Rohan Silva: 'publishers must stay creative to survive'

Rohan Silva: 'publishers must stay creative to survive'

Independent publishers should utilise the free flow of ideas and creativity in order to better innovate, founder of Libreria bookshop Rohan Silva has said.

Speaking at the IPG Autumn Conference today (20th September), tech entrepreneur, former government adviser and bookseller Silva told delegates that the curation of space can help to promote creativity which is at the heart of success, in particular in the publishing industry. “The world, unfortunately, is much too siloed", Silva said. "Companies often mix within their sectors but rarely bump into other ones."

He discussed his creative workspace Second Home, based in London's East end, which he said was “all about exposing people to as many different inspirations and provocations as possible because that’s where creativity comes from", highlighting the publishing industry as an example which "plays such a huge part in making that happen”.

He said that at Second Home it is “our job to design these spaces and stir the pot and bring people together”.

The curation of the space enables different people to work together. Their current artist in residence, Tahmima Anam, finished her second novel Bones of Grace (Canongate) at Second Home, for example. Silva said: "The mismatch between big and small, global and local, can only happen when you curate a space."

Silva opened East-London based bookshop Libreria earlier this year, and spoke of bookshops as places where “genuine serendipity happens”. He discussed the curation of shelves. in Libreria, “each shelf is a different theme - there is no science section, no philosophy section" - instead shelves are curated by themes such as wunderlust, terror and sea and sky. The objective with this was "to spark creativity and showcase diversity”.

Silva discussed this curation in contrast with the algorithmic recommendations on websites such as Amazon, which he described as “incredibly recursive and narrow". 

"If you click on book by Martin Amis, the other books that you will be recommended will fall resolutely in that category," he said. "You’re not going to be recommended a book on quantum physics, for example, but that's what creativity is about - serendipity. And that's what bookshops faciliate.”

Silva opened the shop all night to mark launch of the night tube and experienced a high-level of footfall, with people still turning up at 4am. He said this feeds into the idea that “millennials need to be creative”, and was the reason “indie bookshops are going to flourish in the next decade or two after a few tough years”.

The industry was very "supportive" when Libreria opened, he said, adding that Faber's c.e.o Stephen Page had his "dream job".

“Whenever I meet people who work in publishing I get sick with jealousy about how great their jobs are," the entrepreneur said. "I met Stephen Page, the c.e.o of Faber the other day, he has my dream job.”

He also spoke about the role technology is playing in accelerating the rapid change in the economy at the moment.  Technology replaced blue collar jobs during the Industrial Revolution, Silva said, and it is on track to replace white collar office jobs now.

However, Silva said he thought independent publishers were safe from the disruption caused by technology - as long as they remained creative. “The jobs that remain sacrosanct are the jobs that involve creativity - the jobs in the publishing industry," he said. "As of now, the machines are pretty damn useless at writing a novel, creating advertising campaigns and so on. These creative tasks are there for humans at the moment and the challenge for all of us is how to help more people be creative and therefore flourish. Indie publishers will play huge part in that.”

Silva was also confident about the future of the print book in the age of technology. "The physical book isn't going anywhere," he said. "It's a wonderful piece of technology and more and more relevant in the digital age."

Silva also discussed the “important” issue of copyright, saying: “It is vital that creatives and businesses can protect what they produce. However, innovation comes from bringing together different bits of creativity and the more interesting question is how can that be monetised and supported by the government, and how the intellectual property regime can be strengthened and deepened. In digital age, people want to consume content and create in new ways, and we need to reduce the impediments for people to be able to use and create content and innovate”.