By Liz Bury
Not many senior folk in the publishing industry can claim to have spent eight years in the British Royal Navy. Richard Mollet, new chief executive of the UK Publisher’s Association, did, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant by the time he left in 1996. He is attending the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time, ahead of his official first day in his new job on October 18.
Mollet, 39, also campaigned to be a Labour Party MP in the UK’s general election earlier this year, losing out to Jeremy Hunt, now the UK’s Culture Secretary. And he has worked as a lobbyist for the BPI, the UK’s music industry association.
Such a mix of experience means Mollet brings some fresh perspectives to the PA. “The armed forces gives you a good grounding in professional discipline, and it teaches you about leadership and management from a young age,” says Mollet.
Top of his list of challenges to address at the PA is the position of intellectual property (IP) in the UK economic, political and cultural framework.
“The strategic issue of importance is IP in the digital age. It is coming under assault from various quarters, from people who undermine IP and say it’s outdated. We need to meet those arguments head on, and to show how they are false.” He adds: “I want to ensure publishing has a share of the voice in the political discussion, and has a place in the debate commensurate with its importance to the UK economy.” Book publishing in the UK is a £5bn industry.
As director of public affairs at the BPI, Mollet was in conversation with UK government and opposition ministers in the cultural arena, including his political opponent Hunt; Ed Vaizey, Hunt’s colleague; and former Labour government ministers. Copyright infringement was top of the agenda in music too.
“We need to have a good conversation with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and Jeremy and Ed are open to having it. The fact that I was a political opponent doesn’t come into it. The creative industries are an important part of the economy and need to be supported. A robust IP framework is important, and that view seems to be held by both of them,” Mollet says.
If anything has come out of the experience of standing for election, it’s a sense of respect for politicians based on knowing what they have been through.
Meanwhile his music industry background gives him a sound understanding of concerns around copyright infringement. “The music industry experience will to some extent inform what will happen in publishing, but there is no inevitability that books should suffer lost revenues as film and music are doing. There are tools at our disposal to stop online infringement from getting worse.” Mollet purposefully avoids using the term “piracy” which he believes glamorizes copyright theft.
A study by the UK’s specialist book market research agency, Book Marketing Limited, found that 7% of adults have illegally downloaded e-books in the UK.
The UK’s Digital Economy Bill is one part of Mollet’s wider IP agenda, which also includes World Intellectual Property Organisation projects and, in Europe, work on the Commission’s Copyright Directive and E-commerce Directive.
“Have we got right treatise in place? Are we sufficiently respectful of IP? As long as the frameworks are right, the creative industries can do their thing,” Mollet says. As head of the PA, Mollet sees his primary role as “to ensure value for money for—that’s our ongoing duty and challenge. That means being relevant, and campaigning on issues of relevance to our members, and likewise being relevant to policy makers and the media.”
His impressions of publishing so far? “I don’t want to say it in this way, but, the people are very nice. Everybody seems to be very engaging. In the creative industries you meet vibrant, exciting people. Even if they are not the talent, as such, they are creative and energetic. That’s true of music and books.”
When the going gets tough, he can always draw on lessons learned at sea.
“At the PA I’m building on a great legacy from Simon [Juden, the former chief executive who is now head of public policy at Pearson]. The armed forces give you a good grounding in professional discipline, and teach you about leadership and management from a young age. There is a strong emphasis on teamwork. A collegiate approach to challenges is ingrained into in the armed forces.”
(This story originally appeared in the Publishing Perspectives show daily at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 8 October 2010. Download the complete show daily here or click on the image to view the online version.)