using a computer

What New Skills Do Publishers Need to Navigate in Publishing?

In Discussion by Roger Tagholm

using a computerBy Roger Tagholm

Publishing needs ambitious, positive people for whom technology comes naturally, facility with social media is a given and who have a desire to build all manner of services for writers and readers. This is in what Faber CEO Stephen Page calls “the multiverse” that is the modern book industry.

At the LBF session on what publishers are looking for when they recruit, it was intriguing to hear about the full range of new job titles that are now becoming commonplace. These range from “data scientists” to “social media assistants” to “head of pricing.” The straight, linear pipeline business in which many of the 35+ year olds joined the business has long gone. “It used to be a straightforward baton pass,” said Page. “Now you have physical books, locally created books for a specific market, ebooks, apps…everyone has a different model. It used to be that publishers set a price and that stayed until you didn’t have any copies left. Now, we’re asking ourselves every 24 hours what our price should be. It’s an incredibly energetic and dynamic market, and no job is left untouched by these changes.

The straight, linear pipeline business in which many of the 35+ year olds joined the business has long gone.

“I’m looking for people who know how to create value for our authors. I don’t want apologists for books who come with a sort of post-graduate attitude. Everybody wanted to be TS Eliot’s assistant once. We don’t need programmers, but we do need people for whom technology comes naturally and who can see ways that technology can help build a different kind of engagement between readers and writers.

“After the Net Book Agreement collapsed in 1995, power shifted to sales. Now I think the power is split between the digital innovators within editorial, the commercial innovators and those who have knowledge of the consumer.”

Dominic Mahoney, HR Director at Hachette UK, believes new skills have to be coupled with the creative element “to spot how an idea can be turned into a commercial proposition. You have to stay commercially focused. We get huge numbers of applications for jobs — the people who stand out are those that show real motivation.”

Ten years ago “it was all about the editor,” noted Natalie Jerome, Publishing Director HarperCollins. “But now, with all the information available because of the Net, everyone can have an idea and put it forward. Editors need some knowledge of Google analytics, too, now.”

Emma Hayley, founder of graphic novel publisher Self-Made Hero, believes “everyone should have at least a superficial understanding of the main publishing programs, as well as a familiarity with social media, of course, which is the biggest change.”

Lastly, Mahoney pointed that some fundamentals haven’t changed. “If you’re applying for a job at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, it’s probably a good idea not to spell Nicolson with an ‘h’.”

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).