Earlier this month, I was invited to join a panel discussion on the subject of Building a relevant book industry for the future: Diversity, Content and Data at the BIC New Trends in Publishing seminar. The panel was moderated by Karina Luke, Executive Director at BIC and I sat alongside three excellent expert panellists, Sheila Lambie, Senior Lecturer, Marketing in Publishing, Oxford Brookes University, Hajera Memon, Managing Director, Shade 7 Limited and Nigel Warner, CEO, Creative Access, who had some extremely interesting things to say. Unfortunately, I don’t have a transcript of the discussion and wasn’t able to take notes myself (for obvious reasons), so I have put together the following blog posts based on my answers on the day and other material that I prepared for the event. Photos from the event, the full programme and information about the speakers can be found on the BIC website.
This post focuses on the question of Skillset and I will cover what we discussed relating to Roles and Diversity, Content & Career Development two further posts next week.
Q: In light of changes in the publishing industry with regards types of products produced, technical and digital innovations and new way of working, what changes are we seeing as far as skillset requirements? From publishers and other sectors of the books/content industry?
A: Since I started out in publishing there has been an enormous amount of change across all sectors. In the past four years, since I joined Atwood Tate, there has been a lot of change in the trade book sector, which had perhaps been slower to adapt than many STM and academic/professional publishers in terms of innovation and digitisation of content. As I’m sure everyone is aware, sales of digital products, whether that be ebooks, online journals, databases/ online platforms have grown considerably and this obviously affects all roles within publishing and the skills required to do those jobs.
In terms of production, we’ve seen a change in workflows and methodologies (i.e. a move to XML first etc.) but the profile of a production or production editorial professional has not really changed. Knowledge of mark-up languages such as XML and HTML are often required skills now, but we’ve seen production people keeping their skills relevant and up to date through in-house training and proactive self-development.
New product formats and technologies means new systems being put in place, whether that be overhauling production workflows and peer review processes or implementing new digital sales and marketing reporting systems. As a result we’ve noticed a demand for more project managers and programme managers, both permanent and contract.
We are seeing changes to sales and marketing roles and the skillsets required in addition to new roles focussing on consumer data analysis. With more publishers producing subscription products and digital content to be delivered as a service rather than a stand-alone product, there is an increased demand for sales and licensing professionals with experience of selling software as a service, particularly in the professional/business publishing sector.
With digitisation has come the opportunity to gather a greater quantity of more accurate consumer data and this is influencing the way editorial, marketing, sales and publicity people work. We’re seeing a demand for analytical skills and people who understand how to analyse and interpret data and that’s not only on the sales and marketing side but in terms of content and product development too.
In terms of marketing roles, there is greater focus on market research and segmentation, analysing results (ROI) and not just rolling out campaigns. So we’re seeing a lot of roles centring on sector research, such as Group Insight Data Analyst, Market Research Manager, Consumer Insight Manager and Marketing Systems Manager.
Q: How do you think this compares to other creative industries?
A: Publishing may be considered behind the curve in comparison with the music, film and TV industries, but that isn’t a bad thing, as we can learn from the errors those industries have made. This year there has been considerable discussion around the topic of subscription sales models for consumer books and people are looking to TV/film subscription services for inspiration. However, publishers for the professional/corporate markets are also moving away from single products and towards selling services and can hopefully look to journal publishers and other academic/STM publishers for examples of successful business models and systems as they have been working in this area for some time.
Q: How do you think this change in skillset requirement is reflected in education? Are students/teachers aware? Are secondary schools and 6th form colleges addressing these new requirements? Are MA courses doing enough?
A: The majority of skills that we’re looking for in candidates are learned on the job, so I think it’s more about the opportunities that the employer offers its employees. MA courses are really helpful, as they open a student’s eyes to the variety of roles in publishing and the developments in the industry. Highly technical roles are still relatively rare in publishing, because the majority of platforms/systems are being developed and built by external suppliers, but this could change and larger publishers do already have teams of developers working on bespoke software in-house. Where schools and higher education institutes can help is to ensure pupils come out of education with the ability to work with data and the understanding of how interesting and important data is in our commercial world (numeracy and not just literacy). It’s also important that students are aware of the diverse opportunities within publishing services and not just in-house publishing roles.
Q: What about in-house training (in publishing houses, retailers, distributors, etc)?
On the whole, people are less inclined to look outside of the industry when recruiting for digital or data related roles than was perhaps the case three or four years ago. When I joined Atwood Tate, I was working on Digital Marketing roles Online Community Manager positions and our clients were saying that they were open to looking to hire from outside of the industry, because they felt that existing publishing candidates lacked the experience required. However, I’m pleased to say that this has changed and in the majority of cases, the online/digital aspects of roles have been integrated into the traditional positions as training has been provided or people have spent their own time developing their skills.