It was last, but not least, that the conference attendees gathered again for the closing debate. I was fortunate to have met SYP conference expert Alastair earlier in the day (though nearly knocking over his iPad in the middle of the closing debate probably didn’t endear me), and it was with Laura and a close-by power socket (all that tweeting had killed my battery) that I settled for the final presentation – a little sad for the day to be over.
Closing Debate: Crossing Boundaries
The closing debate came to us from another fantastic set of speakers – William Higham from Next Big Thing, Bobby Nayyar from Limehouse Books, and Erica Wolfe-Murray from Lola Media. The theme was a round-up of the thoughts expressed throughout the conference: when the boundaries blur between traditional publishing and online content – what happens next?
There were, of course, more food references. Wolfe-Murray argued the point of “having your cake and eating it”. Using the example of basic cake ingredients, she explained how these simple ingredients could be used for bigger and better things – from Victoria sponge to Pavlova to cupcakes. And this analogy is a simple (edible) one for a company’s “intellectual” assets. An individual, team or company can increase profit and audience purely by identifying how these assets (skills, personnel, resources, etc.) can be evolved to bigger things and wider audiences. With the economic climate such it is, publishers are having to address the same questions as everyone else: how can we make more money, using what we have; how can we expand; and how can we add value? Ultimately, publishers are having to address the situation, and having to keep up with a rapidly moving environment … without spending more money. It is with this in mind that publishers are stepping in to the digital world, and it is with this in mind that they are providing a service above and beyond what we first imagined.
Higham addressed once more the evolution of the book. Using Great Expectations as an example, he asked “what is a book?” pointing out that Dickens’ novel began as a magazine serialisation, before becoming a hardback and then a paperback. His argument, essentially, was that publishing is always moving forward. There is always a new innovation – and this time it’s digital. Victorians feared Dickens in a book; publishers nowadays fear the eBook in much the same way. But the world is forever moving forward, and eBooks are coming, whether we are scared of them or not. It is our chance to grasp them and take charge of them and create the next big thing (see what I did there) in reading.
And Nayyar, whose effusiveness filled the room, gave voice to one of my biggest fears: by “making content public”, with tightening budgets and the growing world of eBooks – is the quality of work going to suffer? Nayyar emphasised the importance of social enterprise – of our “social duty” to ensure that the quality never fades, that the lovingly-made book never dies. As exciting, as cheap and as accessible as digital publishing is proving, it is a service and as service providers, we must deliver high quality, careful content.
But this word of warning was not delivered with wagged fingers, with accusations or Words of Doom. Instead, it was delivered with a message of hope – with the idea that we will not allow poor quality publishing to happen, because no matter your passion, whether it’s traditional print or digital, you are passionate about it, and in a roomful of publishing pedants there isn’t the slightly possibility that we will let the quality slide.
The conference itself was a story of hope and excitement. If there is even the vaguest thought that the publishing industry is afraid of the digital revolution, then dash it from your mind immediately. Publishers are grabbing with both hands – with an enthusiasm to experiment, to be at the forefront of digital innovation. It is this willingness that is going to dictate the next generation of publishers. This is not an industry in crisis; it is simply an industry in flux.
I’m not a member of the Society of Young Publishers (you can lynch me later), but this in no way closes any doors. The Society of Young Publishers encourages and helps and advises anyone looking to get in to the industry. It is not as “closed” an industry as people would have you believe. As publishers aim to understand their audience and try to evolve in this new digital world, it is the new generations that are needed most.
I am very lucky indeed to be working in an industry I love – as new to it as I am. When any student at the conference breathlessly asked me “how I did it”, I responded in the only way I knew I could: “by being relentless”. The world will always need publishing, and it is a story of hope that the conference delivered, and it is a story of hope that we should take away from it.
I want to thank the Society of Young Publishers for a great event, the speakers who took the time to come, and everyone I met (including those who went for drinks afterwards and allowed me to witter on about feminism and graphic novels*). I’m sorry not to mention everyone in person! Another big thank you for the lovely goodie bag … and the stunning Folio Society book, which made all that frantic tweeting worthwhile.*Not at the same time. Don’t even get me started on THAT conversation.