Every Thursday we here at the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication are visited by a guest speaker, someone in some way associated with the publishing industry, who joins us for an afternoon lecture and chat. On 21 March we had a fascinating talk from John Seaton, the inventory manager at Canongate Books. John has been in publishing over 30 years, working at major publishers like Penguin and Simon and Schuster, and he’s been working with Canongate’s backlist for the past three years.
John began his talk by explaining the value of books, the fact that you can get so much for your money. John told us that he’d drunk the equivalent of FIVE books the night before at the pub! John’s career in publishing has been long and impressive, we found out as he detailed his involvement in such projects as the Faber Finds programme, an imprint of Faber that aims to find and make available many of the great classics and authors no longer in print. All of the books at Faber Finds are entirely Print On Demand, meaning they require no stock space. He went on to explain some of the challenges faced when working with a backlist. When he joined the team at Canongate he was asked to review the backlist and to revive the titles he found there. Some of the titles didn’t sell enough to warrant a standard reprint; these books, however, were perfect for short run printing. On the other hand, some books don’t flourish with this technique either, making them great for POD. Because of his long standing career in backlist publishing, John told us that more often than not, he intuitively decides when it’s the right time to reprint and what kind of printing he should go with. While this might not seem like the safest way forward, John’s obviously proven to be successful with his decisions, and it just demonstrates that more experience makes for more knowledge.
John also spoke to us about his feelings towards e-books and their effect on the publishing industry, stating he wouldn’t speak much about e-books as he has a ‘bias towards print’. Despite saying this, John had a very optimistic point of view on the effects of e-books, saying that he didn’t feel that they would replace the physical book. He said he did feel that e-books were changing the physical book, but in a good way; the specifications for physical books are getting better, such as the choice and quality of the paper used for printing. While the physical book might change, it can’t change entirely. John said that the physical book is an excellent example of ‘sufficient technology’ that will see out our lifetimes, which tells you everything need to know really.