5 myths about publishing
20 Mar 2015
We asked our Editorial Director, Drummond Moir, to quash some common beliefs about publishing that simply aren't true.
Publishers get to spend their entire day reading
This is the most common reaction when I tell people I work in book publishing: ‘oh, cool – so you get to just sit and read all day, then?’ Sadly, no. Publishing certainly involves a lot of reading, but we tend to do that in the evenings and weekends as there are plenty of other things to keep us busy during the day: meetings, writing copy, phoning authors, negotiating with agents, plotting with colleagues, discussing covers with designers, editing, pitching and presenting, crunching numbers, even the odd lunch if we’re lucky… and a lot more besides. If that all sounds exciting and stimulating, that’s because – at the risk of sounding smug – it is! And on top of that, we get to go home every evening and weekend and just sit and read books.
Editors don’t edit any more
Piffle. Various esteemed contemporaries of mine have debunked this venal myth much more effectively than I can, so have a look at this, this and this if you need persuading. For those who want an even more intimate and expansive insight into the art of editing, check out Robert Gottlieb’s Paris Review interviews, which have inspired many a budding editor (including this one) over the years.
We’re terrified of technology
It’s probably quite fun to portray us as pipe-smoking, elbow-patched luddites. But we love technology! Yes, print books are fantastic, but Ebooks are great too – loads of people buy and read them. And they’re convenient, and fast, and (did I mention this already?) loads of people buy and read them. So what’s not to like? And why stop at Ebooks – apps, games, digital partnerships, digital only imprints, phones that let you check your email every three seconds – you name it, we love it. And that’s just editorial – try persuading a marketer, salesperson or publicist to weave their magic using candles, bark, a horse-drawn carriage and an abacus, and see how far you get. Also, if we were so terrified of technology, why would The New Yorker be able to publish cartoons wittily lampooning our obsession with SEO?
The physical book is dead
Five years ago, less than half of readers who took part in the Bookseller magazine’s annual Digital Census said they had ‘ever’ read a book digitally; last year the figure was close to 90%. In 2009 just a fifth had ever bought an e-book; last year 75% had. Yet readers, like publishers and booksellers, seem curiously reluctant to let the physical book die. Ebook growth was initially mindboggling, largely off the back of early adopters of Amazon’s hugely popular Kindle and then various tablet devices, and looking at the numbers just a few years ago you’d be forgiven for thinking it truly was over for the printed book. But this growth is now plateauing – we hit 25% of the market quite quickly, but three-quarters of book sales are still physical, and based on the numbers it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anywhere near as quickly as some of us thought. Each year in the digital census readers are asked if Ebook sales will reach 50% by 2020, and each year fewer of them think they will. We’re in the pleasant situation where readers can choose from a number of formats, with more choice than ever.
Young people don’t read books anymore, so we should all give up now
I know very little about children’s publishing, and even less about the youth of today (I do have a toddler who, at the age of six months, got me all excited when he seemed to be reaching to turn the page of the book I was reading him, but it turned out he was trying to eat it.) However, I keep seeing young people reading books, I keep hearing about phenomenal YA bestsellers that take the world by storm (Northern Lights, Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc), and I keep coming across surveys such as this 2014 one by Voxburner, which found that nearly two-thirds of 16-24 year olds preferred print books to Ebooks, far more than preferred the physical equivalents in film, newspapers and magazines, CDs and games.