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‘Change is a new constant'

13 November 2017

British publisher Richard Charkin of Bloomsbury, on the blind spots that might keep the publishing industry from seeing what's ahead.

Charkin, formerly of Macmillan and past president of the International publishers Association is known for being outspoken and radical in his approach. He condemns the fact that in this age of instant news, it still takes a year for traditional publishers to bring out a book.

"Back then, most publishers did a bit of this and a bit of that-academic, educational, fiction, and even children's publishing-and they were typically family-owned. It worked because there was one dominant channel to market and it was called the bookshop. They supplied nearly all your customers...

Over time bookshops lost the contracts for libraries, schools, and universities to other organizations, and other arguably more efficient routes to market emerged. Being an all-around publisher became less sustainable. You then had to conglomerate. And this meant you couldn't just offer one educational textbook, you had to offer the whole range. You had to aim to be a major educational publisher or a major fiction publisher, or whatever."

Maybe ironically, Charkin says he feels that things may be changing back somewhat:

"We now have the Kindle, which can carry all the different routes to market for an academic, fiction, or kids' book in one device. Amazon is itself rather like the old-fashioned small bookshop in that it sells everything, to everyone.
We really have to think globally: "It's great to get your book mentioned in the Evening Standard, but I would prefer to be in The New York Times or on CNN."

On the people in publishing: "Publishing still has a very white Oxbridge intake...but we should surely still hire the best person for the job. We shouldn't be punishing people for having gone to Oxford or Cambridge."

When change comes, it may come very quickly:

"It took forever for the ebook to emerge in 2007," Charkin says, as Amazon rolled out the original Kindle ecosystem. "And by God, when it did, it was quick."

And on book promotion:

"I frequently take the view that we should care less about Barnes and Noble, and more about the author's availability and the end market for a particular book."

From an article in Publishing Perspectives