What do we teach when we teach publishing?
by Angus Phillips
Publishing remains a popular career choice and there is strong competition to enter the industry. Digital developments – from ebooks to apps and interactive fiction – have been prominent in the media, highlighting the exciting opportunities for entrants unafraid of new technologies or fast-paced change. Companies have broadened out their view of what comprises a good candidate, to include digital literacy, an entrepreneurial mindset, and an appreciation of changes across other media and throughout society. There is also a greater variety of job roles to consider, as these merge across functional boundaries (e.g. production editor), take on a digital focus (e.g. digital product manager), or venture into multimedia (e.g. media research and commissioning).
Students of publishing programmes receive a broad grounding in publishing skills across the main publishing functions – Editorial, Marketing, and Design and Production – to include an understanding, for example, of content creation, digital workflows and online marketing. They need to appreciate the different dynamics of the main publishing sectors, and how to supply markets both nationally and internationally through intermediaries, direct sales or rights deals. Professional, educational and academic publishers have led the change from simply offering products to developing services with added value. Our students are now familiar with changing business models and continued experimentation in how best to reach and engage with markets and consumers. This could include the establishment of communities around content, the development and management of brands, and a greater engagement with other media such as games.
It is important for students of publishing programmes to absorb the trends and transformations that are affecting the publishing industry. The familiar world of the book is facing some key challenges. These include the decline of bookselling on the high street, the growth in the sales of ebooks, and competition from other media. What digital disruption has done is to threaten the value in the relationships with, say, high street bookshops, and expose trade publishers to the fact that they don’t have a relationship with the end consumer. There is continued experimentation around the book in digital form, exploring non-linear narratives and the use of multimedia. Meanwhile for authors there are many new routes available for finding a readership, including self-publishing or using crowdfunding to finance publication. Will traditional publishing survive in this environment? Why do authors still need publishers? Should readers have a greater say in what is published? How do consumers find books and information in a world of content abundance?
It is important to teach a range of interpersonal and transferable skills. We stress collaboration, teamwork, and the need to develop relationships with authors, suppliers and customers. Business and financial skills are vital alongside a high level of analytical skills and digital literacy. One publisher commented that we must teach the management of change, as this is now a key part of any skillset. Above all students must develop a curiosity about the wider world and assess how changes in society and technology are affecting our access to and use of content.
This piece was written for Publishing Thinking, an online space devoted to discussion about the past and, principally, the future of publishing.
About the author of this article
Angus Phillips is the Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of Turning the Page (Routledge, 2014) and Inside Book Publishing (with Giles Clark, Routledge, 2014).
Last edited: 06 02 2015