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Publishing Scotland’s In-Company Development Project – First Seminar

October 5th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »
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The In-Company Development Programme is the brainchild of Publishing Scotland CEO, Marion Sinclair. It is an ambitious scheme designed to enable publishers based in Scotland to develop and grow their businesses in order to respond to changing consumer trends in markets at home and overseas. Seven publishing companies have been chosen to participate: Acair, Sandstone Press, Freight Books, Saraband, Strident Publishing, Floris Books and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The publishers will have three seminar days where they can view presentations from and meet with industry professionals; and they will also benefit from the services and experience of an industry expert who will work alongside each business, offering advice and input on issues such as publishing strategy, growth strategy, exploiting intellectual property, and financial matters.

On Thursday 29th September, the seven chosen publishers gathered for the first seminar in the company of their mentors, speakers and other guests from the publishing industry. David Pirnie, strategy consultant and programme manager, opened the session with a warm welcome and announced the focus of the first seminar: the business of publishing in the context of researching the market, managing change and seeking investment.

The first speaker was Reeta Davis of Nielsen Bookscan, who gave a master class in market research: what it is, where to get it from, why publishers need it and most importantly, how to make the most of the research you have at your disposal. The presentation included some valuable and detailed information about the current state of the UK market. Accurate, reliable, up-to-date research often has to be paid for; publishers have to ask whether it is worth their while. Spending £1000 on some detailed research which will enable you to better judge your print runs could save the business much more money in the long run.

Martin Redfern, one of the programme mentors, opened the next stage with a brief presentation on the challenges of managing change. In his opinion, small publishers are actually at an advantage when it comes to adapting to change: flatter management structures and simpler operations mean they can move more quickly in response to market needs than the clumsier corporates. This was illustrated in excellent detail by two fantastic case studies, presented by Vivian Marr of OUP and Jenny Todd of Canongate, respectively. The former showed a corporate giant’s struggle to move a large and successful list from print to digital, while the latter addressed the challenges which came to Canongate in the wake of one of their biggest successes: Life of Pi’s winning the Man Booker Prize in 2002. This was a particularly fascinating and illuminating part of the day: it is rare to be privy to the details of a publisher’s operations. Delegates were impressed. The conclusions: make your decisions, communicate them effectively and get people on board – a fractured operation responding to conflicting messages will not cope well with change.

Managing change effectively relies a lot on making a secure base, and finding investment is an important part of this. The only resource most publishers have in limitless quantities is enthusiasm. Donald Boyd, Head of Media at Campbell Dallas gave his advice on investment sources for publishers and, more importantly, assessing the potential risks and benefits involved. He urged delegates to reflect that while doing nothing with their business was an option to be considered, it is also the one to be left behind. However, if you are going to seek funding from an external source, you must be able to live with the consequences. While Donald Boyd pointed out that looking to conventional sources of funding for projects (such as banks) is virtually pointless in today’s climate, several of his existing clients have had some success in seeking funding by crowd-sourcing. This is one way in which publishers might be able to generate new resources in future.

Summary feedback from the attending publishers was extremely positive. While many of the delegates have no formal publishing training they have all learned the hard way about publishing through their trials, mistakes and successes. This session gave them time out to consider their businesses from fresh perspectives; to think about their options for growth and development; and to discuss plans and hopes with industry colleagues. Exactly how these businesses will change and develop is impossible to say, but this is an extremely exciting time not just for them but for Scottish publishing as a whole.

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