Corporate chorus

Last week I made a comment about the many hands working—often behind the scenes—to make the book business happen. Unleashing this talent, these many voices, on a unsuspecting world ought to be one
of our key objectives.

This week I attended the party for The Bookseller‘s Rising Stars of 2015 and also the magazine’s Marketing & Publicity Conference (M&PC). I never come away from such events wishing that the book business had more bright, engaged and innovative people. And yet few would deny that the sector also has an image problem: as the new Publishers Association president Joanna Prior tells us this week: “I think we have so many good stories to tell but sometimes it does get lost in the complexity of who we are.”

I’ve said this before, so I’ll try and say it in a different way this time around. I spend a lot of time telling (some regard it as spinning) stories about publishing—and it is not always easy. The corporatisation of publishing means on-the-record access to senior executives is now more difficult than ever to secure. The Amazonisation of publishing has meant that even some indie presses find it difficult to talk about their sector without fearing a tap on the shoulder. I do not lack access, but it is harder to find individuals who are willing to make their private comments public—or those who will do so without first having their views vetted and run through the corporate wash.

Perhaps some of the commentary would be unwise, controversial even. It’s not that I don’t relish the challenge: in her sign-off piece trade journalist Liz Thomson wrote that the book business had become dull, with many of the personalities having left the sector. I don’t see it that way. The press releases are unceasing and the decision makers harder to find, but the trade has never been more intrinsically interesting. Yet at the same time it has become more impenetrable, more hostile to losing control of the message.

Last year the Publishers Association set up a communications task force: it is to be hoped that Prior can push this forward—it needs to. The industry is losing too many arguments as it stands. The PA’s document “busting the myths” about copyright reform is a step in the right direction. But we need to be careful not to alienate those who have opposing minds: a confident industry—as publishing should be—is one that allows for a range of views, even uncomfortable ones.

At M&PC we heard that readers wanted authentic conversations and to be engaged in genuine ways. We ought to be good at that: the people I meet in the trade do not find it hard to express themselves. We need to make the case for books and make publishing as interesting on the outside as it is from the inside. Step forward.