Faber's CEO Stephen Page answers our crowdsourced questions

Faber's CEO Stephen Page answers our crowdsourced questions

Many thanks to Stephen for responding so openly to our Twitter crowdsourced Q&A.

The Waste Land was a fantastically creative packaging of existing resources - do you have more up your sleeve for other works? #askfaber FlossieTeacake Rachael Beale, web manager LRB 

See below

Are you planning to develop another app such as Wasteland, or it was just and experiment for new markets? #askfaber dustfruit Ernesto Miranda, Mexico 

We are in the planning stages of a number of new apps. We won't be flooding the market. Each product of this type is almost like producing a small scale movie. You have to be clear about the appropriateness of the copyright, the access to rights, the partners who will bring other content, the technology partner and above all the design that will make it a must have. So, you can be sure of some new publishing along these lines next year. 

The Wasteland could be described as an experiment, a successful one as it turns out, but it could also be seen as simply an opportunity to do something extraordinary for the text - a text that is at the heart of Faber. So we will all need to continue to experiment, and not all will succeed in the way The Wasteland  has. To paraphrase Saul Bellow's last line of The Adventures of Augie March - when Columbus first came to America they sent him home in chains, but that didn't mean there was no America.

Stephen what survival advice would you give bricks &mortar booksellers ? #askfaber ornaob Orna O' Brien, LBF conference manager

Who am I to advise bricks and mortar retailers? However, it seems to me that they are in the hardest part of this revolution at the moment. Two things come to mind. The first is to use their proximity, almost intimacy with the reader/consumer and ensure that they own them and service their needs like no other part of the process between writer and reader. There's going to be little room for middlemen in the future so if you can cluster near creator or consumer and prove yourself very useful there's a good business to be built. Secondly, ensure that  you have an integrated print and digital solution, as well as shop-based and online marketing. This is a tough call for independents especially, but it is possible. where the important thing will be to concentrate on the unique value you offer.

On brink(-ish) of digital workflow launch any advice? Aim for xml-first? Niche scholary texts in an app?! Thoughts. #askfaber emcbriarty Emma Mcbriarty

We introduced a workflow system, Digital Publisher, a year ago and are beginning to reap great benefits. We've trained all editorial staff and make all our books in an xhtml workflow. It's also worth saying that when we launched Faber Digital we paused and thought for a long time. We decided that we would task ourselves with commercial good sense from the off. In other words no vanity projects to prove we were somehow digital without commercial rigour. What we found to be important was: finding the right partners, being bold about value (both up and down the price range), making ongoing events around products by refreshing them, ensuring that you have a global or captured market, expect everything to change and listen to the market right now and adapt existing projects right up to the last minute to make them market relevant. Finally I think it is about having a permanent loop between doing and learning and reapplying. We are in the foothills after all.

What would you say to a publisher whose response to the Waste Land app was "We can't do that, we don't have Faber's resources"? #askfaber pressfuturist Alastair Horne, Innovations manager, CUP 

We could equally have said we don't have Pearson's resources, or CUP's! The key to all this is creative partnership. The book publishing business of the last hundred years is littered with examples of partnering to create. Holding onto the core skills of copyright acquisition, creative imagination for the product, expertise at creating audience and value for the copyright creator, are at the core of the publishing endeavour. I'm not sure that it will only be about scale of resource - though large scale will present certain opportunities - it is more about willingness to lead, experiment and find specialists with whom to work for a fair share of the value. A business of any scale can do all of this. We partner with many independent publishers through the Faber Factory to do exactly this for ebook creation distribution.

When (year) do you forsee more sales in digital then physical for your publishing house? #askfaber 1/2 boezeman Timo Boezeman , Digital editor, AW Bruna, Holland

I don't know the answer to this. One answer could be "as soon as we can create the digital product of such great value". Or, "not before 2015".

And does that frighten you, excite you or does it make no difference to you? #askfaber  2/2 boezeman Timo Boezeman 

Mainly excites. It will, though, challenge all publishing houses to create new structures, expertise and business models that would support a business where half the revenue was from digital and that will require change that requires some time and some gambles. The challenge is both thrilling and daunting is the honest answer, but I'm optimistic, so more on the thrilling and interesting side.

What's the future for editorial - commissioning editors etc - regarding developing digital first books? What about skills needed? #askfaber kreeve Katharine Reeve, editor, author, head of publishing at Bath Spa Uni 

We've made some digital only apps and books. The skills are the same and different so this is a very good question. It has a companion question. Do all editors have to develop digital imaginations and skills? I think the answer lies in what you want from your editorial resource. Many editors are strong on taste, fewer these days on the vital skill of improving the text. I believe that these are the central roles of editors. So I celebrate the limits of traditional editing culture. However, if some editors can adapt to bring their flair into a digital world so much the better. If they struggle with it they are not suddenly of less worth, but you will have to have structures and expertise around the taste/text hub to support the more diverse needs of the publishing if you are going to tolerate (as you must I believe) editors of great skill who don't happen to excel at digital imaginings. Over time, of course, the proportion who are digital naturals will grow and in time is likely to encompass all. But we don't need to rush. Editors are the centre of our opportunity as publishers.

Has your experience led you to believe that the book will be superseded by a purely digital form? #askfaber curly_kate Kate Brombley, English lit student 

No, not at all. It may happen but not for some time. There is the usual media scrum to write the most definitive headline - "The book is dead" - but there is only evidence for an increasingly complex market for the written word across many media. People are passionate about books, people are passionate about ereaders. Truth is they love reading, and will take it in whatever form suits them, and those forms are becoming more diverse, not less.

Some US houses are staffing up with game and other developers . Do you think app dev is done better in house or by outsourcing? #askfaber DonLinn Don Linn, Publishing consultant, US 

We've certainly enjoyed the creative partnership with app developers. For now I don't think there's any need to get too drawn into specialising in the building of digital products. The world can move on. We never owned printers after all. Much more important is that you understand what technology can do and apply a creative publishing imagination to your copyrights through the prism of what you understand to be possible. I don't believe publishing has enough of this in it and we'll need to develop a digital imagination.

In retrospect, what advice would you have given yourself when you first agreed to developing apps? Anything you'd do differently? #askfaber crgc Charles Catton, Publishing Manager at Amber Books 

Try to go global as often as possible, make things that amaze both in content and technology, and bide your time. Differently? That's hard because we're pleased with where we've got to but not in a smug way I hope.

Any thoughts on how the new tablets - Kindle Fire, Nook etc - may (or may not) change the landscape for books? #askfaber FlossieTeacake Rachael Beale

I think the widespread availability of tablets is a future for publishers to relish. At present the available audience for enhanced ebooks (awful term, how about edaptations?) makes investment hard but a coming array of tablet devices allows one to imagine a sizeable market for a new kind of book product currently described by the apps made by many publishers over the last year. This is only the beginning and it is crucial that publishers seize this space for themselves. There are, of course, all kinds of hurdles to do with format etc but this will be overcome and the tablet is surely a place for writers, illustrators and publishers to create extraordinary new publishing formats. The Solar System, that we built with Touch Press, is an example of what is already possible. Children's publishing strikes me as a particularly exciting field.

My question @samatlounge

Do you see your digital department as a startup within Faber? If so, when do you think digital will be a truly integrated across the company?

Yes, Faber Digital was deliberately set up as a start up. No pool table but very much an entrepreneurial unit. Full integration is an interesting concept. I think that a think tank, frontline business seeking to experiment and lead may be necessary for a very long time. Integration of digital thinking, planning and skills will have to come more quickly. At Faber we talk a lot about the dual role of the digital vanguard - creating great digital products (anything other than ebooks), and influencing the company's culture through spreading what they've learned and assisting us as we license copyrights. So cultural integration must happen over the next 2-3 years, but the maintenance of a digital vanguard, expert in innovation and leading the company forward is likely to be here to stay.


Picture of Stephen courtesy of Sarah Lee