UK Publishing Sea Change Reflections


By Carmen Comment

To say that the publishing industry is in a time of flux is a severe understatement, of course. But various insiders are having their say about key issues as they affect the British market. Faber & Faber‘s Stephen Page marked World Book Day over the weekend with a call-to-arms in the Guardian Review about how crucial the editor-writer relationship is even in our digital times. “Publishers are a bridge between the market and writers,” says Page, “while providing an expert route to creating economic value in the work (ie the author’s work is rewarded), they can also act as a sustaining and supporting partner.” It may be “old-fashioned or romantic,” and certainly subjective, but Page makes the important point that the tide against narrower markets and bestseller cravings can be counteracted – at least somewhat.

Meanwhile, Publishing News reported on Gerry Johnson’s speech at the Retail Week conference about how publishers, and especially booksellers, have to keep up else they suffer the same fate as the music industry. “There will be a tipping point [after which] the market will change beyond all recognition within six months,” Johnson said. “People have strong perceptions of what a bookshop should look like. We have got slightly out of step with what consumers expect.” But former Waterstone’s buyer (and current editor at The Friday Project) Scott Pack argues otherwise after pointing out the biggest difference between audio and books: “Each stage of the audio revolution has been about making music smaller and more portable; but books are already portable.” Instead, Pack believes digital media will have a dramatic impact on certain areas of publishing and reading, including travel guides, cookbooks and “hefty volumes of history and biography,” in the next couple of years.