, books are the antidote to this frenetic grazing. In a book we can still lose track of time altogether – there’s space for deep thinking and complex issues, and the implicit contract with the reader is that they will devote their attention deeply enough and long enough to work through the chewy bits. I suspect this desire for deep diving in the face of relentless superficiality is one reason for the popularity of recent blockbusters like The Goldfinch and The Silk Roads.

But in another sense, books are just as caught up in this war for attention as any other textual content. So how do they compete in a world where people are making the decision on where to focus their attention based on a complex ROI calculation where value = benefit/processing time?

One solution, espoused by McGowan, is to start with visuals rather than text.

‘My starting process is: how would I put this on a single page so that people can understand it with very few words using shapes and different types of frameworks? I usually start with a series of frameworks that tell the story to me in my head and then after that I write… Visual processing speeds are much more quick and much more efficient. When you look at text, you turn those texts into symbols that you store in your mind visually. When you look at a picture, you can be 30,000 times faster reading all the same information that’s in a picture than in a narrative text.’

She estimates that while most business books take 6-9 hours to read, hers will be ‘consumed’ in 60-90 minutes, with better comprehension and retention.

We’re wired for pictures. Most of the information our brain processes is visual and we’re good at processing it really fast because we’ve been doing it for millions of years and our survival has historically depended upon it: reading is an evolutionary latecomer to the neurological party.

It’s exciting to see books like McGowan’s explore this more visual approach, marrying the power of visual commination with the depth and complexity of the book format. Projects such as David McCandless’s gorgeous Information is Beautiful and Dear Data, mesmerising data-visualisation postcards exchanged between Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, are showing what’s possible in this space.

Editors and writers are traditionally ‘word’ people – our challenge is to plug into the power of visualisation to create books that serves time-poor readers not only without sacrificing the beauty, creativity and depth of our stories and ideas, but enhancing them in the process.

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

10 things that used to be part of a publisher’s day that millennials will find hard to imagine…

Yesterday I discovered I’d been shortlisted for the Women in Publishing Pandora prize for ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’. By the time you may read this either Kate Wilson (MD of Nosy Crow) or Justine Solomons (founder of Byte the Book), my fellow shortlistees and true titans of the industry, will have scooped the award, but they can’t take this away from me.

It did get me thinking, though, that use of the word ‘sustained’. It’s code I suppose for ‘been around a while’ (and of course I have: 25 years in the industry, no less, as author, bookseller and publisher). Which prompted me to remember how much has changed in that time. Here are 10 things that used to be part of a publisher’s day that millennials will find hard to imagine…

1) Ozalids

These were the very last set of proofs, created from the negatives used to make the plates for printing the book. They were absolutely toxic – light-sensitive paper coated in chemicals that reeked of burning ammonia. I remember feeling sick the first time I had to check them, but the smell grew on you, which in retrospect was probably quite a dangerous sign.

2) The NBA

Once upon a time, way back, before 1995, there was a thing called the Net Book Agreement, which meant that the publisher would set the price for a book and that WAS the price, no matter where that book was sold. Small independent bookstores could thrive alongside supermarkets and chains with bulk buying power, and authors received a decent royalty on every sale. It was of course hopelessly anti-competitive and doomed. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

3) Creating p&ls by hand

When I arrived at Oxford University Press in 1997, my predecessor Alysoun Owen had left a detailed set of handover notes including a printed ‘Pub 1’ template – a basic p&l for a book showing gross margin/profit over initial printing and one reprint – and instructions on how to complete it. ‘You can do this in Excel,’ she had noted, ‘but I strongly recommend doing a few by hand so you understand how it all works.’ It was superb advice. As with all technology, spreadsheets are great servants but terrible masters if you don’t know what’s going on under the hood.

4) Clipping newspapers

My very first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant with W & R Chambers in Edinburgh, publishers of the Chambers Biographical Dictionary. And my early contribution to that august reference work was to spend day after day in a basement room, cutting out, photocopying and filing obituaries from The Times. I still have an encyclopedic knowledge of public figures who died in 1992. Morbid, but character-building.

5) In-house checking

OUP used to have a whole corridor of desk editors. During my time at Reader’s Digest our team was assigned a dedicated fact-checker, who would crawl over and verify every statistic and statement for accuracy. This was the pre-post-truth era, of course, when we thought facts and accuracy mattered. Seems quaint now, don’t it?

6) Multiple bookshop chains

It didn’t used to be just Waterstones (or Waterstone’s, as it was then), WHSmith and The Works on the high street. In the pre-Amazon days there were Hammicks, Sherratt & Hughes, Dillons, James Thin, John Menzies, Ottakars, Books Etc and probably others that I’ve forgotten. Plus at least one good indie bookshop in each town. It was fab.

7) Manuscript delivery by cardboard box

Twenty years ago when a manuscript arrived in house, you knew about it. Authors had to submit two double-spaced typed copies, with lots of space for that in-house copy-editor to make their corrections and query those facts, along with a floppy disk containing the manuscript in a form you might or might not be able to access: Microsoft Works, anyone? I remember the glorious moment at OUP when Alan Davidson delivered the manuscript of the monumental Oxford Companion to Food unannounced and nearly 20 years late: he, his wife and his son each carrying an enormous cardboard box proudly in procession. An email attachment or WeTransfer link just doesn’t have the same sense of occasion.

8) Visiting art galleries

There was a time when if you wanted to find just the right picture for your book cover, picture research involved actually getting up and going to a likely gallery or archive and browsing the collection. This of course took a terrible amount of time – but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

9) Losing your entire manuscript in a power cut

When I wrote my first book, using the Apple Macs in Edinburgh University library because I didn’t own a computer of my own, there was no such thing as ‘autosave’. So when my (then) boyfriend stretched out his legs at the next workstation and accidentally kicked the plug out of the power socket and the whole spine of computers switched off, I lost around 4 hours’ work. The person next to me hadn’t saved their thesis at all and lost the lot. Oops.

10) The single-track career

I joined as an editorial assistant, and dutifully worked my way up through the roles of assistant editor and editor to publisher. And then, suddenly, all bets were off. I skilled up in computing and became head of digital development, got an MBA and became director of innovation strategy. If I had my time again I’d seek out roles in marketing and sales (although I’m making up for that now as an independent publisher). There is no one route through the ranks these days, and no expectation or even preference that high performers will focus exclusively in one functional area (editorial, sales and marketing are particularly fluid).

As the world and our industry become more complex, our greatest capabilities are not our functional skills and experience – valuable though these are – but our ability to learn, unlearn, relearn, adapt and flex. In 5 years’ time you’ll be able to write your own list of 10 things that used to feature in your day-to-day publishing work but don’t any more. Stay curious and enjoy the ride.

membership economyAlison 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

2016 Trend Report: What publishers need to know

The Future Today Institute has created a terrific, free report summarizing key technology trends and what they mean for tomorrow. I’ve embedded the report below so you can quickly flip through it.

I read the whole report and highlighted the most noteworthy elements for publishers below. That leads me (once again) to the topic of curation, a very important (current and) future publishing trend. Curation is becoming as important as creation, especially as we’re bombarded with more information than we can possibly consume.

As you read through my curated list below, with slide numbers in parenthesis, be sure to look at each item through the lens of publishing. How will each one of these affect how your content is discovered, acquired and consumed in the future?


(Slide 15) – This type of automation will be combined with other emerging technologies, leading to things like highly customized audio learning platforms where the UI is totally voice-controlled (see SVPAs below).

Natural Language Generation

(Slide 17) – I’ve written before about Narrative Science and I’m confident we’ll see more and more algorithmically-generated content in the future.

Smart Virtual Personal Assistants, or SVPAs

(Slide 22) – Alexa is the one I use every day when interacting with my Amazon Tap device. Expect this one to evolve quickly as today’s functionality will be considered very primitive in a year or so.

Ambient Proximity

(Slide 23) – Beacons haven’t taken off yet but they represent such an interesting opportunity. Think of all the interesting things your local bookstore could do with beacons and promotional content.


(Slide 25) – Despite the lame name, this one will have a significant impact on the ongoing evolution of content presentation, especially when married to beacons and additional knowledge of the user’s current state.


(Slide 36) – Up to now, creators of user-generated content seem more interested in visibility than compensation, but how long will that be the case?

One-to-few Publishing

(Slide 39) – Podcasts are dead, right? No, in fact there’s a significant opportunity in smaller, more tightly-focused audiences. This market concentration likely leads to higher subscription prices and/or advertising rates.

Intentional Rabbit Holes

(Slide 42) – Great concept that’s all about deeper engagement. What services can you add to your site or content to encourage readers to take a deeper dive and perhaps expose them to additional monetization opportunities?

Augmented Reality

(Slide 52) – It’s been around for a while but was only recently legitimized by Pokemon Go. Think of all the ways your content could be augmented via tools like Layar, for example.

Internet of X

(Slide 63) – Let’s say you’re a publisher of architecture books and other short-form content about design and construction. What’s preventing you from creating The Internet of Architecture?

Each of these are on different timelines, of course, and won’t affect content at the same moment. All of them, however, are likely to have a profound impact on just about every type of content in the next few years.

2016 Tech Trends from the Future Today Institute (formerly Webbmedia Group Digital Strategy) from Future Today Institute (formerly Webbmedia Group)

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

10 lessons from BIC’s New Trends in Publishing Seminar

Attending an event on ‘new trends’ seems apt at this time, just as everyone is ramping up on their Frankfurt preparation. We took away much more than 10 lessons from this jam-packed morning – but thought 10 might just whet your appetite for now.

Ruth Jones (Publisher Business Development, Ingram Content Group):

  • Amazon chose to go to market first with books, because books are well-ordered and categorized. Publishers understand their IP and know how to sell under ‘normal’ conditions – which helps to ride any waves of uncertainty and makes experimentation easier to manage.
  • It is thought that young people who spend time online have small attention spans as they constantly engage with bite-size content. This is just not true – they have huge attention spans, but only for content that is relevant, engaging and personalized to them.

Richard Orme (Chief Executive, DAISY Consortium):

  • Captain Ian Fraser lost his sight during Battle of Somme. Because of this, he worked with RNIB to find a reading machine for other blind soldiers. RNIB and DAISY now work with publishers to make sure as many books as possible are published in accessible formats so they can be enjoyed at the same time by anyone, regardless of their reading requirements or preferences.
  • The Marrakesh Treaty facilitates access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled. It was the fastest UN treaty to ever be signed, and it comes into force on 30th September 2016. The Treaty lays out specific rules for accessible formats.

Natalie Smith (Associate, Harbottle & Lewis):

  • The data protection act was made in 1998, so needs updating in line with changes to the way businesses operate. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into direct effect in the EU from 25 May 2018. It will result in big changes, and higher penalties for misuse of data.
  • Even if the UK leaves the EU, we will still need to comply and adjust to the GDPR standards, because they will have a new extra-territorial scope for those, from outside, who do business with the EU.

Andre Breedt (Director Book Research International, Nielsen Book):

  • New research from Nielsen shows that the most important element of successful book sales is uploading a cover image with your book data. 83.2% of books sold had a ‘full-set’ of metadata assigned to them.
  • Timing is also important for a successful book launch. It is advised by BIC that metadata is provided 16 weeks prior to a publication date.

Florin Craciun (Head of Sales, Ingenta):

  • Your backlist, is another publishers frontlist. In other words – a good place to look, when trying to increase revenues is monetization of the backlist.
  • Revenue from rights departments flows to the bottom line. Historically there has been minimal investment in the infrastructure of rights departments; and this too, can be an ideal place to focus for increased revenues.

Thanks to BIC for hosting such an interesting event!




Translated literature: Is the buzz to be believed?

Jonathan Ruppin is Literary Director at digital start-up Orson & Co and the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club. He was a bookseller for 18 years, including 13 at Foyles’ flagship branch on Charing Cross Road.

Translated literature is having a moment, the press has being claiming of late. It’s being said by the sort of journalists who have previously claimed that short stories or novellas or enormous doorstop novels are having a moment.

The press, of course, is always keen to portray itself as a keen trendspotter and constantly makes assertions based on having received three vaguely similar books in the post lately or perhaps just one particularly cut-n’-pastable press release.

The facts are these

According to Literature Across Frontiers, translated fiction currently makes up 4.5% of UK sales, up from 3% at the turn of the century. This compares with almost a third in Germany and around half in Italy. Discount unrepeatable phenomena such as Elena Ferrante and Stieg Larsson and the increase is negligible.

If translated literature was really what everyone is buying, it would be reflected in what chain bookshops were putting in front and centre, in bestseller lists, in the pages of magazines as well as literary journals. And it’s not.

Translated literature, as the Twitterati smugly proclaim, is not a genre

To yoke books together on the grounds of their not being originally written in English is arbitrary and senseless.

Except… consider, for example, a novel set in ancient Rome and another in revolutionary France sitting side-by-side on a table of historical fiction: many readers adore exploring the past by reading fiction and plenty of them are interested in more than one era.

Similarly, readers travel the world vicariously through novels. An interest in Italy is unlikely to correlate with a passion for China but, in both cases, the reader is exhibiting curiosity about other cultures. A table of translated literature, therefore, makes perfect sense. Mostly importantly, it works: when I was at Foyles, we had one almost permanently, with an ever-changing selection, and it consistently outsold almost every other themed display.

It’s all very well dreaming of a world where readers are language-blind, but hoping that we’ll get there by leaving translated books to fend for themselves in the run from A to Z is wishful thinking. Positive discrimination is needed, just as we need to highlight female, working class and BAME writers, to avoid the cultural default of just waiting for the new one from Ian McEwan.

There are some major issues with exactly what does get translated into English

Safer choices by publishers lead to a preponderance of male writers. The lack of languages among British publishers means that Western Europe dominates. A lack of familiar cultural references in commercial fiction or British perspectives in non-fiction apparently makes anything other than English-language titles in these areas too problematic to consider. Credit for the translator is often buried somewhere discreet, as well as remaining largely absent from reviews. Random House even removed the diacritic from the name of Jo Nesbø lest such exoticism startle fragile crime fans (although Simon & Schuster have more faith in the child readers of his Doctor Proctor books and kept it).

We chose Senegal as the first destination in Africa for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club, but were soon stymied: even names of global import such as Mariama Bâ, Ousmane Sembène and Fatou Diome are out of print in the UK. (Literature from any African nation can, incidentally, most often be identified by the hackneyed image of a sunset behind an acacia tree on the cover.)

The indies

We can only be grateful to the independent publishing sector, who have stepped in to cater for this vastly untapped market. Istros Books, for example, specialise in books from the Balkans. The main focus of Tilted Axis is books from Asia and Africa. And Other Stories and Peirene Press have achieved the sort of brand recognition that the big houses have long craved, signing up subscribers with a guarantee of literary intrepidity.

This is being mirrored by independent bookshops, who have capitalised on the millions of readers in search of something other than the cosily familiar. Globalisation of every aspect of life on Earth is happening now, whatever the Brexiteers may think of that, and Anglophone literature can only be enriched by embracing the remarkable variety the rest of the world has to offer.

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 


The business of books: 3 publishing trends

rachel bridge businessThis week’s guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast was Rachel Bridge, journalist, speaker and author of Ambition: Why It’s Good to Want More and How to Get It (Capstone, 2016).

From our discussion I drew out three interesting observations about business book publishing in the 21st century.

1) It’s social

Rachel and I hooked up in the first place simply because I bought her book on one of our ritual family trips to Waterstones in Basingstoke: once a month or so I take the kids in, we all choose a book, and then we head upstairs to Café Nero and ignore each other happily for an hour or so, each immersed in our chosen world.* Rachel’s was the book I bought – I loved the stark challenge of the title, that ambivalent word, which feels simultaneously stirring and disturbing, and particularly intriguing because written by a woman. (We talk more about this in the podcast.) I took a picture of the book beside my skinny cappuccino and was about to tweet it when, on a whim, I searched for Rachel on Twitter. I found her, tagged her in the tweet, and settled down to read. Within a few minutes the response came back, and within an hour we had an interview set up. Boom.

2) It’s secondary

Rachel articulated perfectly the attitude that most business writers have towards books: ‘There isn’t any money in books unless you happen to be Malcolm Gladwell… it’s not about making lots of money.’ Not every author can afford to be so phlegmatic, of course, but when you’re writing a book to support your main revenue-generating business (speaking, in Rachel’s case) your concerns go beyond a simple focus on the royalty rate to questions of control and collaboration. Business authors need to be sure that the publisher will be a good partner as they build their wider brand, that they’ll have their say on questions of design, timing, publicity and so on. Book people love books and we can tend to have an over-inflated view of them as ends in their own right: it’s salutary for us to realise that for many authors they’re simply (beautiful) means to other ends.  Which leads me neatly to…

3) It’s multiplatform

I believe passionately that books are the jewels in the crown of your content strategy, but they’re not the whole crown. I help my authors identify the best mix of content and channels for their market and their message – podcasts, vlogs, blogs, online courses, guest articles, infographics, webinars, talks, workshops… you get the idea. But Rachel has taken this to a whole new level: prepare for Ambition: The One-Woman Show at the Gilded Balloon this Edinburgh Fringe. Because why not? When you have a powerful idea a book is a great tool for communicating it, but it’s certainly not the only one. The beautiful thing about a book, though, is the way it complements other platforms: I’ve no doubt Rachel will sell copies of the book at the show, just as my authors sell copies from the back of the room when they speak at a conference. Publishers like Canongate and Faber do this blending of online and off, book and other platform particularly well, but it’s one reason authors choose to self-publish, to retain unfettered rights and create campaigns that include the book but aren’t necessarily focused on it.

Three trends that open up incredible opportunities for publishers with ambition enough to follow Rachel’s advice to us all: ‘do and be more’.

*One of my favourite book-y quotes, by Neil Gaiman: “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

future of the bookAlison 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. 

Colouring-in books: not the novel idea now

Returning from the Christmas holidays it seemed as if the whole of twitter and his dog had a shiny new adult colouring-in book except for me. With the help of Huck & Pucker, we quickly put that right, and by 5th January, there I was: sat on my sofa on a Friday night colouring away in ‘Keep Calm and Colour for Mums’ – a hobby which will apparently help relaxation, combat stress and improve concentration.

It’s not just the twitterati who were gifted these therapeutic books, the adult colouring book craze has swept across the world. Toronto charity Story Planet charge customers $10 to colour, chat, and mingle in their shop for an evening. The events are selling out fast.

Even IKEA has jumped on the bandwagon. You can now colour-in minimalist Swedish furniture from the comfort of your sofa. The images include everything from kitchenware to sofas, from potted plants to light fixtures. For those of you who find DIY quite stressful, this might be the perfect antidote after an afternoon of wedging screws into holes that don’t seem quite big enough.

Publishers and booksellers have benefited from the craze, with demand driving up book sales by 2% at WHSmith this Christmas for the first time in over 12 years. Business isn’t limited to the physical book space, with Touch Press releasing a colouring-in app from author Millie Marotta, just two weeks ago. There are even young bloggers reviewing colouring-in books, in order to raise awareness of mental illness.

Despite all of this, some question the supposed stress relieving qualities of colouring-in books. In Canada, a recent clinical study run over the course of three days, found that participants’ stress levels actually increased by 40 per cent while they were colouring. Levels of adrenaline, cortisol and noreprinephrine, the three major stress hormones, increased during the study.

Dr. Renne Lynch, the leading researcher for the study, said that the stress increases she saw in the participants of the study were unhealthy. “When the body releases these hormones, it can be harmful, especially when you’re trying to relax”.

Another study, led by Newcastle University, showed quite the opposite. It found that art therapy has greater benefits than puzzles and exercises when it comes to improving memory function. Engaging the brain in new and creative ways may be the key to a sharper ‘younger’ mind. With this in mind, Orion has published: ‘Draw your way to a younger brain’. It contains 30 intricate line drawings of safari animals, with space on the opposite page for copying. On completion, there’s even the opportunity to colour them in.

Dr. Who fans will know that there’s no full series this year – there is a colouring-in book though, and a Doctor Who-themed dot-to-dot book. Not quite the novel experience fans are accustomed to. Is the colouring-in book here to stay? The verdict remains unclear.

Self-employed in publishing

Is the Colouring-In Book Craze a Finite Market?

In the past year the industry has seen a new craze for adult colouring-in books flourish around the world, crossing markets and continents, as stressed-out grown-ups turn to colouring books for peace of mind.

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