6 things that 2021 has taught us

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

2020 helped us understand as a business how to work remotely, how to navigate the physical, psychological and economic effects of a pandemic, and also taught us some stark lessons about what really matters to us all when the chips are well and truly down. But what then have we learned from 2021 – the metaphorical day after the night before from hell? Long after we stopped clapping for the NHS on our doorsteps, we’ve been jabbed and have tentatively taken steps to re-engage with our old lives, what are the big takeaways for a creative agency operating in that ever-evolving space between writers, publishers, talent agents and content-owning brands?

Better get used to hybrid working. It looks increasingly likely that it’s here to stay. Which means learning to blend the use of video technology into your day-to-day business as effectively and seamlessly as possible. And continuing to work out how best to recruit and integrate new hires into real functioning teams when meetings are not always face to face.

Book distribution is hard. In our experience, writers, as a rule, tend to appreciate the added value of editors, proofreaders, cover and text designers, and the input from digital marketing and PR experts during the creative process of producing and releasing their book. But understanding why you can’t shoehorn your book into a particular shop, on or offline? Maybe not so much. Then add wanting your book, already translated into another language, positioned in a bookshop in Malaysia or France or Argentina. Challenging. Everything we do at whitefox is bespoke. Every individual book has its own schedule. Doubling down on highly specific requests for time-sensitive availability in different international territories involves a huge navigational effort and not a little patience and expertise. And some not inconsiderable managing of expectations.

Printers are challenged. Spare a thought for warehouses up and down the land. As the hand-wringing continues about when to get everyone back into their offices, even on a part-time basis, there’s been no respite for those who have been required to print, bind and ship all those physical books that have shown such robust health for the past eighteen months. Add in global paper shortages, ships stuck in the Suez Canal, lack of haulage drivers and, of course, yet more Covid spikes… Well, we salute the continued efforts from printers in 2021 to keep those presses turning.

Tech companies want beautiful books. 2021 has been an amazing year for whitefox working with some trailblazing, highly successful tech businesses from London to San Francisco. Yes, they want help creating books. And to what extent did these arch-disruptors want to know how we could help produce low-fi, high-volume, low-price, kinda-OK content via a SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform? Well, not at all, in fact. To a person, these senior players wanted beautiful, bespoke statement books. Albeit quicker than any traditional publisher would be able to deliver them. But still, go figure, hey?

We all need a break. Looking back, how can anyone seriously have been sceptical about the number of hours good-hearted creative publishing people would put into their jobs every day once they were mandated to WFH. But in 2021? I don’t know a soul who hasn’t needed to take their full allocation of holiday, to switch off their phones and their work brains at least some of the time.

Some of the traditional walls have tumbled down. As I write this, two whitefox projects have featured in the Books of the Year round-ups in The Sunday Times: David Hargreaves and Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe’s extraordinary four-volume week-by-week oral history of the Great War, As We Were, and Hugo Rittson Thomas’s Wildflowers for the Queen. Both unconventionally published, both creatively driven by the authors, and both beautiful manifestations of a new model and approach to taking content to market. We could not be prouder of the ongoing success of both books.

We didn’t really see all of this coming at the start of the year. But maybe it was ever thus, pandemic or not. So, 2022, bring it on. There’s the little matter of the whitefox tenth anniversary that will definitely be happening. If we can just do our darndest to keep the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at bay for one more year…

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.