The annual publishing innovation conference was held during March at the London College of Communication, Elephant and Castle. The conference was organised and run by a group of MA Publishing students with the theme ‘Green and Lean: How Can Publishing Survive?’
The first panel debated whether the publishing industry as a whole was doing enough to combat the threat of climate change and whether developing technologies, such as e-books and print-on-demand offer possible solutions. The panellists included Clare Christian of The Friday Project, Edward Milford of Earthscan, Adam Hodgkin,of ExactEditions and Peter Blanchard, founder of the IliadReader, a new e-book reader.
Clare Christian thought that publishers were too focused on the micro rather than the macro, which leads them to forget that having environmentally friendly offices and working from home can make a significant difference. Adam Hodgkin suggested forcefully that no one in publishing was doing anything to combat climate change and that publishers should consider digital editions as a way to reduce reliance on paper and save wastage on policies such as sale or return. Hodgkin, whose company develops e-editions for magazine publishers forecasted that eventually 95% of magazines would be digital and only 5% would be print. Peter Blanchard agreed, citing ‘e-books not dead tree books’ as the future and later created a stir when he put forward the notion ‘why print things’ when they can be downloaded on to an e-reader? The rest of the panel refuted this suggestion. Paper and digital formats will co-exist for the foreseeable future seemed to have been the overriding conclusion.
The second panel discussed whether the industry was focusing on the bestseller market too completely, this narrow focus being aided by the media and by limited distribution players. The panel included Richard Charkin of Macmillan and visiting professor at LCC, Andrew Franklin of Profile Books, Peter Ayrton of Serpent’s Tail, Jane Ellison, the commissioning editor of book programmes at Radio 4, David Godwin, the literary agent, and Emily Moore, managing editor at Tank magazine.
This second debate quickly became heated with Richard Charkin choosing to challenge every word of the first question posed, ‘has publishing output become too limited by mass market expectations?' Calling Macmillan a ‘powerless organisation’ implying that they had no influence in shaping public tastes, Andrew Franklin went on to say that there were ‘no barriers to entry in publishing,’ but that publishers increasingly focused books on those that could sell in the supermarkets or be selected by Richard and Judy, expressing horror that they had so much cultural control. Richard Charkin and David Godwin expressed the opposite view – anything that helped publishers sell books was to be welcomed. Jane Ellison explained how books are selected for review on Radio 4, stating that bestsellers don’t form any basis for selection and reminding everyone present that the consumer is sovereign when new book titles are adopted. This was in response to David Godwin’s passionate speech when he said that today we are seeing ‘a blander form of publishing’ and that ‘books should be unsettling.’ He thought that the management of publishing houses was the cause of the problem, from which Charkin and Franklin, not unsurprisingly, disagreed strongly with. Emily Moore stressed the importance of innovation and of mixed activities for independents to survive. She saw the small publisher’s role as nurturing new talent until inevitably the talent migrated to a bigger publisher, a proposition that Peter Ayrton found hard to accept as he told of the struggles, but also the triumphs, that come with running an independent publishing house and of the contribution independents make to cultural life.
The conference concluded with a reception where LCC postgraduate students and alumni mingled with each other and with industry guests to continue discussing the issues that had been provoked. Macmillan Publishers sponsored the conference.
For the full programme and notes on the participants of the two debating panels at the short conference please refer to http://www.publishinginnovation.com
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