Industry struggling with digital skills lag

The books industry is not doing enough to attract and train staff to take advantage of the surge in e-book sales, this year’s Digital Book Census survey from The Bookseller has found.

The survey of more than 2,200 people, nearly three quarters of whom work in the industry, revealed that more than half (51.1%) of publishers now have a dedicated digital department or unit. Around one in five (22.8%) say they have increased their overall staff numbers as a result of the shift to digital.

But despite these efforts to reinforce digital publishing functions, many survey respondents still feel publishers are not adequately equipped to handle the opportunities and challenges presented by new and emerging digital platforms. Fewer than one in seven (13.4%) people think the industry is reskilling fast enough to cope with digital challenges.

One respondent said: "Some parts of it are [reskilling], but many traditional publishers are behind the times, both in their concept of their role in the new marketplace, and their unwillingness to upskill their staff quickly enough." Another added: "Some people and some imprints and some areas might be [reskilling], but there is a lot of lag."

The survey also uncovered fears that the salaries on offer in publishing are not pulling in the most digitally talented staff. More than two in five (43.2%) of all publishers responding to the survey felt their salaries were not enough to attract the right people. "There are far more competitive industries out there for those [digitally talented] people," said one.

Staff resources and training will be among the issues to be debated at this year’s FutureBook conference on Monday 5th December. Faber chief executive Stephen Page will discuss his vision for a modern day publisher and how to drive change within an organisation, while a panel discussion chaired by the author Nick Harkaway will address how digital changes the role of the publisher, who the new publishers will be and what skills they will need.

At last year's FutureBook Conference Suzanne Kavanagh, publishing sector manager at Skillset, said it was worrying that only 41% of book publishing companies arranged training for their staff, in comparison to 63% of television companies. Research conducted to support Skillset’s Publishing Digital Futures project identified digital skills and management skills as the two areas with the most significant skills needs.

The full findings of The Bookseller’s survey will be available in the Digital Book Census 2011 published in December.