Through the keyhole

At this time of year, I tend to get a bit more homesick than usual. There is much to miss in personal terms but professionally, I’ve always loved the exhausting cut and thrust of the book trade at Christmas. So watching the Futurebook conference through the keyhole of twitter made me wish I was in London to experience it. While twitter is great for capturing the headlines, I would love to have seen and heard more of the meat of the discussion.

One element from the reports that has leapt out for me is how publishers are now defining themselves. Dominique Raccah from Sourcebooks says that ‘we are no longer a book publisher, we are a publisher’. Stephen Page from Faber went further saying that they are now a business ‘about reading and writing’. This second formulation interests me greatly. I like it because it maintains a continuity with the past, (in my opinion, good publishers have always been in the ‘enhancing the writing and encouraging the reading’ business as opposed to the ‘making paper things’ business), but it allows scope to widen and develop that concept.

This is, I think, an enormously liberating moment for the talented people in publishing businesses to unleash some new ideas that connect writer and reader. If we’ve always been in that business, why not find new ways to excel at it?

Phil Downer from Front of Store was there and he reports here. One further link to share from Michael Wolf at Gigaom. The pace of change would appear to be accelerating.

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Amongst the Boxes. Still.

We’re still somewhat awash in boxes so a short post rounding up some of the more interesting things I’ve been looking at over the past few days.

First of all Stephen Page’s Guardian article about the necessity of bookshops especially with regard to the ‘discoverability’ of books. Stephen always has an interesting insight into the future of publishing and I’ve got some longer thoughts on the issues thrown up by this article which I’ll post later. The thing I think he captures well is the peril of an unstable transition period and what might happen to the wide range of books (indeed nearly all of them) that lie between the top ten and the ‘long tail’ without traditional bookshops.

In contrast perhaps, (though in fairness I don’t really think they are that far apart) I’ve also been much taken with this interview from Mike Shatzkin (hat-tip to Publishing Perspectives) who has been taking the temperature of the US book trade at BEA. Mike’s views on the need to experiment with price are I think hugely important. The received pricing structures that publishers continue to work with are hugely vulnerable to a smart player with insight innovating with an eye to the consumer. Much to think about there.

Lastly, I’ve been catching up with Start the Week, which is my Desert Island podcast. The writer Elif Batuman was my star of the show in this episode as she talked about her book, The Possessed (Ian Sansom’s Guardian review of The Possessed, here and her excellent LRB article about creative writing here). Anyone who can make an academic obsession with Russian novels sound as wonderful and exciting (or utterly insane as she also often does) deserves to be read (great cover too). Had to go out and get it. Will report back.