There’s been a flurry of future of publishing conferences of late, none of which I’ve attended, unless you count following tweets which, in some instances, is just as good, perhaps even better, than actually attending. I’ve missed out on the socialising and networking, however, which is at least half the point of attending such things. Yesterday saw a conference in Bristol, put on by Media Futures and Plymouth University, where Alastair Horne, of Cambridge University Press - otherwise known as @pressfuturist - launched his report, ‘The Future of Publishing: A Report on Innovation and the Future of the Book’. It’s recommended reading, very up-to-date, a succinct and comprehensive look at publishing today, with a keen eye on what needs to happen for publishers to survive. It features a few quotes from, ahem, me, and lots of other quotes from plenty of people with insider views on the industry.
For me, one of the most interesting points Alastair makes is the digital skills gap within the publishing industry, and how they face a rather stark and expensive choice between training current staff and outsourcing digital skills. The digital skills gap in the industry is enormous, but it runs throughout, from editorial, agents, through to many writers as well. I feel as though I’m forever trying to interest publishers in my digital projects, though the truth is I probably gave up on this last year after a meeting with my editor at Simon & Schuster in NY, a very senior, very savvy, publisher with many years experience, who looked completely blank when I started to talk about my new digital fiction project, before informing me that S&S has an entire floor devoted to ‘that stuff’. This is not meant as a criticism of this editor, who has since been further promoted within the firm and I’m sure has quite enough to do without having to completely reskill. But it depressed me, and made me think, yet again, that the divide between digital innovation in the realm of fiction, and traditional publishing, is as vast as ever.
Alastair includes within the report a quote from me where I managed to make a point about, or get a plug in for, the vast community of electronic literature, digital fiction, and epoetry practitioners who have been innovating away around form and content for many years now, on the other side of that digital divide. So that’s good.