Speed and transparency are two of the key benefits publishers are gaining by incorporating digital into their editorial processes, the FutureBook Conference heard today (14th November).
In a panel discussing the impact that digital has had on editorial divisions, speakers dismissed the idea that editorial had held out against the change, and argued that editors have always been adaptable to new directions in the business.
HarperCollins’ Kimberley Young, publishing director of women’s fiction and publisher of the Impulse digital list, said that “editors have always worn different hats”.
“We wear different hats, and it’s just the fashion that changes,” Young said. “Whether it was the change from hardbacks to paperbacks, or the rise of the supermarkets, we’ve always dealt with change. But our job has always been to understand the consumer and know their wants and needs. The current change is one of transparency. We know more about our readers and we can learn that more quickly.”
Darren Nash, digital publisher at Gollancz, agreed with Young, and said: “The question in 2014 is not ‘how does digital affect editorial’, it’s ‘how doesn’t it?”
He added: “Nowadays, 75% of a manuscript’s life can go by before ink ever hits paper. We’re so fascinated with the end of the process, the e-book sales, that we don’t realise how digital we’ve become.” He described a recent project to create a new digital edition of a book referenced in the US TV drama, "True Detective", coming up with the idea for the project on a Wednesday afternoon, and having the title available for sale on Friday morning. “From concept to commerce in 45 hours.”
Penguin Random House’s digital product development director Nathan Hull urged publishers to be “brave, bold and imaginative”, describing an international series of hacks PRH had staged using text and audio content from Stephen Fry’s latest memoir as a basis for experimenting with content. Ruth Madder, head of dictionaries publishing at Oxford University Press, also described how processes had changed since the advent of digital, using online dictionary sites to chart user searches and discover the gaps in its knowledge.
Chair Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director at Profile Books, asked panellists if it was still useful to term digital projects as experimental. Young said: “I call something whatever I have to to get the powers that be to go along with it – I can call it an experiment, I can call it a risk, or an opportunity.”