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We are Open for Business

February 23rd, 2011 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on We are Open for Business
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You can find our livetweets from the event @stirpublishing

On February 21st 2011, Publishing Scotland’s annual conference enticed many industry aficionados.  The event’s tagline was to ‘publish locally, and sell globally,’ and consequently discussions were geared towards international outlook and expansion.  Publishing Scotland chief executive Marion Sinclair urged us to locate our inner cowboy and head to the ‘Wild West.’  The opportunity is there to explore undiscovered territories and unearth potential markets; as such Scottish publishers should reflect, prioritise and cash in on prospective consumers.

The day was jam-packed with mixed metaphors as even key note speaker, Anne MacColl, advised us to be more like Mel Gibson than Rabbie Burns, or rather embrace ‘brave-heartedness’ versus being ‘wee sleekit, cowerin’, timorous beasties.’  She encouraged publishers to ‘embrace innovation’, which is daunting due to our fragile economy, fears over exchange rates and cultural barriers.  Yet, 99.7% of the world’s market is outside of Scotland, and this is too big a piece of pie, to be too polite and cautious to ask:  ‘Pleez Sur, canna hae sum mare?’

To journey overseas, it is crucial to have detailed knowledge of copyright and watertight contracts.  Lynette Owen was one of the resident celebs, to whom I am eternally grateful as her definitive work Selling Rights was my saviour in Padmini’s class.  But alas! Another tycoon stole the show.  Personal favourite was publishing veteran Zander Wedderburn of Fledgling Press whose audacious opinions enticed gasps and giggles.  Sharp as a razor, he maintained that lengthy contracts are time-consuming and convoluted, and criticised Waterstone’s distribution services.  While Wedderburn expertly runs his business on page long contracts for submissions compiled with pencil and paper,  the rest of us must regrettably move on from the ‘Halycon days’ of ‘beer, brandy, books and cigarettes’ and build up an appetite for risk.

However, Wedderburn was not the only one to bully the bookseller.  A certain gent wished to remain nameless as he highlighted the risk of Waterstone’s selling ‘stuff’.  After all, until 1998, John Menzies sold some books, some stationery, some…what were they? Eight tracks?  Whatever it was, they sold some stuff, and ultimately dissolved.  With Waterstone’s growing interest in selling ‘quality-book-related-product,’ perhaps history is repeating itself. As Waterstone’s sell items other than books, in contrast to how supermarkets branched into book retail, perhaps the next point of sale item at the register next to bookmarks and playing cards will be Coco-Pops and caviar…

Steve Bohme from Book Marketing Ltd was surprisingly the most beloved speaker.  Talentedly transforming statistics into a compelling speech, he used tennis analogies to divulge top-secret intelligence:  buoyantly breaking down complex facts into ‘drop shots, net falls and double faults.’  The ‘Dragon’s Den’ approach was presented by Bill Hamilton, who claimed that he will work as a mentor for publishing companies guiding them to growth, greatness and, dare I say, greediness.  CPIs Martin McCall broached the subject of e-books, and while his whole discussion was dense and informative, the proverbial penny dropped when he ascertained that digital shouldn’t merely be an ‘add on.’  Soon publishers will have to factor e-books into their initial strategies.

To sum up: the point is to keep calm – and get on with it.  Shake things up, after all, book and journal publishing in Scotland generates an estimated £343 million.  It isn’t a stagnant industry but a growing one, and the speakers at the conference, while celebrating Scottishness urged us to strategise, and lose a bit of that Scottish modesty.   Remember clichés, but don’t necessarily wear a ‘see you Jimmy hat’ to a meeting with a foreign agent.  You can’t cover a book in haggis, neaps and tatty stains -unless you’re at Waverley Books reaping the financial windfall that is Maw Broon’s Cookbook.  Therefore, take David Pirnie’s recommendation and ’aspire, innovate, invest and grow.’ Scottish publishers are ‘open for business,’ and if you forget all else, remember this – it’s time to ‘raise the bar.’

Karen Raith