Publishing Scotland Conference 2013

March 22nd, 2013 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Publishing Scotland Conference 2013
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University of Stirling Publishing students with a guest from Edinburgh Napier's Publishing program. Image credit to Publishing Scotland and Sandy Young Photography

On March 4, 2013 I attended the Publishing Scotland conference at the COSLA Conference Centre in Edinburgh with some of my classmates. It was an exciting experience to attend a conference with nearly 200 book publishers, booksellers, and other students to discuss some of the pressing matters in the industry. In addition to hearing from keynote speaker John Gordon Sinclair, who entertained the audience with his anecdotes, observing the trends in the market by Bowker, and learning the “20 Irrefutable Theories of Book Cover Design”, two aspects of the conference stuck out as quite memorable to me.

There are a few questions that are circulating in the air that everyone involved in publishing is asking. One of the big ones is where the high street book market is headed. We heard from a panel with representatives from both publishers and booksellers, and there was a unanimous agreement that things are certainly changing. Bob Kelly from Gardner’s Books made the point that bookshops have been changing since the introduction of book sales in supermarkets in the 1960s. He also believes that although there has been constant change, the current change to the bookshops is the largest we’ve seen.

The panel came to a few conclusions about high street bookshops. The first, suggested by Kelly, is that booksellers need to be a cultural hub in the community, and a place where people can come together to learn and share. Along the same lines, Neil Best from Waterstone’s suggests that bookshops need to offer something better than the easy, lazy online experience. David Prescott from Blackwell’s added that there is room for both online shops and high street shops, we just need to give customers a reason to visit and revisit shops.

The most influential comment made during the debate was that there is a disconnect between what people say they want and what they are buying. This is a good way of voicing what the recent sales statistics are showing. I have not personally heard anyone say that they want bookshops to close and for all sales to be made online, and that the suggestion is outrageous, sales still move more and more to online outlets. Even as a publishing student, the ease of use for online book buying is attractive, so it’s not so hard for me to believe that customers without knowledge of the struggling industry buy online without a second thought. There needs to be a more conscious effort to protect what we want, and if what we want is high street bookshops, then that is where we need to shop.

The second aspect of the conference that really struck me was the talk given by Lindsay Mooney from Kobo. I found this particularly interesting because although she was discussing pricing strategies for selling e-books, Mooney was also discussing the interactive advantages available with a Kobo e-reader. While there are benefits to having interactivity with reading apps for tablets, I find that the amount of interactive features available with the kobo may be taking things a step to far. While reading an e-book on the Kobo, any reader can see comments made by other readers and commentary by the author; they can highlight, tweet, and share to their newsfeed exactly where they are in the book, and tell friends whether or not the book is a worthwhile read. While I can see the value in this from a marketing standpoint, isn’t it more valuable to appreciate the book as just a book and not an opportunity to market every sentence? To me, reading should not come with so much noise. Perhaps I am just being traditional and stubborn, but personally if I want to share a book, I will tell my friends about it when I am finished and watch author interviews online in my downtime.

At the very end of the conference, the students at the conference were gathered together and had an opportunity to speak to a panel about any questions we have about the industry and suggestions for finding our way in upon graduation. It was a very useful session at the conference and I am grateful for it. Attending the conference was enlightening as a whole and a wonderful experience. A day well spent.