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Corporate to Startup: The New Publishing Career Path?

By Hannah Johnson

It wasn’t so long ago that a career in publishing meant working your way up to a big office at a big company and retiring at the top of the food chain. But for an increasing number of people in publishing, that is only Part One of their career paths. Part Two is about experimenting with new business models and new technology, disrupting the major players on a shoestring budget — in short, becoming an entrepreneur.

These days, the publishing industry is full of stories like that. Beate Kuckertz left German publisher Droemer Knauer after 20 years in big publishing to create her own startup, dotbooks. A group of Aussies with decades of publishing experience branched out to form Xoum. Richard Nash left his post as publisher of Soft Skull Books to start Small Demons.

So why are they doing it, and should we all be thinking about a similar Part Two in our own careers?

Book publishing has been in transition for the better part of the last decade, and it’s not over by a long shot. Established companies are slower to rapid digital changes, which means they sometimes leave business opportunities up for grabs. There appears to be no shortage of experienced publishing pros who are willing to cash in their corporate jobs and build startup businesses around these opportunities.

The industry also seems to be facing serious consolidation, which could leave a significant number of experience publishing pros looking for new jobs and opportunities — and a number of authors looking for new publishers.

This is not to say that there isn’t an option to stay with a large publishing company for the long haul. But perhaps we should be looking left and right as we progress down our career paths, and not just straight ahead.

UPDATED: To make clear that UK startup Bookmachine is a side project of Laura Austin and Gavin Summers, who continue to work for other publishing companies. (See second comment below.)

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  1. Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Excellent question and I’m looking forward to comments here. I would like however to broaden the question: it’s not JUST a path from “corporate publishing” to start-up, it’s also a path from author to entrepreneur. I have a friend who’s a very successful “midlist” author – often hit the bestseller list with different titles and doing so under two different pen names – and who’s just started her own e-publishing venture, drawing in authors with similar books to her own (light comedies/fantasies), so that the publishing venture has a clear, instantly recognizable profile.

    A “brand”, as it were.

    And that, the idea of a brand, is what will probably make or break new ventures in this fast-changing, challenging environment…

  2. Laura Austin
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Great article. Can I just point out that both Gavin and I (BookMachine) still have jobs in Publishing? (BookMachine is a ‘side-project’) – don’t want our companies to get the wrong idea when reading this!

  3. Hannah Johnson
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    @Laura Austin, thank you for the clarification. I’ve updated the article so there will hopefully be no confusion going forward.

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