By Roger Tagholm
LONDON: Two young London publishing execs are about to launch a social media networking platform for people in the publishing industry that they believe will match-up needs with skills in a vibrant, dynamic way that doesn’t yet exist. BookMachine.me, which will go live in November, will allow users to put up examples of their work or projects, thus making the site more visual and exciting than services like LinkedIn, according to founders Laura Austin and Gavin Summers.
“The foundations of the publishing industry are changing,” says Austin, 32, a marketing and account manager at YUDU Media where she works with publishers on high quality digital conversions. “There are already around 22% working freelance in the UK, but that is predicted to rise much higher. There will be a growing need to match these people to projects, and at the moment there is no easy way of doing that.”
Summers, who is 29 and Digital Services Manager at Hodder Education, adds: “LinkedIn is designed to build a network of people you’ve already worked with. Ours is for new people. Publishing companies are going to become leaner in the future and they’re also going to have to bring in people with different skill sets. For example, a publisher working on an app might need to source a developer and an app designer. Wouldn’t it be good if there were one place you could look for these people? Our site will help publishers find the right people for their particular projects.”
Even if much of publishing is still print-based and requires traditional editorial skills, the way such product is marketed is anything but traditional — particularly in the digital age, which increasingly relies on such things as online videos and social media to attract attention. “But people in publishing houses might not be the best-placed people to video production,” says Summers. “It’s these kinds of skills that publishers will increasingly need and BookMachine.me will help them do that.”
Austin is still a relative newcomer to publishing, having joined Pearson in 2006 in the ELT department. She stayed in the ELT field on the sales side at Cengage Learning and Oxford University Press, before moving to a start-up online media company in Brighton before joining YUDU earlier this year. She describes herself as “obsessed” with social media and rarely goes more than an hour without checking one of her many feeds. “I try and have a 10 p.m. curfew, but I’m not saying I always keep it…”
Summers is an even more recent arrival in publishing, having joined Scottish publisher Leckie and Leckie in 2007. He then spent nearly two years as Multimedia Project Manager at Pearson Education before moving to Hodder in 2010.
“Like the best ideas, it began in the pub,” says Summers. “I was working at Leckie and Leckie in Edinburgh and Publishing Scotland used to run these quizzes for people working in publishing. There was a real sense of a publishing community which we wanted to replicate.”
The pair began hosting meetups in 2010, which led to the establishment of BookMachine.org two years ago, a people-focused opinion site for people in the book business. BookMachine now has a regular program of social events, initially in London, Oxford and Edinburgh, but now about to go international, with inaugural meets in Toronto and New York imminent. It also provides a platform for publishers to host their own events.
“One of the aims of BookMachine.me is to replicate the sort of connections people make at our social events, but in a more structured way,” says Austin. “We have big ambitions for this to be a useful tool — we feel there’s a need for it, and a need that will grow.”
The concept got a boost last year when Summers travelled to India on the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur scheme and met Titash Neogi, founder of themeefy.com, a site designed for the curation of online content. The pair hit if off and BookMachine.me is now a partnership with Neogi, whose techie team — Bibkosh Labs based in Pune, India, and Toronto — is handling the nuts and bolts of the new site.
BookMachine.me has also acquired some backing from the British Council, which should help defer the need for users to be listed on the site
Both Austin and Summers are typical of some of the new energy in publishing and are certainly glass half-full people. “A lot of people think publishing is doomed, but I don’t think so at all,” says Summers. “However, it is certainly changing. We’ve seen a sense of community among the start-ups in the tech world and I think we need that in publishing — a sense of pulling together. There’s a need for that, particularly since we’re allegedly so close to extinction. I don’t think that’s true — we have to adapt, but we’re not doomed.”
Austin adds: “I’m optimistic, but people need to take responsibility and learn new skills.” And once they have those skills, they hope that BookMachine.me will be the perfect place to have them matched to a task.
You can sign up for beta access of BookMachine.me on the site and BookMachine can be followed on Twitter @bookmachine.