London Book Fair and Digicon 2013

May 11th, 2013 by Blake Brooks | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on London Book Fair and Digicon 2013
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Blake Brooks, MLitt in Publishing Studies student, reports on London Book Fair and Digicon 2013:

It’s been an intense year of studying and interning, going from being a freshly graduated undergrad to hardcore postgrad, and all that energy and learning culminated in two events in April: The London Book Fair and the Interactive Scotland Digital Conference (Digicon).

Although as a Londoner the London Book Fair was a chance to go home, the trip was still predominantly about working, networking and seeing the publishing industry in practice. Still, even a lifelong Londoner like myself can underestimate journey time, and so at 9.30am on the Monday morning I went dashing into Earls Court trying to get to my first seminar. I only paused briefly to marvel at the stands that stretched out before me like a hundred tiny showrooms, a sea of metal squares with banners and photos all vying for attention.
Whilst I enjoyed the seminar, I felt somewhat disorientated and so decided to forgo my next intended one for a chance to walk around and familiarise myself. However that feeling of disorientation never went away. I found I largely spent my time trying not to crash into the marketing executive of HarperCollins, desperately attempting light hearted and jovial conversation with stern-faced and unamused stall-dwellers, and smiling with nervous hope at disinterested business people rushing from meeting to meeting with no interest in anyone with the word ‘student’ emblazoned across their badge.

A world away from the rush of the main fair, I did enjoy the seminars and I was even invited to partake in some meetings with my internship company Saraband, which were interesting, nerve-wracking, and brilliant. I felt like everyone was communicating in another language, but every now and then I caught familiar words or had a feeling I knew what they were really talking about, and I loved it when I had something I could contribute, though for the most part I preferred to listen.

I did however find it disheartening how little care was shown for students (theoretically the future of the publishing industry) and how hard it was to approach people, even at networking events. I’m not a wallflower but I really struggled, and some people were just downright rude when you did try. That’s also the feedback I’ve received relatively unanimously from the other Stirling students, too.

However the Fair itself is definitely worth going to; a great educational experience that is interesting and often enjoyable. I loved sitting with a glass of wine and chatting publishing with those I had connected with, I enjoyed live-tweeting in excess until my batteries died, I smiled as I played LBF bingo in my head and ticked ‘William Boyd’ off my list (but not a bin, which were few and far between).

The seminars were interesting, although I only made half of my intended ones as my feet hurt and my energy ran out as the days are long and tiring. The stalls were fascinating, especially seeing how some were so open and full of life like Penguin and Button Books, whilst others, like Canongate and Lonely Planet, built both literal and metaphorical walls around themselves. Many people at stalls encouraged conversation, others were all business and meetings. Overall I left with two business cards but fifty new twitter followers, a heavy heart but an enthused mind, and a sense that the publishing industry was not going to be quite as kind to me as I’d once thought – even though I also came out feeling like those that were kind were more than making it up for those who weren’t.

Digital Day was a totally different and utterly positive experience by comparison. I showed up expecting it to feel much like the London Book Fair, which, by this point, I’d reflected on as a worthwhile but disappointing experience. However, we were greeted in a small room by tea and breakfast rolls, surrounded by small stands that were open and welcoming, much more like a market than a fair.

This was a more casual, interesting and positive event and, as the main conference started, I was curious to see what the core of it was about. Digicon doesn’t quite specialise in publishing, although Pearson were there, telling us all about teaching our three-year-olds Mandarin using the iPad, and much of it does relate to the industry.
I tweeted everything and garnered numerous new followers, as I sat at the back of the conference room watching hundreds of faces lit up in the dark with the glow of tablets and phone. Everyone was excited, everything seemed fascinating, and best of all there were limitless supplies of tea. The afternoon seminars were even better, with one on ‘brand identity’ and one on ‘visibility and marketing’. The seminar leaders were funny, charismatic and confident, they led interesting discussions and imparted wisdom that felt worthy of writing down. When I came out my mind was abuzz with marketing ideas and I wandered around the stalls happily chatting with professionals who were open and friendly, undoing all the self-doubt I’d felt after LBF. The networking event was wonderful, I had a lovely time drinking free wine with Sara and Catriona (from Publishing Scotland and alumni of the course) whilst talking to numerous people. I didn’t feel awkward handing over my card, or taking anyone else’s, and my smile felt genuine this time. Although it’s perhaps not as necessary to go to Digicon I felt it was a great experience and perhaps more beneficial than LBF, especially if you’re interested in digital technologies.

I’ve come out of both events feeling that they were beneficial and I definitely got something out of both. I think the London Book Fair is an important event, it’s good if you are interested in publishing in general, but it is not a networking event as everyone is busy and students are largely superfluous. Still, the companies I did interact with; Cargo, Forlaget Hetland, Saraband, Freight, Button Books and Publishing Scotland; were all wonderful, open and kind.

Digicon is an optional addition to the publishing calendar, but a truly enjoyable experience and I think worth going to if you can afford it. You can reap the ticket cost back in food and drink easily (the entire day is catered) and the advice and guidance in the seminars was more useful and inspiring than anything I heard at London Book Fair.

However perhaps the best recommendation I could give is to say do it all. Both experiences were beneficial even if not totally positive, both were educational, both were enjoyable at times and all that I’ve learnt will help me in the future. so it’s worth it.

Gaelic Publishing in the 21st Century: a Lecture by John Storey

May 11th, 2013 by Amanda Losonsky | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Gaelic Publishing in the 21st Century: a Lecture by John Storey
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Amanda Losonsky reports on John Storey’s visiting speaker session:

On 11 April, John Storey of the Gaelic Books Council, Comhairle nan Leabhraichean, came and spoke to the publishing students at the University of Stirling. His topic of discussion: Gaelic publishing and publishing in the 21st century.

In the country of the language’s birth, Gaelic is currently a minoritized language, meaning that it still isn’t widely spoken. In 2011, only 1.9% of the population have some ability in Gaelic while 0.9% can read the language, a percentage that has gone up since 1991. Yet despite these low numbers, there is a worldwide interest in the Gaelic language, with supporters and learners from countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

Because there exist so many who are interested in the language, Gaelic publishers must ensure their content will be well-received by many different markets; they cannot solely be thinking in terms of Scotland. Otherwise put, Gaelic publishers must follow and adhere to the principles that Storey termed as “The Beiber Effect”, which simply means “it must be cool”.

The Gaelic Books Council exists not as a publisher of Gaelic pieces, but as a council that supports and offers aid to those who wish to write and publish in the language. Their main aim is to build a capacity within the Gaelic publishing industry. They do everything from identify and support Gaelic authors, commission new pieces, develop content, market and design—all with just five staff members! In addition, the Council covers not only Scotland’s interest in the language, but overseas as well. In a world where Gaelic is so often overlooked and forgotten, it is the Gaelic Books Council’s job to remind people of the language’s presence and significance.

There have been a number of developments and innovations within the market in the past few years. In the 20th century, Gaelic publishing focused primarily on poetry, yet the 21st century saw the rise of “Gaelic punks”. Since then, freedom of expression has continued to grow within the Gaelic market. In April 2013, the very first Gaelic Science Fiction novel written by Tim Armstrong was published by CLÀR, which shows the versatility of the Gaelic market. There have also been a number of translations of well-known English titles into Gaelic as well. Some of these include: “Peter Rabbit”, “The Gruffalo”, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “MacBeth”.

But Storey states that one of the most important developments for the Gaelic language is Ur-Sgeul. Started in 2003, Ur-Sgeul promotes new Gaelic fiction and also established opportunities for new writers. It encourages new Gaelic writers, as well as a new generation of authors. There have also been collaborations with musicians as well. In addition, Ur-Sgeul also had the first ever German-Gaelic collaboration as well. Ur-Sgeul really helped set the bar in terms of the quality of writing.

Yet there also exist a number of complications within the Gaelic publishing market. One of the biggest issues is that the market itself is quite fragile. While there do exist a few Gaelic publishers, such as Acair, CLÀR, Leabhraichean Beaga, Scottish Gaelic Texts Societ, and Padua, the market for Gaelic books is currently small, which makes it difficult to be profitable.

In addition, the quality of content can also present a problem for the market as well. Because the market is small, there is always a struggle to find quality Gaelic writing, which raises a number of questions and dilemmas for Gaelic market. How do you afford Gaelic authors freedom while still maintaining standards? What role does a publishers play in this issue? How do you discourage Gaelic authors from running to Amazon?

Speaking of Amazon, another issue is the limited avenues for minority languages to sell their products. Amazon still discriminates against minority languages, as was seen recently with Amazon’s lack of support for Welsh pieces on Kindle readers. The most recent statistics taken for the Gaelic market regarding ereaders showed that only 16% of Gaelic readers were interested in ereading, however, these statistics were taken in 2010 and current demands hint to the fact that these numbers have increased. With lacking support from such a well-known source like Amazon, how can Gaelic push its way into the digital marketplace? Or can Gaelic forge a digital path for itself without Amazon’s support?

And, of course, with 2014 approaching and a big decision on Scotland’s independence to be made, what will come of Gaelic publishing in the future? No matter what the outcome of the referendum, a New Scotland is on the horizon, and with it comes a new future for Gaelic and publishing.

It’s an important time for Gaelic publishing, Storey concludes, but this is just a crossroads. The 21st century affects Gaelic publishing just as much as it affects English publishing, but it also invites a mix of its own problems as well. Gaelic publishers must offer added value in their products. They need to be innovative in their approach to present content. They need to understand the brand and have strong imaginative interaction with audiences, but there are many opportunities available to make the market stronger.

In collaboration with the Gaelic Books Council, the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication is offering a fully-funded scholarship for a Scottish Gaelic language student. Full details are available here.

Visiting Speaker – Alastair Horne

May 2nd, 2013 by Laura Jones | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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Alastair Horne‘s visit to Stirling on March 28th was much anticipated on Twitter, with talks the night before of red carpets and royal carriages on the 8:30am Edinburgh to Stirling train which students and tutors alike frequent to make the 10am start. Those of us lucky enough to take the Digital Process & Product module had a double dose of Alastair as he taught a class on digital start-up business models before taking up his position as visiting speaker at 2pm.

So as to avoid spilling the beans of our innovative, game changing business models (well, we hope) I will focus on Alastair’s visiting talk on the wonders of social media. Alastair himself has 10 years of experience in publishing, is the social media and communities manager at Cambridge University Press ELT with a personal Twitter account of 3.6k+ followers, a professional global Twitter account, a Facebook page for CUP ELT with 33k likes, fortnightly webinars… I could go on. Let’s just say Alastair knows what he’s talking about when it comes to social media.

His emphasis rested on building relationships with readers. Publishers need to let readers in, let them peek behind the curtain and feel part of the process. As the talk inevitably turned to Amazon, Alastair highlighted that their relationship with publishers is no longer mutually beneficial considering Amazon refuses to share stats and data. For this reason, publishers need to battle Amazon for reader loyalty. Nurturing a genuine relationship with readers is the best chance publishers have at reducing Amazon’s suffocating monopoly.

So, how does one go about shaping these vital relationships? Alastair offers two options.

1. Go to where the readers and conversations already reside and partake.
2. Create a new platform to start conversations and entice readers in. This option means not having to rely on a third party, particularly important if the conversation is, say, on Goodreads which is suddenly obtained by Amazon.* The rewards are greater for this harder option as Alastair pointed out that it took one year for CUP ELT to blossom from idea to actuality.

For publishers specifically, they need to learn to use social media effectively and to their advantage, for these 5 reasons.

1. Search visibility – Facebook Group graphs can offer great data about who is finding your page and how. Google+ brings together the social and the search by providing personalised search results through network lists.
2. Marketing – publishers must be stealthy with marketing and not post too many hard sales.
3. Customer support – Twitter can offer immediate customer support, turn a negative into a positive should someone be able to fix a problem quickly and efficiently.
4. Market research – where Goodreads was recommended as a valuable site for research.
5. Building relationships – the most important element. Trust must be built over time so publishers become part of readers’ lives. This kind of investment is long term and many publishers are too impatient to invest, especially as it’s time consuming and impossible to measure the direct effect.

And because Alastair loves a good list (who doesn’t?!) he also provided 12 suggestions for social media success.

1. Find home – you don’t need to be on every social media platform, find a platform that works best for your needs and make yourself at home.
2. Be regular – post daily on Facebook, 5x or more on Twitter, not too much, not too little. Spread out those posts.
3. Be prompt and responsive – you’re not a broadcasting station, engage with your readers, know when someone has mentioned you and don’t rely on scheduled tweets, you run the risk of looking mechanic and less human. Keep track of what your audience is discussing.
4. Involve the whole team – not just marketing, get everyone on board who is active and enthusiastic on social media, also get authors involved.
5. Share enthusiasm – let your audience know you’re excited about books. Let them see behind the scenes, the production, it can generate some very real excitement.
6. Involve the audience – get to know who shares and reads your content, make them feel valuable.
7. Encourage sharing – make it easy for your readers to share your content, create content that people will want to share.
8. Curation – you’re not the only source of good content, share other people’s content and involve the network you’re using. Add value by offering your voice to a retweet, don’t just mechanically RT something you find interesting, comment on it.
9. You’re a person – no one wants to talk to a corporation, introduce the team and open yourself up to your readers.
10. Re-purpose content – alter content for different platforms, make it applicable over the networks you’re using.
11. Take the conversation elsewhere – as above, don’t rely on those third parties.
12. Work out what’s working – all about analytics and tracking people. If it’s broke, fix it!

And so ends a crash course in social media. I was greatly encouraged by Alastair’s enthusiasm towards social media and the opportunities it can create for publishers, should they learn to use it to their advantage. I fully agree that publishers can’t create meaningful relationships with their readers fast enough. The sooner the better. Alastair was a fantastic guest and continues to be a fantastic presence on Twitter as he tweets valuable content from afar keeping true to his own advice.

*The day ended on a sour note as Amazon acquired Goodreads only hours after Alastair completed his talk, part of it recommending Goodreads as a valuable area of reader data and relationships for publishers. The irony was not lost.

Laura Jones (cross posted to