Futuristic Books

Editing and the Way Forward
by Jenna O’Connell

Nobody reads books anymore. Anyone can self- publish these days, why would we need to be signed? Publishing is dead.

These are all sentiments that have been punted back and forth, usually by your average person on the internet. As we enter an increasingly technological age, debates on the future of the book, particularly the print book, are becoming increasingly common. I won’t lie, as an intern, a student, and a young editor; the potentially tenuous future of the publishing industry has frightened me at times. Is there a point trying to crack into a notoriously competitive industry when many out there are predicting its downfall? I’m sure I’m not the only young publishing hopeful who has considered this question.

However, my feelings have been largely assuaged, thanks to my attendance at the Australian Publishing Association’s recent seminar: Editing Futures: How Commerce, Culture and Technology Are Changing Editing. As I took advantage of yet another opportunity to tag along to an event with our publisher, I was largely unsure of what to expect. What was the future for publishing in an increasingly dense media world? Apart from all the things I actually learnt, which I’ll get to in a moment, it was enriching to hear so many individuals discussing the future of editing. Among the casual discussions to be had on the day were comments on the rise of small press, increased focus on social media, and opportunities for distribution. Whatever else you say about the nature of publishing in the present time, from my experience, you can’t accuse them of not looking towards the future.

We began with a focus on acquisition and commissioning. Sue Hines, Group Publishing Director at Allen & Unwin, stressed the importance of knowing how to put books into the market. In a society with access to a greater volume of books than we have ever had before, this struck me as particularly important. An increasing variety of categories and sub-categories allows us to more easily position books in relation to their most likely consumers, something which I believe allows us to more accurately assess how well a book will do. But, as Sue ruefully noted, it’s not always as easy as that.

The importance of trends to the publishing industry was highlighted, and the difficulty of attempting to be ahead of the curve duly noted by all with a sigh. It was a sentiment further reinforced by publisher Robert Watkins, of Hachette Australia. Robert began by noting the challenges of a highly competitive book market, something we’ve all felt across the industry. The pressure to innovate and provide new talent is ever looming, and Robert’s advice was to be as across media and popular culture as you can. This was something I hadn’t much considered before, but his point that these are the areas from which trends most often emerge was spot on. I’ll certainly be keeping closer tabs on culture, news and social media from now on. And hey, if I can justify a sneaky movie as ‘cultural research’, you can bet I’ll be jumping right on board!

However, it was the second part of the seminar where things got really futuristic. Editorial Consultant Sarah JH Fletcher and Sydney University Press’ publishing manager Agata Mrva-Montoya took us through the technology that is best assisting publishers in innovating, from writing and reading, all the way through to the production of the final product. An important area, that print-centric little me had barely considered, was eBooks. Many publishers still tack on their eBook as an afterthought, but in this day and age, the role of eBooks as an important and separate form of media was stressed. What I hadn’t realised was how much cool tech was out there to make creating eBooks a happy little dream.

The most useful and interesting bit of tech to come from this was the idea of a content management system. This is a platform in which the content (i.e. the text of the book) is created, managed, and then exported into a variety of formats. After a particularly disastrous experience with a content management system earlier this year, I was initially reluctant to consider one again. However, with a realisation that increasingly, adaptable book formats are becoming key, I became resigned to giving the frustrating, intimidating technology another go.

I could blither on for pages about the insights I gained from attending this seminar, but I worry I’d scare you off! Suffice to say, the most important thing to come out of the presentations and discussions of the day was this: there IS a future for publishing, and it has the ability to be a dynamic and vibrant one. With a willingness to innovate, and to embrace the inevitable progressions of society’s demands, books, in all formats and iterations, will thrive long into the future.

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