Spain’s Readmagine 2024 on New Inflection Points in Publishing

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 2024 Readmagine conference in Madrid opened with keynote comments on what may be a new inflection point for world publishing.

– A plenary session at the 2024 Readmagine conference at the Casa del Lector complex in Madrid, directed by Luis González—the director-general of the hosting body, the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez— with FANDE/IPDA managing director José Manuel Anta. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Publishing in an Age of Anxiety’
As we continue reviewing the spring seasons international publishing industry events, we look today (June 24) at the 11th annual Readmagine in Madrid, a program carefully and cannily put together by Luis González—the director-general of the hosting body, the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez (GSR)—with FANDE/IPDA managing director José Manuel Anta.

Seated in the glow of the barrel-ceilinged auditorium at the Foundation GSR’s Casa del Lector complex in the Spanish capital, González’s and Anta’s invitational conference frequently mixes speakers from publishing’s sectors along thematic lines to tease out issues and concerns in the industry that aren’t necessarily surfaced in programming based on formats or technological matters.

Luis González

At the end of May, the 2024 Readmagine convened with an overarching subtitle: Publishing as an Amplifier of Human Creativity. And in the two opening keynote events of the show this year, the audience found distinct and yet closely related responses to that theme. In her opening keynote, Madeline McIntosh made a compelling presentation of her new venture, her co-founding with Don Weisberg and Nina von Moltke of Authors Equity, a new publishing company with which our readers have been familiar since its March 5 announcement.

José Manuel Anta

The presentation by McIntosh on what her new company both intends and is learning (her session was titled “Publishing’s New ‘Writer-Centric’ Mode’) was followed by her being joined by  Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo, and Richard Charkin, founder of Mensch Publishing, in a four-way conversation with Publishing Perspectives on Publishing in an Age of Anxiety.

The anxiety point came from the experience voiced by many in the industry about a sensation during London Book Fair in March. Many trade visitors remarked on a feeling of free-floating agitation, a sense of frenetic energy that was still being discussed—and felt—at the next big trade show of the year, Bologna Children’s Book Fair and beyond.

Comments about the edginess felt by many at this year’s events so far has rarely been said to be hurting business. At London, Bologna, and in other shows such as Sharjah’s Booksellers Conference and Children’s Reading Festival and Abu Dhabi’s International Book Fair and Congress PCI, trade visitors have talked of business as being good, though publishing players said they felt dogged by nerves in many cases.

Authors Equity’s First 100 Days

Madeline McIntosh introduces the concept behind Authors Equity at the 2024 Readmagine conference in Madrid. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Since Readmagine, Authors Equity has issued a list of the first 10 authors and books it has named for publication—a list released on the new company’s 100th day in business, which may be a record for a new publishing house.

You can read the list and some of the rationale around each selection here at Authors Equity’s Substack. We’ll run through the simplest listing of books, authors, and projected publication dates here:

  • This is Strategy by Seth Godin (October 22)
  • Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The Expanded Edition by Joseph Nguyen (October 29)
  • New book by Rachel Hollis (December)
  • Superagency: Empowering Humanity in the Age of AI by Reid Hoffman and Greg Beato (January 28)
  • We Hold These “Truths” by congressional staffer turned George Washington University legislative affairs professor Casey Burgat (February 4)
  • Kweli Journal’s 15th Anniversary Short Story Collection (spring 2025)
  • Next to Heaven by James Frey (summer 2025)
  • New series from Kyle Mills (summer 2025).
  • Pregnancy Personalized by Rachel Swanson (fall 2025)
‘Retail More Concentrated, Media More Fragmented’

Madeline McIntosh in her keynote presentation of Authors Equity at the 2024 Readmagine. Image: Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez

In the case of Authors Equity—certainly for McIntosh, the former Penguin Random House USA CEO—the angst of the season could easily come from the fact that the team has launched a high-level venture, funded in part by several key players, that offers authors profit-sharing over advances, and requires in its purest form an author’s engagement and participation in virtually every aspect of the published work’s preparation.

“The world that we grew up in was one of a mass market. The world we live in today is one where you have many different micro-markets.”Madeline McIntosh, Authors Equity

“The main thing we’re offering authors,” McIntosh told the audience during our conversation onstage, “is this idea of focus instead of scale. That scale has a lot of value to parent companies, for example, but not necessarily to an individual author. If you’re an author who cares about control, then that’s what we offer.”

Along the way, McIntosh had made the point that Taylor Swift—whose tour was in Madrid on May 29 and 30—”might be the only real example I can think of a globally true mass-market phenomenon. Possibly here football, possibly American football in the United States, but besides that, you don’t really have the same kind of everybody-plugged-into-the-same-content that we used to experience.”

What she was describing onstage following her presentation was the fact, she said, that, “The world that we grew up in was one of a mass market. The world we live in today is one where you have many different micro-markets.”

What’s behind that market evolution, McIntosh said, is “this really interesting flip-flop of fragmentation and concentration between retail and media. It used to be that that retail was very, very, fragmented, and it certainly in Europe it remains more fragmented than it is in the US. But in in the US, the latest statistics I’ve seen show that if you put all of it online—retail and digital and mobile transactions together in one bucket—that accounts for 60 to 70 percent of consumer transactions.

“So retail has become much more concentrated. At the same time, media has become much more fragmented.

“We no longer live in a world where in the US we could usually count on” the concept that “If you if you put your author on one of the morning TV shows or you got them onto one of the big interview shows on National Public Radio like Fresh Air, then that was that was all you needed to do and you were guaranteed to get to the top of the bestseller list.

“That’s not where we live today. Instead, we have the big authors launching, or small authors launching, with podcast tours. Before the book even launches, they can have 100 podcast interviews already recorded, locked and loaded, to be rolled out to different target audiences.”

‘An Arms Race of Monetized Distraction’

Madeline McIntosh and Michael Tamblyn onstage at the 2024 Readmagine in the keynote discussion. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

The market’s evolution McIntosh, of course, could well be behind some of the energies of destabilization that are generating these currents of concern felt by many in the industry.

Image: From Madeline McIntosh’s keynote presentation at Readmagine 2024

As Tamblyn and Charkin joined us, one of the questions we had for Tamblyn was about his assertion that the biggest impact of artificial intelligence on publishing might be nothing about AI-developed content. And in this instance, we weren’t talking about the training of large language models and copyright challenges, but the capacity for AI to produce something else, to gin up larger, more impactful attractions than what publishing offers.

“The slide that Madeline put up near the beginning of her presentation,” Tamblyn said, referring to McIntosh’s image of two Bezosian inflection points “when books and publishing had to adjust to a significantly new paradigm of discovery and distribution,” as Tamblyn put it, reflected on “what wasn’t a very relaxing time for publishers going through that process.” McIntosh’s career includes work with Amazon and with the Kindle.

“If there’s one thing that we’re figuring out over the last decade, it’s that nobody owes us their attention—as authors, as creators, as publishers, as retailers, we have to fight for it.”Michael Tamblyn, Rakuten Kobo

“And we’re coming to another point,” Tamblyn said, “where we don’t know exactly how these tools and techniques are going to impact us, but we know that they work primarily off of text. We know that they’re tied deeply into the ecosystems that we that we use to gain and focus attention.

“So one way or another, that’s going to shift our landscape again, and that’s anxiety-making. But I’m less concerned that AI is going to write the next great novel than I am that it becomes another complicating factor in our fight for attention.”

Tamblyn in 2017 had warned publishers in Berlin at Klopotek’s Publishers Forum that the “attention economy” was becoming what he then termed “an arms race of monetized distraction”—an oddly exhilarating phrase that’s hard to forget and easy to see playing out.

Now, at Readmagine, seven years later, he said, “I think that if there’s one thing that we’re figuring out over the last decade, it’s that nobody owes us their attention—as authors, as creators, as publishers, as retailers, we have to fight for it.”

Publishing, he said, must do this “against all of the other often very well financed, very profitable companies that want to package and sell that attention. And that’s where we’re having to learn a whole new set of tools and techniques to be able to, in many cases, punch above our weight to get and earn and keep that attention for long-form reading.”

And the bid for long-form reading itself had just been discussed in Lillehammer two days before it was mentioned by Tamblyn in Madrid. In Norway, it was a key focus of the third World Expression Forum‘s (WEXFO) learning lab on the importance of “higher-level reading” as the Ljubljana Manifesto frames it.

‘Speed and Sustainability’

Richard Charkin speaking at Readmagine 2024 in Madrid on May 29. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

One of the most obvious and yet dogged impediments for publishing that Charkin put his finger on for the Readmagine audience—based not only in his decades of leadership in large houses but in his current experience as the publisher of the niche independent house Mensch Publishing—has to do with what he pointed to as “speed and sustainability.”

“In terms of anxiety,” he said—and especially in the face of the galloping production pace seen in many of the forces of Tamblyn’s “arms race of monetized distraction”—it coalesces around speed and sustainability”: and the fact that publishing is at this point a paragon of neither.

“If you want to publish a novel in the United States, you have to give Barnes and Noble nine months’ notice,” Charkin said. “The world is changing, rather more rapidly than in nine months.

“If you want to produce a novel worldwide, you’ll print a large number of copies and you will send them on boats and planes to Australia. Australia will publish a month later than the USA. The marketing you’ve done in the USA will have little impact in Australia, or vice-versa.

“One of the things my authors say is, ‘God help us, it takes three months to get a response from one of the major publishers as to whether they want to contract the book or not.'”Richard Charkin, Mensch Publishing

“We really have to relearn, and we’re making things worse for ourselves, because we now have editorial committees that only meet x times a year, and they have to review everything. One of the things my authors say is, ‘God help us, it takes three months to get a response from one of the major publishers as to whether they want to contract the book or not.’

“Most English-language publishers no longer respond to unsolicited manuscripts from authors. I completely understand why that is the case. But I took the decision that I will respond. And I respond within 24 hours.

“Actually,” Charkin leveled one of his frequent laugh lines at the audience, “I could respond within 10 seconds. But it looks a bit rude. So I put it at least an hour before saying no. But I do respond, speaking as a small publisher.”

Tamblyn pointed out, echoing what Charkin and McIntosh were getting at, what comes down to a new disruption “likely in the relationship between the author and the publisher.

“As new ways of discovering books come in, as new ways of focusing people’s attention come in, we’re constantly having to look at whether or not we’re the best way for somebody to find the next book that they’re going to read, and then watching that, calibrating that, trying to make sure that we stay at pace.

“That’s what keeps me up.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on digital publishing is here, more on Readmagine is here, more on the work of Luis González is here, more on the work of José Manuel Anta of FANDE/IPDA is here, more on world publishing conferences is here, and more on Spain’s publishing market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.