Publishing Now and Then

Posted on June 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

The Gennaro room at The Groucho Club was packed for the SYP’s retrospective overview of the publishing industry. Tied in to the society’s 60th anniversary celebrations, the event saw six former SYP committee members and current publishing luminaries share their memories of the industry with a receptive audience. Angie Solomon, 2009 chair of the SYP, started proceedings with a brief introduction to the society and the changes it has seen over the years. ‘Technology and society have moved forward, with a new permanence being given to people’s thoughts and experiences. The publishing industry has seen plenty of innovation and developments, not least ebooks, e-readers and the internet. New publishing companies and new retail channels have emerged.
 
‘The SYP itself has developed. It has survived economic and leadership crises, and made a reputation for itself as innovative and creative, with events such as Canon Tales.
 
‘It seems appropriate to have the event in the Groucho Club, founded by a group of leading publishers, including Liz Calder of Bloomsbury and Carmen Calil of Virago, as an alternative to the traditional ‘gentleman’s clubs’, which refused to admit women.’
 
Our first speaker was Norman Franklin, previously director and chairman of Routledge and Kegan Paul, and a member of the SYP from the 1950s. He started out in the book trade in 1949, and gave us a vivid description of the changing face of the publishing house. ‘Routledge and Kegan Paul was bombed by Hitler, but it survived,’ he said. ‘We had to use 8-pound lorries for the deliveries because the lane we were situated on was too narrow for bigger ones.’
 
‘At that time, most publishers had their own warehouse on-site. Collectors from the bookshops came in and picked up their orders at the trade counter and took them back to their shops in a sack! Invoice clerks were sent up to the looking-out floor, then came back down with the books and handed them over with an invoice. Our trade counter dated from 1890, when books would have been sold in sheets to be bound by the booksellers themselves.
 
‘The building had five floors – the basement was full of stock. The second and third floors were full of bins for looking-out books, and the loft was full of ruined books. We hauled books around by hand in a lift – it was good for the muscles!
 
‘Invoices were written out with indelible pencils – if you licked them your mouth went purple, but you couldn’t do carbons with a fountain pen.
 
‘Visitors were directed to the first floor, where the publishing office was – accounts, sales and the publishers. Accounts did everything by hand in huge ledgers. Monthly statements were usually completed by the 15th of the following months. People got paid after about two months, if they were lucky!
 
‘On the publishing side were the Managing Director, Editorial Director, Sales and Production Managers, typists, and the production department. Binding was done by binders, not printers, and nearly all books were hardcover. You’d print 3000, have 1500 bound and see how it went. Some binders would bind only 50 copies for us.

‘The staff arrived as office boys a the age of 14, then progressed to packer, invoicer, rep, and even further – you could still climb right through the ranks in those days. There were three and a half people in the sales department – one for the North (Grimsby to Aberystwyth), one for the South, the Suburban rep (who was the half), and the London rep (not Kensington or Hampstead). He called on booksellers every two weeks, carrying the books. The country reps visited their booksellers every six months, carrying jackets, blurbs and catalogues. We also mailed the catalogue to around 50 000 people, but I doubt it did any good.
 
‘Books were set in hot metal (until around 1976). It cost £10 or £12 a page. In 1976, it had gone down to £3 a page – that’s the effect of the revolution for you. The printer did the copy-editing for you, set the book and printed it. It took around twelve months from receipt of the manuscript to delivery of the finished book.
 
‘In terms of export, the most important markets were the Commonwealth ones. None of our people had ever been to America, but we did sell some books over there. The centre of gravity of English-language publishing was still London then.
 
‘In terms of editorial policy, we published any book that interested us – the list was an interesting ragbag!’
 
Next to speak was Patrick Janson-Smith, previously Publisher and joint MD of Transworld and founder of new imprint Blue Door at HarperCollins, who was a member of the SYP committee from 1970–3. He began by telling us that he had worked on the SYP committee with Gill Coleridge, who was also on the panel – of their peers on the committee, they are the only ones who are still in the book trade. Fond memories included the SYP 21st anniversary ball at Madame Tussaud’s.
 
‘The book trade was remarkably different then, with the era of buy-outs beginning,’ Patrick told us, listing a dizzying amount of circuitous buy-outs that left most of us reeling! His career began as an Assistant to the Export Publicity Manager at the University of London Press (then a division of Hodder and Stoughton), after which he worked at Granada Publishing under Carmen Calil. Granada was set up by Lord Bernstein in the 1960s, gathering together lots of independent imprints, including Mayflower and Adlard Coles. ‘It was the first ever conglomerate – the inspiration for today’s multi-nationals. I suppose what he was doing was buying respectability. That was of course in the days when publishing was still respectable – there weren’t too many celebrity biographies about.’
 
In the 1970s, Granada TV was sold to Collins, and in 1974 Patrick moved to Transworld. ‘Transworld was made up of two imprints, Bantam and Corgi, and was eventually sold to Random House to create the biggest publishing house at that time – the largest now is of course Hachette. It was a confusing but interesting time. I hope for books chronicling these seismic changes in the publishing industry!
 
‘At that time, paperbacks were sold as licenses for 7-year or other periods, from Michael Joseph, Chatto, Sidgwick and so on. It was a new thing to convert hardbacks to paperback in one publishing house. When this began to happen, it took a while to work out that Corgi’s sources were drying up!’
 
Patrick launched Black Swan in 1983, focusing on the B-format paperback. ‘It had taken me a while to work out that this was the way to go,’ he told us.
 
‘Over the past 60 years there has been a massive decrease in independent publishers,’ Patrick concluded. ‘The last 25–30 years have really been about the emergence of the big boys. In the previous 60 years, hundreds of imprints have disappeared, only to be seen on the shelves of second hand bookshops, which are also disappearing. But don’t despair, as lots of new imprints are appearing, including Blue Door! What goes around comes around, and here’s to the next 60 years.’
 
Gill Coleridge, agent at Rogers, Coleridge and White, was SYP chair in 1971, whilst working at Sidgwick and Jackson. She was junior editor at a history magazine that was bought by the company. She told of her promotion there to Sales and Marketing Director – ‘They just said to me one day, “when you come in on Monday, we’d like you to be Sales and Marketing Director for all the books”! So that was what happened. I had a department of three people. Most of the time, I was dealing with sales.
 
‘My boss found it rather difficult to have a woman on the staff. I was asked to leave the room in one editorial meeting when an American poet who had used a certain word was being discussed!
 
‘I had no one to help with the publicity so I had to learn as I went. I looked around at what others were doing; people like Liz Calder and Carmen Calil. I learnt a lot from my peers, and had to be quite brave. We published Edward Heath’s memoirs. No one really did signings then, but we hired a train and went to George’s Bookshop in Bristol, who bought firm sale, not returns, signing along the way. As signings were so rare, there was a big attendance.’
 
Book festivals were another area of her early career where Gill had to learn on the job. ‘I was expected to set up in Bedford Square, under a tent. The idea was that schools and the public met the authors. We put together a schedule of events with no budget, and charged 5 shillings for entry. 5000 people a day were expected to attend. But it was a success, and we had people like Barbara Cartland, Spike Milligan and Michael Holroyd in attendance. This was the beginning of book festivals – no one did them back then.’
 
Gill subsequently moved to Chatto and Windus as Publicity Manager. It was still independent, but was bought while she was working there. ‘There were 42 people on the staff, and I had a department of six people. One person was employed just to read the papers and cut things out to send to authors. My job was really to take out the literary editors twice a year to their favourite restaurants and to talk about our books and our catalogue and try to get the best reviewers assigned to our books. They were all male, all learned gentlemen – they were long lunches!
 
‘I also had to fix up interviews, though there were fewer then. We were allowed to read the interview and give approval in those days. We did lots of radio, and a little bit of advertising (which was marketing really) – posters, postcard, dump-bins in shops, that sort of thing. Book shops were expected to buy firm and to display the books.
 
‘I was nearly sacked three times at Chatto and Windus. The first time was when I got rid of the famous cherub colophon because I thought we needed a new look. The second was when I wore trousers to work, even though it was cold and I had ridden my bike to work. The third time was when we had a party – those were the days of regular parties – and I did a display of books at the first party I organized. “We don’t have real books,” I was told. “People will pinch them!” So I had to find dummies and rejacket them all.
 
‘We had lots of fun and parties at the SYP as well. I remember the 21st anniversary party at Madame Tussaud’s, and we held a New Year’s Eve party at Café Royale.
 
‘Marketing hardly existed in those days. The first really major marketing campaign was done by the first Marketing Director at Hutchinson, with Day of the Jackal. He purposefully left a folder marked ‘top secret’ in a taxi, and the plot became headline news. Everyone wanted the book then, it was really creative and innovative.
 
‘Communication in those days was by letter. We had no internet, of course, which is what has really changed publicity and marketing. Communication these days is instant, which creates lots of pressure. We thought that we were busy but it is nothing compared to now. There were hardly any agents around then: it was a different world.’
 
Next up was Nick Jones, founder of Strathmore Publishing, who was chair of the SYP in 1979. He began by reminiscing about when the SYP kitted out a routemaster bus and went to the Vauxhall factory at Luton to hand out books, though not very successfully. He showed us the artwork for the previous anniversary (30th). ‘The SYP is much more wise now – more organized and sophisticated.’
 
Nick went on to talk about his own career and how the SYP played its part. He displayed some covers of old copies of InPrint, which looked very different in those days.
 
At the age of 12, Nick became interested in printing and typography, so decided he might like to work in publishing. He studied Biological Sciences, so assumed that he would go into scientific publishing, but Thompson offered him a place on its training scheme, and he ended up at Michael Joseph, which was then owned by the Illustrated London News, which also owned publishers such as Hamish Hamilton. ‘The owner, Lord Thompson, had a stack of books on his desk from all his publishers, which he tried to read but never managed to get through!’
 
Nick stayed at Michael Joseph for three years, and then moved to Thames Television. He told us how publishing in conjunction with TV was more general then. ‘Now, we have to think of a book as the start of potential media interest, but then you could put out a TV series on gardening and 50 000 copies of the book would sell.
 
‘My next place of employment was the Royal Institute of British Architects. Hidden, specialist publishers like this are more visible now. You used to have to go to their shop, but now there’s the internet.’
 
Nick went on to set up Strathmore Publishing, which began as production and editorial services – ‘a gap in the market that came out of the last recession. Without the contacts I made in the SYP, I wouldn’t have been nearly so confident with Strathmore. We also publish audio books – the one bit of digital publishing that actually makes any money. Because the product is already digital, selling audio books doesn’t actually force the consumer into a different reading experience.’
 
Nick then read from the first issue of InPrint he wrote for as chair, in February 1979, where he ‘set out his stall for the year. We took our responsibilities seriously. Publishing is still about the same things – communicating from someone who knows something to someone who wants to know – but the method of delivery has changed.’
 
He also told us some of the subjects of speaker meetings in his year as chair, including Publishing and the Law, Rights, Don’t Forget the Author, and Publishing: A Job or a Way of Life? ­– to which Anthony Cheetham apparently replied ‘why do the two things have to be mutually exclusive?’ Nick’s parting advice was not to just publish books that you want to read – ‘the commercial part is great fun – getting the right mix is what it’s all about.’
 
Victoria Nicholl is Audio Editor at Orion, and was Chair of the SYP in 2005. The focus of her talk was technology and publishing. ‘I couldn’t do without it. When the e-reader came out in the US, I had to get one to know how it worked. But however exciting and easy to use technology is, it is a tool. People need to be aware of how to use it effectively. In publishing, people used to use typewriters, and colour books had to be stuck together – it was very labour intensive. If you wanted to know the length of a manuscript, you had to count it word by word – which is how I earned her pocket money as a child.
 
‘Despite the fact that computers have apparently made life easier, the abundance of options has actually increased our workloads. There are so many variations, it’s not whether to do it, it’s how – which social networking site, which program. Technology is now directing some of the decisions we make. Companies such as Sony, Lightning Source and Apple have made far-fetched ideas a reality. Even though email has made life ‘easier’ in theory, some companies are actually asking their staff to talk more.
 
‘Data storage has completely changed – no more floppy disks. CDs, DVDs, internal servers are all options. It is still expensive to store large quantities of data, but it is getting cheaper. Data organization is very important – the central database that feeds information to the outside world. It is still labour intensive, as someone has to enter the information, which is of vital importance as it will feed to places like Amazon, and will affect the way that people in the outside world see a company. Not all data records are created equal! The more information it holds, the better it’ll work. It may not seem like the most exciting task, but accurate data entry is actually extremely important.
 
‘In the end,’ Victoria concluded, ‘technology is just a tool, albeit a useful one. Publishing is a creative industry, and there is only so much we can do with technology alone. The ability to communicate successfully is the important thing.’
 
Last to speak was Suzanne Collier of BookCareers.com, who was chair of the SYP at least four times between 1989 and 1998. She started in publishing in 1983 at ‘premiere independent literary house Andre Deutsch. Diana Athill was the principle editor. It was run by Andre Deutsch, who was the sole owner. We published 80 books a year, including literary fiction, general fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, and around 40 people worked there. Authors and brands ranged from John Updike and V.S. Naipaul to Postman Pat.
 
‘Andre Deutsch was fierce but fair, and was a great friend to his employees. I always addressed his as “Mr. Deutsch” – this wouldn’t happen anywhere now. My job was office junior. My timetable included work in every single department, and I helped out wherever was necessary. I covered reception at lunchtime, franked mail, and delivered parcels to Bedford Square, which was the hub of the publishing world in those days.
 
‘After a year, Mr. Deutsch sold 50 per cent of his shares in the company to Tom Rosenthal, and they became joint managing directors. The first time I saw Tom I didn’t know how he was, so I stopped him on the stairs and challenged him – he just said “I’m the new managing director”! I couldn’t believe I’d done this – this was a time when people were being fired left, right and centre from publishing so I was a bit worried!
 
‘Our offices were in Great Russel Street. The top floor had to be kept as residential accommodation, so the publishers entertained in the dining room of “the flat”, and were catered for by Andre’s personal chef, Pierrot.
 
‘We reused every envelope and jiffy bag, had low watt bulbs in the loos and I delivered parcels by hand to save money. We walked everywhere and never took a taxi, though when Tom started he took taxis and even dined out!
 
‘In the basement were rotting royalty statements, cockroaches, and the editorial department, excluding Diana Athill! The photocopier was also down there, though there was no feeder or sorter. I remember having to photocopy a 1000 page manuscript six times for an editorial meeting – it took me three days! But at least it meant I could read what I was photocopying, and I actually learnt from it.’
 
Suzanne rose through the ranks at Andre Deutsch, and at one time or another worked in pretty much every area of the publishing industry. ‘Eventually, Andre Deutsche became Tom’s company, but whenever I lined up the letter-head paper I looked at the name at the top – Andre Deutsch – not the directors’ names at the bottom.  I was there for seven years, from when I was 16, when I left school. Six years later, I was the youngest person ever to chair the SYP. I couldn’t have achieved this much at any other company – at Andre Deutsch I was encouraged at every single turn. One of the children’s editors, Pamela Royd, knew that I wrote poetry, and asked to see it. She sent it on to one of the children’s authors, who sent me a lovely letter back – it was actually Michael Rosen. I hope for the same opportunities and encouragement for everyone here.
 
‘I started giving careers advice when I was at the SYP, which lead to me starting BookCareers.com. I did my first salary survey in 1995 – and I really feel strongly that these things need to be spoken about, to get you all the salaries you deserve.’
 
Finally, we returned to Nick, as the visual aspect of his presentation had been interrupted by a technical hitch. He showed us pictures of Foyles then and now to illustrate the difference in bookselling these days, as well as an image of Waterstones, which ‘revolutionised bookselling. The vision was to make books sexy and put them on the high street. Foyles had to respond.
 
‘During the 70s, you had to apply to a government department to put up the price of a book. Now it’s hard to track prices, what with three-for-twos and other promotions.  The supermarkets never got involved until the net book agreement ended – it was a different world. Now, Amazon sells 85 per cent of the 12 per cent of books that are sold through the internet.’

The evening concluded with questions from the floor, including whether there are too few men in publishing and whether it should be acceptable to use work experience people for long periods of time without paying them. As always, debate could have raged on for the remainder of the evening, but instead we moved on for some valuable SYP networking over drinks, after the presentation of the new SYP60 website by Jon Slack and Bhav Mehta.