Richard Johnson, Bonnier Publishing's group chief executive, has slammed the industry's "obsession with targets and quotas" when it comes to addressing lack of diversity in the book world as "nonsense".
Delivering the opening key note at the FutureBook 2017 Conference this morning (1st December), Johnson championed publishing as an industry "for everyone", demonstrated by his own presence as a working class man who made it to the top despite being branded a "philistine" for quitting his degree after just one day at university.
However, he argued: "If you appoint from a quota, it's not from the heart."
Bonnier Publishing transformed its fortunes by building a culture centred on inclusivity before it became the buzzword it is today, he argued.
Referencing Bonnier Publishing UK c.e.o. Perminder Mann as an example, Johnson said the industry had neglected to consult with the very people it wanted to reach out to. Mann has also previously gone on record saying she doesn't agree with diversity quotas.
"Books have the power to enrich everyone's lives, particularly the youngsters that we sell to, the ones who need education and have got no money. We should be selling to those people. And we do, but the industry should as well. The industry is too snobbish still.
"The obsession with targets and quotas is a nonsense here, the BAME thing. We have Perminder Mann and Natalie Jerome, two of the most high profile BAME ladies in publishing in this country, and no one in the industry has asked their opinion on targets and quotas, no one, and they do not agree with targets and quotas. How can the industry be making decisions about these things without consulting with the very people they should be talking to? It's rhetoric. If you have to follow a quota, it's not in your heart ... I didn't need a quota, I just found good people and I employed them."
Johnson argued the publishing industry also needs to "stop being so snobbish" to reach those who need literature the most.
Despite being the subject of numerous letters of complaint to head office when he took the helm because he was admittedly not "passionate" about books - Johnson said he'd rather have a culture that stands for something and appeal to the mass market (what he termed "a dirty word" within the trade) to get books into the hands of those who need them in places like Poundland.
Looking to the future, Johnson emphasised that it was up to publishers to actively compete for children and adults' time, ultimately winning their business and fostering a love of books, by entertaining them.
"Mass is a dirty word, but everyone sells into mass market, everybody does it. Stop being so snobby within the industry, it's really counter-productive. We've turned into the UK banking industry. I'm not saying we're right on everything, but a lot of things happening now we did four or five years ago. The targets and everything else, naturally we did what was the right thing to do.
"We are in the entertainment business, not the literary business. Sometimes we create literary masterpieces which is fantastic but we have to entertain people to attract people. And let's not be afraid to say that - we are in the entertainment business."
This year's Futurebook Conference conference, held at 155 Bishopsgate in London, brings together leading thinkers in publishing, retail, editorial, writing, marketing and tech, such as Pan Macmillan's Sarah Lloyd, Canongate c.e.o. Jamie Byng, Canelo's Nick Barretto and Bolinda's Rebecca Herrmann, and sees the return of dedicated strands on edtech and audiobooks.
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