The Rising Stars program, now in its sixth year, is a project conceived and run by The Bookseller in association with Frankfurt Book Fair. It recognizes emerging leadership in the UK publishing industry. Publishing Perspectives’ series of interviews with some of the 40 members of the class of 2016 continues today with DK’s Toby Marshall, who knows that our crowded schedules aren’t the only challenge facing the book industry. There’s also a ‘throwaway attitude towards books,’ he tells us. And we give in at our peril, Marshall says, to the consumer’s desire to get “more for less.”—Porter Anderson
By Alastair Horne | @PressFuturist
‘To Fully Complete the Vision’If today’s interviewee Toby Marshall (@t4003) is a perfectionist, it certainly seems to be working. Named by The Bookseller as one of this year’s Rising Stars, he’s Senior Product Developer at Dorling Kindersley (DK), responsible for products worth $2 million in revenues in the past 10 months alone.
“What publishing somehow needs to do is get retailers and customers to understand that you get what you pay for.”Toby Marshall
One of a growing group of people entering the industry by way of a publishing MA, Marshall credits his master’s degree for his professional mindset. He has held roles with Sweet & Maxwell, Ryland Peters and Small, and Egmont, joining DK in 2013.
There, he says, he develops “new and very different products” for–among others–“the highly competitive £5 price-point market.”
Publishing Perspectives: What brought you to the book industry for a career?
Toby Marshall: In September, I will have been working in publishing for 11 years. At the end of my media production degree, I wanted to do a postgraduate course. When thinking about that, I realized that throughout my degree I’d been drawn to the problem-solving roles in group work. I was good at making projects happen. And I’m quite creative. I was also very interested in print. That led me to take an MA in publishing production, which then naturally led me into the publishing industry.
PP: What do you see as your best effort so far in your work?
“Understanding manufacturing limitations and the creative core of the idea is really important.”Toby Marshall
TM: This is hard to say. Since October 2015, I have developed products that have brought in over $2 million. That’s something I’m very proud of and is a number that will continue to grow.
For each of the last three years, I’ve developed new and very different products for the highly competitive £5 price-point market that have really stood out from the crowd. This is always a challenge, and I think the quality—both of the product overall and the great content—as well as the uniqueness of these products is something to be commended.
PP: What’s your biggest strength?
TM: Probably being able to take a rough idea and make it into something that works practically. Understanding manufacturing limitations and the creative core of the idea is really important with this kind of work, as is being creative enough to make adaptations and recommendations to find solutions.
PP: And your biggest weakness?
“The MA gave me the knowledge upon which I could build practical experience. I started my career with a higher knowledge level than I otherwise would have.”Toby Marshall
TM: It’s difficult to say. I occasionally get bogged down in the detail when I don’t need to, because I don’t like to leave questions unanswered or leave potentially important details open to interpretation.
I develop products and it can sometimes be hard to hand over a project that started with my own idea. This isn’t due to a lack of faith in my colleagues, it’s more a feeling of wanting to make sure everything happens exactly as it would if I were doing it—to fully complete the vision.
PP: Where do you want your career to be in five years?
TM: I’d like to be running a team of product developers and continuing to diversify the range of products we offer: working in a publishing environment that’s developing products outside what’s considered traditional publishing and pushing the boundaries to create really exciting products that complement the great publishing that’s always at its core.
PP: How has having an MA in publishing helped in your career?
The pace of life is “a major challenge for publishers, who now have to grab the increasingly short attention of the consumer with something that’s usually by its nature not a ‘quick in and out.'”Toby Marshall
TM: I think it has helped in two main ways.
First, it gave my CV something extra when applying for my first job. I feel it underlined my desire to work in the industry and show that I had the aptitude and dedication to be worth a shot.
Second, my studies meant I started on the right foot. The MA gave me the knowledge upon which I could build practical experience. I started my career with a higher knowledge level than I otherwise would have, which made me instantly more valuable as an employee and better at my job. It also meant I had been thinking in the right away, about the right topics for the best part of a year before I started my first job–it really helped instill a professional mindset.
PP: What’s the one thing publishing as an industry needs to focus on most today?
TM: This is another tricky question. These are what I think are two of the industry’s biggest challenges.
First, the advent of smartphones, among other things, has increased the pace of life for a lot of people. We flick from one thing to another much more quickly than we used to, and we rarely invest a chunk of time in anything. When you buy a book, you’re not just investing money in a product, you’re also acknowledging that this is something worthy of the investment in time.
This poses a major challenge for publishers, who now have to grab the increasingly short attention of the consumer with something that’s usually by its nature not a “quick in and out.” It will be very interesting to see how this challenge evolves as the next generation, which has not known a world without an iPhone or Facebook, becomes our target market.
Second is the throwaway attitude towards books in the UK. It’s something that doesn’t sit well with me. We’re told that the customer wants more for less. That’s understandable. But retail’s aggressive adoption of that notion leads to an inevitable cheapening of the final product.
What publishing somehow needs to do is get retailers and customers to understand that you get what you pay for—and that quality is worth paying for.