An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘London Book Fair’

Introducing Head of Publisher Relations Karen Brodie

Today’s People in Publishing interview is with the very successful and impressive Karen Brodie, Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I am such an admirer of the work that they do at The Reading Agency, and I’m very jealous of Karen for playing such a huge role in it! She’s worked extremely hard for what she’s achieved, and has been recognised for this hard work as a BookSeller Rising Star. Below, she discusses her work and her career journey in publishing.

Karen Brodie

Please introduce yourself and give an overview of your career so far.

I’m Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I started in publishing in Edinburgh and then worked at HarperCollins and Penguin in the rights departments. I expanded my international experience at the British Council, working on literature projects overseas to strengthen cultural relations for the UK, including the first literature festival in Kurdish Iraq, a language-learning radio programme where I interviewed authors for broadcast across Africa and an Arabic-English translation conference. I moved to Istanbul to manage the Turkish partnerships and programme for Turkey Market Focus at The London Book Fair and stayed a second year in Turkey as Head of Arts, extending my arts experience to work on film, fashion, visual arts, music and digital projects. I returned to London with the Iran team to develop the British Council’s UK-Iran programme. Nine months ago I took the job at The Reading Agency. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had such interesting experiences and have met lots of inspiring people.

How did you come to work for The Reading Agency?

After returning to the UK, I was keen to reconnect with publishing. The role at The Reading Agency was a unique opportunity to bring together my literature background in both the private and public sectors. It was a challenging interview with stiff competition and I was so pleased to be offered the job.

Can you explain a little bit about your role and your responsibilities at The Reading Agency?

The Reading Agency is a national charity which specialises in inspiring more people to read more and encouraging them to share their enjoyment of reading with others. There’s a strong body of research to show that reading for pleasure improves wellbeing and empathy, and develops skills to support people throughout their lives. As Head of Publisher Relations I work with an excellent team developing and managing relationships with publishers and the wider industry to help us deliver The Reading Agency’s programmes for adults, young people and children.

We work with a huge variety of partners in the publishing industry and it’s my responsibility to identify and agree mutually beneficial partnerships across our programmes. The Reading Agency has a unique relationship with public libraries and I work to build and strengthen relationships between publishers and public libraries to reach more readers and find creative ways to promote authors. It’s a hugely varied role which includes managing commercial relationships and CSR relationships with publishers, developing our reading groups network, and contributing to the Radio 2 book club selection panels.

How did it feel, after all of your hard work, to be named a BookSeller Rising Star?

It was hugely encouraging and rewarding to be recognised by the industry for the contribution I’ve made to The Reading Agency in such a short time. And there’s still so much I’d like to do.

What would you say is the most rewarding about your job? What makes you feel like you’ve really made a big impact?

There are so many things! We have compelling evidence from participants in our programmes that The Reading Agency’s work has prompted attitudinal and behavioural change. It’s motivating to hear personal stories from people who have completed our Reading Ahead challenge or received a book given out on World Book Night. There are some examples here

I really enjoy finding ways to reach non-traditional audiences. I’m always excited about working with diverse partners and creating unique opportunities to reach new readers. It’s fantastic to get feedback from librarians, publishers or readers when a promotion has made a real impact.

Equally, what is the most challenging and why?

It can be a challenge to balance the needs and priorities of publishers, libraries and reading groups who operate in very different contexts. My role is to help our partners understand each other and facilitate meaningful collaborations. Although not all partnerships are straightforward, we all want to get more people reading and it’s this shared agenda that always prevails.

Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.

In what ways do libraries and publishers innately differ in terms of how they operate and how do you work to bridge that gap between the two? What would you say is the key to successful partnerships?

Although publishers largely have a commercial focus and libraries a cultural one, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive and both partners complement each other’s strengths. Both bring creativity, expertise and resources to every project. At The Reading Agency, we provide several opportunities throughout the year for our library and publisher partners to meet, exchange information, share ideas and plan promotions. The most successful partnerships develop when both partners are clear about what they want to achieve from the project, and are communicative and committed.

 What would you say are some of the key ways in which you and your company help attract people to reading?

 We work with public libraries, schools, colleges, workplace and prisons across the country to take reading into different places and help people find a way into reading for pleasure. Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.

We work with publishers to design and deliver fun, imaginative activities which encourage people to engage with books in new ways, discover new authors and genres, and make reading social so it becomes something shared with friends and family. Through our programmes we create promotions and events in the heart of communities and encourage volunteers to act as reading ambassadors, sharing their passion with others.

How can we, as people working in the book industry, help attract a wider audience?

We are all familiar with bookshops, libraries and the variety of stories and information available to read, but many non-readers feel overwhelmed by these.  We’re all passionate advocates for reading and are in the perfect position to support non-readers to find the right books to inspire them, and give them the confidence to talk more about books. For information about how individuals or companies can get involved in our work and reach new readers email info@readingagency.org.uk

As always, please leave questions and comments in the box below and we will get them answered for you!

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The Print vs. Digital Argument – Should Sentiment Be Ignored?

So here we go again: the Digital vs. Print debate. I fully understand that there are many, many posts on this subject, and I can’t even pretend to know in depth or to have studied intently the data and statistics behind this huge publishing topic. I have read numerous articles from a large number of sources, all more equipped with and informed by numbers that I personally don’t have. But I guess I’m not pretending that this article is going to be backed up by lots of figures and graphs, etc. I want this post to be a little more personal, sentimental and emotional than a market analysis.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that any amount of my friends can be used as a sizeable enough sample – but just like the topic and nature of my post, I don’t want to look at this like a scientific or quantitative experiment. I want to look at it from a sociological and qualitative point of view. And I’m taking a look at the world directly around me. To this end, I asked my friends on Facebook which they preferred: digital or print?

print v d

Out of 23 friends who answered, all but two of them said they preferred print. But again, it’s not really the numbers that mean anything, but rather the reasons behind their decisions.

What I’ve noticed that with all of the responses I received is that those who answered that they prefer digital, or prefer print but still like digital, gave purely convenience and practical-based reasons. For example, one friend has severe arthritis and using a Kindle makes reading far easier for her than reading print books. Another friend has vision impairment and finds the ability to adjust font size a real help. One preferred to be able to carry around large numbers of books without using up a lot of space.

Those who preferred print, however, tended to give reasons that were rooted in emotion and senses. And that’s the general theme of my post.

6 or 7 people claimed to love the smell of books. 3 people mentioned that cuddling up to read a good book somehow ‘doesn’t feel as cuddly’ when you’re holding onto plastic and metal. Many said that you can’t beat going into a good book shop and buying a physical copy, and that it reminds them of their childhood. One friend stated that ‘you can’t beat a gorgeous cover and pages to turn.’ (It’s also worth pointing out that print was also deemed to more ‘practical’ than digital in a number of ways, too – you can’t leave it hanging around on the beach, it makes people’s eyes blurry, charging is a pain). Two of my friends – Kevin Duffy and Mark Moreau, both of whom are publishers – also professed their love of print.

print v digital

Sentimentality and emotions play a big part in the book-lover universe. In my view, there is only so far that convenience can take priority over sentiment and emotion. We need our comfort, senses and emotions in life in order to make life worth living. In a world where I am reading more and more about Big Data and having to look at readers as statistics and figures, it just kind of helps the sentimental girl in me to look at things from this kind of perspective. To engage with other readers and take a look not at how their buying habits combine with others to form a large dataset (as critical as they are in today’s business, I admit) but rather at their emotions and their feelings toward the print book and its counterpart.

I would also like to discuss this subject on a publishing business/community level as well. I’d want to talk about this year’s London Book Fair.

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At the London Book Fair, I attended the Real ‘New’ Publishing talk with a panel of publishing professionals – Katharine Reeve, the Course Director for Publishing at Bath Spa University, Caroline Harris, the co-founder of Harris & Wilson, Vince Medeiros, publisher at TCOLondon Publishing, and Miranda West, publisher at the Do Book Company. The purpose of their talk was to discuss what independent publishing companies are doing differently to traditional publishers, and also how they are preserving the creativity in this creative industry:

A new generation of independent publishing companies, starting from scratch, are doing things rather differently. They are creating highly-desirable publications, putting editorial and design, innovation and creativity at the heart of what they do, and setting new trends and communicating with their audience.

Each publisher spoke of the importance of preserving the print book in an increasingly digital age.

Katharine Reeve kicked off proceedings by discussing the changes that are happening right now in the publishing world. Publishers are having to experiment with new, different formats to get their voices heard and their products noticed – among those are social media, talks and events, multi-channel marketing and, most importantly, experimenting with different types of print.

The print book is still dominant, she said. And there are a number of publishers who are using that to their advantage. As well as this, new publishers don’t have that awkward transition from print to digital with their backlists – they can start both from scratch and make their products an art form.

I think that was also an underlying theme in this discussion – that the print book, or pamphlet, or newsletter, or whichever format publishers are playing around with these days, can still be made into, and considered, an art form. The finished product means something to the owner.

Miranda West of Do Books Company acknowledged customers’ appreciation of well-crafted, well-designed books. She pointed out that smaller publishing houses can think more about layout and the creative look of a book. They have complete creative freedom, and can use this to create a strong brand and a strong identity. Overall, she emphasised that books – and print books especially – can change lives and inspire, as well as being genuinely useful.

Vince Medeiros of TCOLondon explored the idea of print and how it was majorly disrupted by the economic crisis and the growth of digital. But he also stressed that print and physical literature and books can give the reader things that digital will never be able to achieve. Magnets and heat sensitive paper are just a couple of his ideas for ways to be creative with print. He explained that these kinds of things can inspire a level of excitement that digital just can’t touch.

The London Book Fair at Olympia.

The London Book Fair at Olympia.

Books are the perfect medium, he argued. Even some of the largest companies, like Apple, are producing print publications for their employees. And why print books? Because they add value. The scarcity of a finite print run gives them value. They are tangible. We can physically interact with them.

This is not to say that print lovers and those who are still advocates of the print book are not moving with the times. Embracing print does not mean ignoring digital, and vice versa. As Caroline Harris of Harris & Wilson discussed, in these turbulent times publishers need to start positioning themselves as ‘brands’, and in order to achieve this publishers need to create a beautiful and well-crafted book or publication, and then build an online community by supporting the publication with extra media channels. It’s about publishing professions being responsive and agile. It’s about taking a look at the current climate and trends and being able to adapt your business to keep up with that, without losing the core focus and love of the print book. We can keep our love of the print book at the heart of what we do – it’s just that we can’t put all of our eggs into the ‘Just Books Basket’ any more. Business needs diversification.

Her final point was that print books have even more value now, and are more desirable precisely because the general reading society perceives there to be a threat. Again, sentimentality and emotion kicks in here. We want to preserve what once made our culture so great.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I did get a sense here that the general argument was that we’re not necessarily now living in a ‘digital first’ era, but rather publishers are using digital in order to strengthen the particular book or publication. In other words, the whole thing becomes a brand rather than a product. And a brand can produce a core idea or value in many different formats. For this reason, and this is just my own point of view, I think that while this is true of business, one format will not kill the other. We need sentimentality just as much as we need convenience. One does not necessarily trump the other.

My overall argument here is that the reason I don’t believe that print will go the same way as other outdated formats and become completely obsolete is because, while there are still humans out there, there will always be some level of sentimentality. And I believe there is enough sentimentality and love out there to keep the print format alive. It may be smaller than before, and it may be facing opposition – but this publishing enthusiast believes it will always be around. Call me old-fashioned.

Or maybe I’m just a bit sentimental.

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Me and my book shelf – can you tell which format I prefer?

What do you think of this ongoing argument? Which still has your heart – print or digital?

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