#PorterMeets Crystal Mahey-Morgan: 'Beyond good will'

#PorterMeets Crystal Mahey-Morgan: 'Beyond good will'

At the FutureBook Conference on 14th November, Crystal Mahey-Morgan says she intends to to what The Bookseller editor Philip Jones asked for in his Turn up the volume post. Jones, in that reflection on a Frankfurt Book Fair that seemed too quiet to some of us, wrote about #FutureBook14, as we're hashtagging it, this way:
The developing themes this year are around what publishing has become; what business models are working; what the new channels are and how we push these sales mechanisms; and perhaps most importantly who the publishing executives of tomorrow are.
Mahey-Morgan's career has taken her from work as a writer in her teens with the Guardian to work at the literary agency Peters Faser & Donlop and digital account management at Penguin Random House (PRH). She's now an independent consultant in creative strategy, digital marketing and contracts, and sees, she told me in our #PorterMeets live interview on Twitter. that her message to the conference that "without a diverse workforce in publishing, we are always going to neglect readerships who are valuable." Her point -- that it takes action, not just good intentions -- will hardly fall on deaf ears at the conference. Publishing's diversity issues have been a priority topic of discussion this year, as evidenced just this month, for example, with Seven Stories' release of its 50 best children’s books that celebrate cultural diversity in the UK. As The Bookseller's children's editor Charlotte Eyre wrote in our story on the list, the compendium is aimed at young readers aged 5+ and 8+. Mahey-Morgan has her eye on a teen and early-adult demographic, the 16-24 market, which includes, she says, "a whole demographic within the YA group" that is "widely unacknowledged." "We don't do enough to engage them in the books industry and with the opportunities of digital," she says. "Now is the time." During her five and a half years at PRH, as my colleague Sarah Shaffi has reported, Mahey-Morgan "was also responsible for the creative strategy for Jamal Edwards’ book Self Belief: The Vision (Virgin Books), which was initially released as a series of digital ebooks." As she told Shaffi, "With an ever-changing digital landscape, there's an opportunity for books to be established as another form of entertainment amongst a non-traditional reading audience, which as book people we need to seize with both hands." Mahey-Morgan sees the success of the Edwards project as resulting from a good match of material and delivery: And she made it clear in our #PorterMeets interview that publishing's diversity shortfalls can be spotted in a broad spectrum of sectors: Publishing needs to cultivate "an emphasis on diverse thinking," she told me, "which partly comes from diverse backgrounds but not entirely. How much harder is it for people from BAME, working class, or different industry backgrounds to get in?" When I asked Mahey-Morgan whether there might also be a problem on the other side of the employment line -- a lack of applicants of more diversity for publishing jobs, she conceded that this, too, can be a problematic element of the situation. That is, she said, a "valid fear, but we need to get it right for the ones who are applying before we start worrying about this." The first area to address, she says, is the industry side of the situation. The potential for progress in the digital dynamic is important here, Mahey-Morgan says: And much of the energy of that change, she says, could be going to retention as well as to sourcing new talent: While working in what she describes as "Tone of the sexiest industries there is, books," she says publishing people need to be clearer about the business' opportunities and better committed to widening the workforce so that those books don't appear to many to be "just about tradition and elitism, which unfortunately is how some -- especially 16-24 -- can sometimes feel. "I feel like there are a lot of us who are younger and working in publishing and frustrated with it," she says. "It's up to us to change it and we have the opportunity to especially with the rise of digital." And this, then, is what she'll be bringing to her panel appearance at the FutureBook Conference at Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center in Westminster next month. Conferees, she promises, will be talking about diversity among the many other issues the day will address:
  A special three-for-the-price-of-two offer is available on seats at the 2014 FutureBook Conference, which includes appearances by PRH ceo Tom Weldon, Kobo ceo Michael Tamblyn, strategist Richard Nash, Unbound co-founder Dan Kieran, BBC Worldwide Insight's David Boyle and many more. For full details on speakers and the programme, the site is here. And registration is open here.