Crystalgazing: the Future of Publishing

I wasn’t able to get to Contec at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, so I missed the discussion Where Would You Place Your Bet, looking into a crystal ball about the future of publishing. But I’ve read the Schilling report, created after consultations with publishers around the world which asked the question “How would they go about it if they had to start all over?”

As a professional publishing services network, I’m delighted that there seems to be a consensus that companies “need to specialise”. whitefox, of course, would crank the dial one notch further and say that it is about individuals specialising and how you engineer access to them that will set the tone over the coming years. We are also heartened by the acknowledgement that publishers will need “to invest continuously in the future and be prepared to take risks”. Although that seems to me culturally easier said than done. I don’t know of many equivalents to Macmillan Education’s incubator but maybe there is a lot more experimentation happening under the radar. That it is “all about the ‘minimal, viable product‘“ is achingly true to the siren call of the start-up but also some way yet from standard best practice.

Finally, we were waiting to see the view on outsourcing. And here’s the rub. It is deemed that there should be “a strong focus on the value of outsourcing and of collaboration among publishing houses”. So far so good. But in the same report, the hypothesis that “editorial, design and marketing are core competencies for a publishing company and should stay in-house”. Really? Since when was copy-editing and proofreading, with a few honourable exceptions, done in-house? Since when were all covers designed by the internal design team on the payroll? When were good internal marketing individuals not supported by a myriad of external agencies and talented freelance specialists?

Some structural horses surely bolted a long time ago…

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