BookMachine Oxford – “Running a Digital Department”

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We gathered last night, together with a large contingent of Oxford publishers, at the House Bar in central Oxford to network over a few drinks and to hear from Tim Oliver, Head of Macmillan Education’s Digital Publishing Unit.

Tim spoke enthusiastically about his interest in technology and his career in digital publishing over the last decade, and provided some interesting insights into changes in structuring digital departments during his time in the industry.

Tim runs a specialist digital publishing unit within Macmillan’s ELT business, which was set up to maximise efficiencies and cost saving with regard to producing digital products. The team started out with a similar structure to a print department, but has since evolved to focus heavily on project management, and the unit has developed set procedures which inform their everyday working practise. This is constantly updated as technology changes, and to accommodate new product formats, new workflows etc.

As with many other publishing companies, he has seen ‘digital’ initially separated from the rest of the company’s print publishing operation, but it is now clear that all departments must embrace the changes sweeping the industry. In effect, all departments must become digital departments. In the past, many skills were outsourced to specialist suppliers, but Tim highlighted a more recent trend towards ‘backsourcing’ – bringing certain job functions and skills back in-house – e.g. software development and website production.

Bringing skills in house may then lead on to additional training needs and anyone managing a digital department will need to bear these in mind. Fortunately there are many training opportunities online now, and staff can develop skills without time out of the office. Mentoring also plays a key role, especially in developing strong project management and Agile methodology understanding in digital teams.

One thing is clear – running a digital department is a challenging, busy and creative role. Tim described a typical day which could include anything from signing off new digital platform development, interviewing staff, discussing new product developments with senior management, reviewing project management procedure with the team, catching up with developers, problem solving technical glitches, etc!

Tim concluded with a reminder that we need to balance ‘evolution with revolution’. We need to be exploring new channels and business models, but need to balance this with revenue generation. While technological advancement offers huge potential for product development, most profit is still generated from print products.

Thanks to Book Machine for another great event!Logo_(cmyk)

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New Business Models in a Digital World – Byte the Book

Last night we gathered once again at the gorgeous Ivy Club to hear from Rebecca Smart (Osprey Books), Richard Kilgarriff (Bookomi), John Bond (White Fox) and Michael Bhaskar (Profile Books) to hear their take on how Business Models have adapted with the onset of digital.

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e-Publishing has changed everything; we have found that publishers can produce things quicker, cheaper and are made more widely available to larger markets. However, publishing at its core remains the same and solves the problem of getting content to readers. Throughout history the way this has been achieved has evolved; obstacles such as the price of paper, making and distributing books has disappeared in the wake of new obstacles such as free content online and consumers favouring digital technology to access content.

With this in mind, publishing is adapting to a consumer orientated world with publishers focussing on how the content is being read and by whom rather than how it’s being written and by whom. A fantastic example of this is at Osprey where everything they do is centred on the reader; even before the internet they were engaging with their readership in order to understand what content they want. This is being made easier by the amount of data that is readily available and accessible; we can see who is buying what and when and how they’re engaging with the content. Companies like Amazon champion this model; they are immersed in making money and using data to link readers with content. Behind every success story there will always be those who suffer and in this case it is the high street and independent book shops as they’re forced to lower their prices in competition with online sales.

Having established that publishing is now driven by the reader; the panel took this a step further and explained how content could become a reader experience and a service. For example, airlines could offer books on flights to substitute the complimentary film facility; in this case the literature is more than just a story – it is offering a service to the consumer. This is the model that the Professional and STM industry have been using for several years, pushing out content to people in order to offer a tailored service. Whilst this isn’t a new business model altogether we are now seeing how the impact of digital is making the trade sector operate in this way.

With this in mind, what is the new business model for publishing? There is no one right answer as it is a constantly evolving machine; the business model will always be about getting content from authors to readers but the way this content is delivered will always be evolving. The model will always be a beautiful streamlined process from the outside, but the inside might take some renovation. Alistair Horne summed it perfectly; The business model is not broken, just fragmented and will take time and innovation to adapt to the new technologies and new consumer demands of our age.

Can you afford to do it? Can you afford not to do it?

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The unpaid internship is the elephant in the room of creative industries. Many of us may silently ask – Is it OK for publishers to offer unpaid internships? What is expected from them? What are aspiring publishing professionals meant to get out of them? Last night, the Society of Young Publishers hosted a lively discussion around these questions with a fantastic panel of speakers: Ellie Pike (Penguin), Tabz O’Brien-Butcher (NUS), Suzanne Collier (BookCareers.com) and Julie Hadwin (Creative Skill Set).

 

The issue with offering unpaid internships is not just whether it is fair or not to have young adults working for free but that with so many of the internships being offered in London the cohort being able to take them up is almost exclusively people with family or close friends in London where they can stay free of charge. Therefore, internships can be seen to exacerbate the North / South divide and act as a further barrier to diversity in publishing rather than helping people to access the industry.

 

However, totally unpaid internships are often a couple of weeks long and Suzanne has done a lot to make this standard. There are several options in the industry to take on longer salaried internships such as the fantastic 10 week Penguin internship that Ellie introduced us to. Short unpaid internships, or work experience placements, can be wonderful opportunities to gain insight into the publishing industry, ask questions to people in it and to get hands on experience which can be used as great interview material. Moreover, as the industry is in such a time of change, gaining skills from outside it in paid work can add value and be highly transferable when returning to publishing.

 

If you are embarking on an internship, unpaid or otherwise, the best advice is to speak up if you’re asked to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing and to make the most out of anything that you do. Be a sponge. As Suzanne said, if you’re asked to do the photocopying, find out what it is you’re photocopying and find out how that fits into the wider picture of the publishing process. Every second counts and the more you make out of your internships by being proactive, it’s very likely that the fewer you’ll have to do before you’ll nab a place in a paid, permanent role.

 

So what are your rights as an Intern? You have a right to gain valuable experience from a short period of time in a publishing house that will benefit you and your job search.

 

 

The Role of a Commissioning Editor

So what does a Commissioning Editor really do? Last night we attended the Women in Publishing event at the Hotel Strand Continental to hear Rukhsana Yasmin from Saqi and Kirsty Schaper from Bloomsbury talk about their experience as Commissioning Editors and tell us a little more about the tools and skills you really need to make the job a success.

Kirsty began her working life abroad teaching English as a foreign language; she came back to the UK and got a job at Continuum as an Editorial Assistant and worked her way up from there before making the move to work on the Sports non-fiction list at A & C Black, now Bloomsbury. It was really interesting to hear about the difference between commissioning for Academic and for Trade; with Academic publishing you can identify the persons qualifications and have their work peer reviewed but with Trade it becomes far more risky, you must quantify the qualifications of your authors within their field of expertise but also assess factors like marketability; Do they have a blog/twitter? How well known are they? Can they market their own brand? The most exciting thing about commissioning is finding an author who can become a bestseller.

Rukhsana came into publishing through an Arts Council programme to increase Diversity in Publishing through Saqi Books, she found that working in a smaller publisher gave her a wealth of experience and knowledge to take forward into her next role at Profile where she commissioned her first book; she is now Commissioning Editor for Saqi’s newly formed Westbourne Press and won the Kim Scott Walwyn prize last year.

A huge part of the role is market research and finding out where your competition is; this might involve doing focus groups or spending a lot of time on the internet (and trying not to get too distracted). Author care is also hugely important, you need to be able to nurture relationships but also be quite firm and ensure that the author is delivering on time in order to get the book published on schedule which also relies on the expertise and backing of other departments.

When choosing a proposal to commission, there are several things to consider:

–          What does a good proposal look like?

–          Structural breakdown

–          Target market

–          Are there any competing titles out there?

You must also consider whether the author can actually write and communicate their ideas effectively and whether the book is going to be commercially viable for your target market.

It is important to remember that publishing is still a business, as a Commissioning Editor you must be both creative and commercially minded and remember that the market is changing all the time; for example with the advance of digital – whilst eBooks are important, they are still only a small percentage of the market; people are drawn to what stands out, if you can turn a book into a beautiful object, people will buy them.

It seems that the role of a Commissioning Editor is hugely varied; it is both creative and commercial as well as relying enormously on building relationships and doing your research. Sometimes there is an element of risk taking but this is backed up by your market knowledge and the support from the rest of your team, and the best thing is that it could just be the gamble that pays off…

Giving Back to the Community..

Every year, over 20 million people across the UK volunteer, giving millions of hours to help their communities; last week was the annual Volunteers’ Week which is designed to get more people involved in volunteering and also to say thank you to those who volunteer on a regular basis. It has been estimated that the economic value of volunteering is around £40 billion and helps to run some of the vital services within the UK – including the NHS.

Following our office move to London Bridge, the Inspired Selec_AHM4227tion team decided it would be great to get more involved with the area we work in and give a little something back to the community. We volunteered for the Bankside Open Spaces Trust who work closely with local people to meet local needs and provide everyone with a little bit of space to relax, grow plants, do sport or just hang out and be together.

_AHM4193We spent the morning in a resident’s garden in Southwark where we worked to clear a patch of land where we sowed a wild flower meadow to encourage bees and wildlife to the garden. The residents all work together along with volunteers to maintain the garden where they grow their own fruit and vegetables which are available for any of the residents to harvest.

_AHM4169Our next stop was Waterloo Millennium Green where we got down to some hard graft, clearing and maintaining the park as well as playing a vital part in finding out from the local people how they want the Green to be maintained and what they foresee for the future of the Green.

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It was a real pleasure to be a part of a project like BOST and it was amazing to see the community, including other local businesses taking the time out of their day to get involved. The projects BOST work on are particularly special within the community because they reflect what the people want and help to keep these beautiful green spaces a place where locals can get away from the  hustle and bustle of urban life.

If you want to get involved  please do check out BOST and contact them via their website at www.bost.org.uk

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City University – MA Publishing Digital Showcase

Yesterday we participated in the final event for the City University Publishing MA students, their Digital Showcase and Interview Workshop. We were joined by several distinguished publishers and HR employees including Helen Kogan, the Managing Director of Kogan Page; Richard Charkin, the Executive Director of Bloomsbury; Chris Bond (Recruitment Project Lead) and Tom Dove-Wallington (Learning and Development Manager); Eric Huang, the Development Director of Mind Candy (previously of Penguin); and Andrew Franklin, the Managing Director of Profile, just to name a few! 

This event consisted of a period in which students could show off their digital experience gained during the MA as well as the development of some of their ideas and applying their new skills to particular projects. Following this, we were able to pair off with the students in order to let them practice their interview skills as well as give them CV advice and tips for applications.

At the end, all of the guests were given the opportunity to address the room with final feedback, comments and advice. I advised the students that if they have been called for interview, that means the publisher has seen something on their CV/Covering letter which they really like. Therefore, go to the interview with confidence. It is also so important to know what their key strengths are and to use these to explain what value you could add to the organisation. Eric Huang added that in an interview, it is important to let your personality shine through so interviewers they are given the opportunity to make a connection with you. Chris Bond congratulated the students on being able to give very concrete examples of their experience but advised that there is a fine line between being too honest and too vague and this was the main area where students were currently struggling.

Key points of advice to be taken from the day’s guests were how important it is to make sure you come to an interview with ideas on how they can assist the organisation, not the other way around. Also, it is very important to not tell interviewers that you want to work in publishing because you love books, but to be able to explain why you want to work in a certain department and the process you went through to rule other areas. You must be able to persuade your interviewers that you are best fit for that particular role. Andrew Franklin, Managing Director of Profile, was particularly frank in his comments; he impressed upon the students the importance of being able to think fully digital in endeavours, that just having new print strategies is not good enough anymore. Finally, the Executive Director of Bloomsbury, Richard Charkin, congratulated the students on their hard work and wished everyone the best of luck with their future careers.

In summary, always go to an interview with confidence and show dedication to the role that you have applied for. As Victoria Fletcher of Hachette HR stated, if you have not thought hard about the area and what you bring to the table, the hiring managers will always see through you. Don’t be scared to come prepared with ideas on how different aspects of the business (relevant to the role) can be improved! Publishers want innovative and articulate candidates with personality.

These events are always hugely rewarding. It is exciting to see the great work these programs are doing to prepare the next generation of publishers as well as soak up all the sage advice given by those who have gone before. It is always a pleasure to be asked to participate in these types of events and we give a huge thanks to Mary Ann Kernan, the Programme Director, for inviting us year after year.