Over six months after the International Publishers Association concluded that publishing has an image problem, UK peers at the London Book Fair have been wondering “Is publishing cool anymore?” and bemoaning the tendency of the tech companies to steal all the brightest people. For the British publishing industry overall, with its somewhat fusty and cozy reputation as a bastion of the Old Rectory Syndrome, I’m surprised that this is even a discussion, but clearly some insiders feel differently.
“Will the bright, imaginative, tech savvy, book reading (or content devouring) twentysomething choose Gollancz or Google, Faber or Facebook, Orion or O2?” asks a report in Publishing Perspectives. And it quotes Penguin Random House Human Resources Director Neil Morrison as complaining: “We’re not helped by a media that talks the industry down, that is full of stories about the death of the book, and fewer stories about how this is an industry full of imaginative people and brilliant ideas that can change the world” … and that ““Publishing is too apologetic … It needs to behave with more swagger, more confidence.”
Actually, the idea of the group behind Author Solutions and the Apple ebook price-fixing affair behaving with more swagger and confidence appalls me. And I reckon it points to one reason for publishing’s coolness deficit: the Napster factor. The British public are all too well aware that publishing is being digitally disrupted, and probably the penny has dropped that publishing is Big Media with a slightly more homely face, but otherwise just as complicit in all the DRM-heavy anti-consumer moves that have distinguished the music and film businesses. And it’s never been cool to be a big fat bully.