Concluding Panel at SYP Conference 2014

The end of the day found all attendees back in the main seminar room for the concluding panel. Chaired by CUP’s Alistair Horne, the seminar unfolded into an animated discussion on The Perfect Publisher, bringing us full circle from the seeds planted earlier in the day by Ursula. First up was Sara O’Connor, the Fiction Digital Director at Hot Key Books. Sara spoke about what the perfect publisher would be were he/she unencumbered by limitations - financial or traditional, for example. She spoke about how her role has moved away from editorial and more towards marketing and how this is an example of the credentials of a perfect publisher – flexibility, the ability to turn your hand to everything and not limit yourself to one aspect of the publishing process.

Being fast and flexible is key to success and branding is everything for all emerging businesses and publishers. Overall, though, the perfect publisher needs to be profitable and although being community focused is important, they have to be commercially savvy and driven by success. In terms of Sara’s advice for those applying for jobs in publishing, she stressed the importance of proving your ability by actually doing what it is you say you love to do, whether that is setting up a book review blog, writing an online anthology or setting up your own marketing focused community. Alastair thanked Sara for her input, summarised the importance of the focus on relationships with readers and teaching yourself the skills you need.

Gareth Howard, CEO and Co-Founder of Authoright, took to the podium next. An ex-lawyer coming from outside of traditional publishing, Gareth’s talk focused on the importance of those skillsets that are not typically associated with publishing; a move away from the stereotypical English graduate who loves books and a move towards embracing those candidates who have digital, data analysis skills. “Tradition is the greatest enemy to the publishing world”, Howard claimed, causing an audible rumble of objection throughout the audience. He went on to claim there is a lack of respect for the publisher in the changing world and equated this to the music industry whose current status is defined by the power of the technological moguls. This is what is happening now with publishing and in Gareth’s opinion, Amazon could now be the perfect publisher.

Throughout Gareth Howard’s time on the podium, it was clear that he identifies with the outsiders to the traditional publishing industry. He advocates newer, technologically savvier skillsets and implies that traditional publishers stand in the way of industry success. There is no doubt that the industry now needs these different skillsets. Roles are  changing, blurring and merging, and as we produce more and more digital products,  our needs as publishers will change in terms of who we are hiring  but this is something to plan for and invest in for now and the future so that we do have all the tools we need to be a perfect publisher…

Last up was Jonathan Glasspool, Managing Director of Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, who opened with the affirmative statement that “there is no perfect publisher” and that is the end of that! He went on to speak about is own experience with the SYP 25 years ago and how it was through SYP events that he decided to move away from trade and into academic and professional. He deems academic publishing as the most creative sector of the industry and the most innovative.

Jonathan identified the following as the most important aspects in publishing – data, digital skills and direct focus on the end reader. For him, the most interesting candidates are those who think about how best to communicate to the end user. Readers nowadays will most likely first see the content on screen and so publishers must ensure that all data is relevant. Someone with a grasp of data and/or scientific infographics is desirable, in line with what Gareth said too. As regards the importance of digital, the bulk of Bloomsbury’s funding in recent years has gone into digital innovation and output. In addressing the direct to end user focus, he spoke in more detail about the difference between academic and trade publishing and the direct contact that academic publishers have with their audience versus the disconnect in trade as they tend to use third parties to access the market and surrender that relationship with the reader by doing so.

Most important to Jonathan in a prospective hire, however, is a person who is curious about how people behave. Digital publishing allows us to examine user journeys in detail and sometimes be surprised to find that parts of thee website deemed dull are the parts that users are going back to over and over. Some parts of the site can similarly be found to be useless and no traffic goes there while others are “pure gold” and need to be identified and grown. He gave a nod to Gareth’s point that a lot of people coming into the industry now have a different mindset and come in from a digital content consumer point of view. We do need to ignore pre-set notions and embrace the new – in the world now, anyone who has a website is a publisher and publishing professionals will find themselves working for an organisation now in a publishing capacity; “you may not work for a publisher but you will be a publisher working for an organisation”, he told the crowd and this perfectly merged the old with the new, the tradition with the modern wave – this hit the nail on the head and perhaps got us the closest to defining The Perfect Publisher.

The day ended with 5 lucky winners taking home competition prizes in Inspired Selection’s Dream Job competition, drawn by the SYP Chair and Inspired Selection’s newest Consultant, Helen Youngs, with the help of Senior Consultant, Esme Richardson, and attendees spilled out into the darkening, blustery afternoon, Inspired goodie bags swinging from shoulders and heads full of plans on how they could become the next Perfect Publisher.

We thoroughly enjoyed this year's SYP conference and would highly recommend any entry, graduate, first and second jobbers to go next year. Next year the conference will be hosted in Oxford and we are already looking forward to seeing some of you there. Thank you to Helen Youngs and the SYP for a fantastic day!