2020: A Publishing Odyssey ended with representatives of some juggernauts of the Scottish publishing landscape: Jenny Todd (Canongate), Katy Lockwood-Holmes (Floris), Aly Barr (Creative Scotland), Laura Brown (DC Thomson), Nikki Simpson (PPA Scotland), chaired by Marion Sinclair (Publishing Scotland).
A little background…
We start with an introduction to where each falls in this Scottish landscape. Jenny Todd is Publisher at Canongate, joining in 2005 as Sales & Marketing Director, becoming Associate Publisher and then moving to her current role. Before that, she was at Penguin as Marketing Director. Her first job was a proofreader straight out of University after studying English; she didn’t want to be teacher, had thought about being a journalist, but she knew it had to be about words.
Katy-Lockwood Holmes is the Publisher at the independent publisher Floris Books. They’re best known for their Scottish children’s books, but about half their books are adult non-fiction. She joined the company as Marketing Manager, then Deputy Publisher before her current role. She studied linguistics at Edinburgh and went straight into publishing with Edinburgh University Press in marketing, before working with a theology publisher, and New York for two years, before coming back to Edinburgh.
Aly Barr is the acting Head of Literature, Languages and Publishing at Creative Scotland. He started as a bookseller with Waterstones, then Penguin as a sales rep, where he also co-founded Penguin’s Scottish imprint. Creative Scotland distribute funds – around £10-15m goes towards literature and publishing – to several projects and people: authors, book festivals, publishers and more.
Laura Brown is the Editor and Chief of Comics at DC Thomson: The Beano, Commando, The Broons, Oor Wullie and Dennis & Nasher’s Epic Magazine. She got into publishing in 2005, spending her entire career with DC Thomson as an editorial assistant at Shout just as they were relaunching in a different size, working her way up to being editor of their girl’s magazines before the move to comics.
Nikki Simpson ended up working for a trade association in Scotland that was about printing in Scotland and newspaper publishing, before being made redundant; she wanted to stay in the creative industries and was the business manager for White Light Media for five years, before moving to PPA.
Strengths and weaknesses
Question-wise, we start with the strengths in each area, and what they’d each like to solve if they were able to. Aly says that the strengths in Scottish publishing are that there are lots of SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises). Another interesting thing that’s happening is that there’s a reverse-London-pool-effect. Typically an author reaches a certain level of success, and a bigger publisher in London would sweep in with a big advance, but because of the contraction of lists in the majors of London, a lot of mid-list authors that we would consider quite big are coming back to Scotland. In Norway, books are distributed into libraries and while it’s costly for the government, it guarantees that books are getting out and publishers can have a better idea for print runs, and it’s something he would love to happen here.
For Katy, her strengths are in line with Aly, in that there’s so many SMEs. Scottish publishing has focus, and we’re focussed on the types of books we’re publishing and how. We know our markets, and when we’re niche we generate a lot of loyalty. The issue she would like to solve involved North American distribution for Scottish publishers, as Scotland is not a large enough market on the whole to sustain the industry. We have to be looking at rights and export, across borders. One thing that would help is a good solid distributor in North America with a particular Scottish interest to consolidate in one distributor making a big impact.
The strengths of Scottish publishing are, for Jenny, very close to how she’s describe the strengths of Canongate. The industry that she sees now is very different to the one that she walked in to, with the diversity, energy, creativity and confidence of the industry up. But she believes that the homogenisation of the industry has resulted in some very conservative publishing; there’s a lack of risk taking. She sees a nimbleness, and the ability to react to a fast-changing marketplace, but people in London don’t recognise the qualities of the ecosystem in Scotland. They say that perceptions are always ten years out of date, and on that front she believes elsewhere have some catching up to do.
Laura believes the talent that rests in such a small country is our greatest strength, but also the growth of magazines has resulted in a real positivity, money being invested, and circulations are up for DC Thomson in their last ABCs. At PPA’s Magfest, all of the magazines in Scotland were laid out afterwards and Laura found it phenomenal to see the amount being published. A weakness – though PPA and SYP are doing much to address this – is that she believes we don’t meet up enough. We need a wider support network, as even at the conference there’s so many people that she’d never met before and it would be brilliant to support each other more and be less isolated.
For Nikki, the strengths of Scotland are best weighed up against London publishing: here they’re crafted more about passion and creativity, less driven by the money. In Scotland, people are much more inventive and tenacious. Conversely, she thinks there should be less whinging: digital doesn’t need to be combated, and social media is a gift, but she still fields questions frequently on the two and doesn’t understand why people wouldn’t utilise these opportunities.
Audience questions come next: what are the main changes they see in their industry by 2020?
Laura believes it’ll be distribution. When they’d do market research for Shout, children wouldn’t know what WH Smith was let alone buy their magazines there, and it’s a case of making sure that they go exactly where the customers would buy them, not everywhere like newsagents. Cosmopolitan have tried to broaden their distribution methods and have reported an increase since doing so.
Aly thinks the thing that effects Creative Scotland is the austerity cuts, the latest of which was £1.6m. He’s seeing some real creativity in the funding models that are coming in to them, as for every £1 they have, there’s £4 worth of demand. Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending are interesting takes and exciting and where things may go in the future.
Katy says that the strength of high street retail and resilience of retail will be a major factor and how available and visible books are in society. People still crave face-to-face action and magazines are really good at building communities through common interest, so a rise in events makes sense, to Nikki.
Jenny wouldn’t forecast 2020 because the publishing industry pre-digital was rather predictable. Then everything changed. Arguably it’s harder, but the converse of that is everything is more exciting, you might have to change your plan or strategy every year. The publishing workforce will look different as a result – enjoying flourishing within a constantly changing environment has to be enjoyed. If you’re fearful of it, it would be quite stressful!
The other side…
A great question: what do the book publishers think magazines can do better, and vice versa? The book publishers tactfully dodge the question by saying that as they don’t get together nearly often enough, there’s quite a big knowledge gap and they wouldn’t feel they could comment. But one thing they do really well is market segmentation, as demonstrated by the Jacqueline Wilson magazine at the Publishing Scotland conference. Jenny does add that maybe they could give books and authors more coverage.
Though Aly falls between the two, he says that a basic publishing understanding would help him from a funding point of view. Presenting a unit cost of £10 and sale point of £12 shows a lack of understanding on discounting, and instead of a £2 profit per unit, it’ll be around a £6 loss. These are just fundamentals in research that would go a long way.
On books, Laura notes that more authors and book publishers should be more open to making their books into magazines in the way that Jacqueline Wilson has because it’s been phenomenally successful, and she believes there’s scope for a lot more.
Just a brief snapshot into the scale of Scotland’s industry, from some of the biggest there is.