By Chentong Hao, Publishing Correspondent at Napier
A word, which kept coming into my head throughout the whole interview is the “convincing”. As a publishing correspondent, I am duty-bound to ask the insightful questions, discovering the new angle on the existing story.
This interview was insightful and valuable enough to enlighten us to get in-depth thinking about what we have learned on this course. It reinforced what we know about the needs of the publishing employment market for the publisher-to-be. Meanwhile, those ideas mentioned successfully challenged me to think harder about how we treat the print and e-book, how we interact with the reader and the changing role of publisher, and even how we crossover with other industries. Faber Digital, first set up in 2009, is an unusual division in the Faber & Faber Publishing Company. It is slightly different from other company’s department structure, in that it is independent of e-book, and does nothing with The Faber Factory. Through out this 5-year history, numerous award, high-level favour, Faber Digital has become an irreplaceable, forward thinking department in Faber. It has been a powerful assistance in enhancing books projects on the iPad, including The Solar System and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, as well as “Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone” for the iPhone. Faber Digital offers liberty to literature in the hope of bringing a new voice to Faber.
Chentong Hao = CH
Henry Volans = HV
CH: Would you like to introduce about yourself?
HV: I’m called head of Faber Digital. It’s slightly unusual in publishing structures in that I’m in charge of digital publishing but not e-book publishing. On the basis that e-book publishing kind of takes care of itself. Sort of straightforward way, in that the editors acquire rights and production can make the files, sales can sell them but we believe there’s much more to the digital publishing market than you’ll get if you just focus on sort of conventional E-books. So that’s what I do, and it’s not a marketing job, my role is to generate revenue.
CH: Heard of an inspiring news that Faber has just won the industry award “Digital Strategy of the Year”, congratulations! Would you like to tell us more about this?
HV: Thank you! It was brilliant to win. The award was for Faber as a whole, not just what Faber Digital does. I think when you win an award, the strategy… I’m really conscious we need to keep going cause it’s almost like for an intention, you need to keep delivering. But it’s, I think the reason we got it is because of the spread of things we do. The Faber digital projects that we had mentioned heavily in the picture were things like our partnership with Bloomsbury called Drama Online, which is an academic platform, and that takes plays, collectively thousands of plays, and allows people to get something more from them than they would before. Because when you put things together very thoughtfully, marked up an structured so you can search for plays with three female and two male characters or you can click a characters name and just see his or her lines. And that’s direct sales, it’s subscription model so a direct route to universities. And I think a lot of people in the future will study plays that way. We’re quite proud of our app The Animation Survival Kit, which is a famous resource for people looking to learn animation, and that’s giving the people out there that they can make an app work even if it sells for $35 or 25 Pounds in that case. That was our digital publishing, so I think other important parts are our services businesses. There’s Faber Factory, which is a service where we convert e-book files and distribute e-books for over 100 small print and digital publishers.
CH: How do you find the current situation that a lot of publishers are trying to balance the print and the e-book, and I think most of them are engaging with audiences through by digital. What do you think of this for Faber?
HV: Yes, you are definitely right that publishers are trying to balance the print and digital. I think the only truth is that publishers spend more time talking about digital than they do about print, because print they know the landscape. As to whether audience engagement is easier with digital or with print, I’m not sure because I guess the act of engaging is different. That you can engage an audience digitally that you then sell to them in print. So, I think print for many publishers is still the majority of their revenue. I think the best way to approach it is to not worry about the cannibalisation or one destroying the other, but just do the best they can for both. Like publishing print, as it’s all that matters and publish digital, as it’s all that matters. Try not to worry. As soon as you start worrying about one thing threatening the other, it starts getting to be trouble.
CH: Are you also in charge of Faber Factory?
HV: No, that’s not me. Of course they do, and we help each other. I think it’s important for Faber Factory that Faber’s own digital publishing is very good. Why would you partner with someone who weren’t themselves good as digital publishers? And I think one of the other things to mention really quickly is publishers have traditionally made e-books by sending out a PDF or other file types to conversion houses often in India who will do the conversion and return you the files. We’re now, more publishers, are increasingly, that would be something that we do ourselves in our own publishing workflow means that we can do print books and e-books just as easily as each other.
CH: Could you break down what skills you think the publishers in the future must have? Some advice for the fellow publishing students studying at Edinburgh Napier?
HV: I think, it increasingly seems to boil down to three areas. We’ll need editors, particularly around commissioning. People who can commission, not just sit and wait for what comes in from agents. People who feel confident in an area and being confident doing out and approaching people to write or identifying strong areas. So commissioning is important. Marketing is really important, and it’s growing and growing and growing, the function of marketing into creating audience. In a lot of publishers it’s the marketing department that have the growing responsibility to sell direct. So publishers set up direct to consumer sales. It’s often the marketing department that pitches that. And lastly, I don’t think we need large numbers of specialized software engineers. But I do think we need people who are technically very fluent, for example in Html or Xml Markup and thinking about the structure and how metadata is structured and how metadata can be fed out. Thinking about how just the way they behave as consumers of content material to bear on how they think publishing could and should publish, as in desktop publishing with a market like themselves in mind. But I think the core skills of marketing and editorial together make up this funny thing called publishing, like creating a market and audience. For most people. I think there might be some exceptions. The bottom line is that in most publishing houses at the moment, most staff don’t have and invariably don’t need very specific digital skills and that I advise people just have a consciousness and awareness of it and behave reasonably digitally. In the long run I think publishers are going to start to pull away and have far more sophisticated digital skills. If you think about today, there’s a big variety of how publishers are making available their content, and I think it’s the publishers who have more interesting APIs onto their whole catalogue come across as more impressive and more useful today. I think publishers are going to need lots of skills in data analysis and sentiment analysis, which relates to marketing. There’s a huge number of specific skills you should be looking for.
CH: May I ask you the last question? What do you think about the trend of Faber Digital in the future?
HV: I think one trend is that you’ll see more from us on the web. Most digital publishing from publishers has either been e-books or Apps. I think we are continuing to do both of those, but we haven’t done enough for the web, and what we have done for the web isn’t as far as we could go. So I just think publishers should stop thinking of the web just as a marketing platform and start thinking of it as a platform for having the actual content available. That’s going to be a very interesting and probably the single top trend.
More information about Faber Digital at http://www.faber.co.uk/digital/