Does publishing have a coolness problem?

Over six months after the International Publishers Association concluded that publishing has an image problem, UK peers at the London Book Fair have been wondering “Is publishing cool anymore?” and bemoaning the tendency of the tech companies to steal all the brightest people. For the British publishing industry overall, with its somewhat fusty and cozy reputation as a bastion of the Old Rectory Syndrome, I’m surprised that this is even a discussion, but clearly some insiders feel differently.

“Will the bright, imaginative, tech savvy, book reading (or content devouring) twentysomething choose Gollancz or Google, Faber or Facebook, Orion or O2?” asks a report in Publishing Perspectives. And it quotes Penguin Random House Human Resources Director Neil Morrison as complaining: “We’re not helped by a media that talks the industry down, that is full of stories about the death of the book, and fewer stories about how this is an industry full of imaginative people and brilliant ideas that can change the world” … and that ““Publishing is too apologetic … It needs to behave with more swagger, more confidence.”

Actually, the idea of the group behind Author Solutions and the Apple ebook price-fixing affair behaving with more swagger and confidence appalls me. And I reckon it points to one reason for publishing’s coolness deficit: the Napster factor. The British public are all too well aware that publishing is being digitally disrupted, and probably the penny has dropped that publishing is Big Media with a slightly more homely face, but otherwise just as complicit in all the DRM-heavy anti-consumer moves that have distinguished the music and film businesses. And it’s never been cool to be a big fat bully.

6 Comments on Does publishing have a coolness problem?

  1. Wait, wait, wait! They are complaining about all the stories about the death of the book?? Aren’t they the ones pushing those stories? All those hysterical pieces moaning that Amazon is killing bookstores and destroying reading and causing the end of literacy as we know it! And now they are surprised that there are lots of stories about the death of the book? Um….

  2. Paul StJohn Mackintosh // July 3, 2014 at 11:15 am //

    Death is cool. Go Goth. Graveyard chic.

  3. Publishing, at least in the US, pays poorly. Interns work for free in New York, a city notoriously expensive to live in.

    After working for free for a year or so, the interns are then paid almost nothing for the privilege of working in publishing. After years of working, they may work up to a position that pays less than the starting income in the fields mentioned.

    So, like duh!

    This also explains why the publishing industry if full of white trust-fund employees who have degrees from Ivy League schools.

  4. Paul Mackintosh // July 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm //

    Marilynn, thanks. At some point I’d love to a comparative study of junior and senior pay grades within larger publishing groups, both internally and compared to other media businesses. I’d also like to compare publishing salaries to profits and see how much is returned to employees. If such a study exists, I’d love to read it.

  5. Paul, go here and do a search of “salaries in publishing.” You will find all kinds of articles as well as a survey at PW

    http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat

    http://publishersweekly.com

  6. Perhaps slightly off topic but something which bothers me as a copy editor for science publishers is their insistence that authors worldwide must still submit manuscripts only in MS Word doc format. I don’t think this a very ‘cool’ approach. It would be refreshing if they opened up a little and accepted documents in, for example, open source format.

    Yes I know, Word is the ‘standard’ but times are changing in this digital era and they might just garner a little respect from authors worldwide if they could use free software.

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