My Rite to Read

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Love's Labour Gained?


We are sitting in a course, reevaluating our career paths (if we had already begun one), understanding the trends, and looking into the future with a wizened gaze, scouring The Bookseller  with a lofty  advantage over those without a degree in publishing. They could be law students, confused little undergraduates, postgraduates or even doctoral students in search of a living. We got there first! This is an entertaining time to be in the industry we are told. We should savour the fear of loss, the hell of rejection. At every turning point is another turning point.

Marion Sinclair repeated that the walls have been breached. The media knows its un-limits. We are living in a time when information is staring each other in clouds, and we are misting over with fondness, fear and even preparation. The vision of gentlemanly publishing is over. Long lunches a rarity, and digitisation has changed complete processes, and the publishing workflow, bottom up. Relationships with authors have changed. Bookselling has changed. Nobody visits high street bookstores in as many numbers as they did in the past. Browse became an online experience, done in the multiple windows of phones, tablets and computers. Authors are no more linear, and writing has been coined 'content', be it books, ebooks, apps or mobile entertainment. Transmedia rights,  are being talked about in every rung of industry, and so is convergence and every other C in the alphabet. (Collaboration, especially). 


The Annual Toast!  image courtesy Ellen Cheng 2012

Collaboration begins with deep knowledge and effort while digitisation penetrates the globe differently. 

If Amazon is awe shaking, so is the volume of books being bought per minute on it. Marion Sinclair, the chief executive of Publishing Scotland talked about the good shades of grey as much as the worse, and said that if Amazon is commodifying books, it has also evangelized bookbuying, and one might think, reading has become a compulsive activity in zones powered by e-commerce. Will high street bookselling die? Chances are they won't, voiced literary agent and Portfolio careerist Bob McDewitt who himself came with a pot load of experience in bookselling, literary agenting and looking after the annual Dundee Prize. Katy Holmes talked about the traditional markets she catered to, who she was confident would never convert to digital or apps anytime soon. A publisher with immense sales and marketing experience, she has witnessed both the pre-internet and post Amazon days of the industry in the US and now in UK.



Best way for a noob to understand publishing? WORK IN A BOOKSTORE! I would second that. And even though my experience was limited to some six months with an online ecommerce book retailer, there were so many opportunities to talk to authors, publishers, wholesalers and customers over a wide range of issues, and above all, it helped me understand better the real market for books! 

Like many of my peers, I would love stay on and fork a bit of a future in London, a city teeming with life, much like Mumbai or Glasgow. Plus, skills acquired in the trade, are often specific to  its cultural environment, and would take years of practice and nuance before they could become truly transferable across contexts. But, the good news might just be in the adage of, once a publisher, always a publisher! It is an industry after all, that sees one of the highest retention levels and lowest attrition rates.

With so much e-buzz, and appventuring everywhere, were our skills going to fade into obsolescence? No, opine many. At least not in an eighty years. And after that, nobody wants to live.

Yes, I left my devices homes that night, because yes there was a need for a technology upgrade, but no, it's not the biggest lesson I took (despite creating a travel app for the iPad as my final project) from being in the company of these professional academics and academic professionals over the past nine months. ( Yes, 'labour-ious' to lavish all metaphors in a trade with a long skewed sex ratio! And, you can actually prove this when you count the number of boys in all the 'publicity' departments of UK's publishing). Reality considered, I learned how to package and sell content all over again. It was a pleasure, relief and a turning point, participating in the final publishing showcase at the end of a taught postgraduate masters at the Stirling Center for International Publishing and Communication this year, and on their '30th birthday'!

To view the entire set on slide show, click here.