Birthdays should be celebrated, and that is exactly what happened on Thursday night 24 September when BookMachine turned five. Together with Oxford Publishing Society (OPuS) we were treated to a social event at the Jam Factory where Publishing Director of Canelo, Michael Bhaskar spoke about Publishing in 2020. This was my first real publishing social event in Oxford and I was happy to be around so many people who were passionate about publishing (also I was impressed by the amount of people that could fit into the room we were in, but I think it made it cosier and almost easier to start networking).
The evening itself started off with a lot of networking (the buzz word for any Publishing Masters student right now) before we moved on to Michael’s talk. He confessed to feeling almost presumptuous about predicting the next five years in publishing as things were changing so rapidly in the industry. Five years ago we all would have said the big talking points today would be eBooks and apps, but they are not the main focus, said Michael. This was true, as the New York Times article The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead shook up the industry earlier this week stating that the eBook takeover had not happened as everyone thought it would. So what would the next five then hold for publishing according to Bhaskar?
Consumerism and curation.
According to Michael, the biggest story over the last couple of year has really been Amazon and that would not change anytime soon, but what has changed is the way in which people buy books. Publishers and their content will be safe as they have copyright on the content, however, Bhaskar did see one, let’s say problem, in the reading market today, the market is oversaturated. The market is not oversaturated with just any books, but with books that should maybe not have been published in the first place and this was where Michael suggested curation come to the foreground.
Not to name any, but we have all walked into bookshops or browsed Amazon and seen titles there, wondering how these actually went through the publishing process, simply because of the lack of constructed (let us not say bad) content. But who will these curators be? Publishers yes, but more importantly us; the readers, bloggers, social media users, the man on the street who is actually consuming the content. Michael’s prediction was exciting news to me. As publishers, we have always seen ourselves as gatekeepers of knowledge but are we slipping up and is it time to broaden our networking to those outside our inner circle of strictly publishing critics. Personally I would move even further than just bloggers, and all the way to the ground level, the readers we are actually publishing for. Selling books has changed from simply selling to bookshops to more direct selling, why not harness the power many readers feel they are already have to understand what they want better. A wonderful initiative I know of back home in South Africa is where the Afrikaans publisher LAPA Publishers have workshop sessions with groups of children where they read through books and decide on what they like best. These choices are then the ones that get published. In this way an interesting dynamic could be created between keeping a form of curation with the publisher, but allowing for an external reader curation as well. “Who will curate the curators?” was a question that came up from the audience and I believe that this might be one solution.
Other predictions Michael made were that we would see more huge publishers and at least two more mergers between big publishers, such as what happened between Penguin and Random House (as long as competition boards allow it of course). Apart from the huge publisher we will also see more up and coming small publishers. I believe this is good news for anyone entering into the publishing industry (fellow students hear this) as it will allow for more opportunities to get a foot in the door and learn to do many different things at a smaller publisher.
When I prodded Micheal about what he though the future of DRM was, his answer was music to this free thinking publisher’s ears. It would most likely not matter anymore and disappear.
The night ended with more networking and I was introduced to the beautiful interactive fixed layout eBooks CircularFLO are in the business of making. These are definitely something to see so follow the link on their name and have a look at their website.
I have to thank OPuS and BookMachine for the wonderful evening and for welcoming me to the world of Publishing in Oxford in such a stimulating way. A perfect venue which was just as quirky and unique as the publishing industry and an insightful speaker. I will be looking forward to all upcoming events from both these societies.