Publishers Licensing Society Open Meeting #PLSopenmeeting

PLS Open Meeting

PLS Open Meeting

The annual open meeting was held on 1 July at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s head office in Burlington House, London.

After an overview of PLS core activities in the past year by CEO Sarah Faulder, Jonathan Griffin introduced the prospective permissions service, PLSclear. PLSClear has been developed to solve three key problems:  identifying the current rights holder of published content, knowing what information to supply the rights holder with to enable them to grant permission, finding the relevant contact in the rights- holding organisation. The service has now launched and the database contains 50 million records.

The afternoon then split into three breakout sessions – the balance of rights led by Richard Balkwill, a talk on latest developments in the Copyright Hub from Dominic Young, Chief Executive of the Copyright Hub who said the EU claims that ‘IP intensive’ industries (which includes publishing) are now worth 4.7 trillion Euros, and finally a session on ‘listening to our customers’ moderated by Jonathan Griffin, PLS. The meeting ended with a keynote talk on The Future of Public Libraries in England by William Sieghart , the founder of Forward Publishing and who is leading the government’s review of public libraries. An inspiring talk which gave a glimpse into some of the issues William has encountered visiting libraries up and down the country (libraries are vital community hubs, the need for comprehensive wifi connections and the role libraries play in helping those with no access to computers) so we should keep an eye out for the report when it’s out later this year.





Beyond the EBook – presentations

Future of academic publishing

Challenges facing academic publishing

Chair's head (me) in the picture

Chair’s head (me) in the picture

Well, we didn’t find the answer to what might be beyond the ebook but a fine line-up of speakers gave us an insight into some impressive developments. The presentations were recorded by River Valley TV and can now be found here.

Dr Stephen Pinder from Sheffield University outlined the challenges facing academic publishing to give some context to the day – although we heard presentations from across the publishing industry. Eela Devani for example showcased some new developments from Bloomsbury Publishing including the community they are building around the Writers & Artists yearbook and how they are bundling and unbundling content in Drama Online and the Berg Fashion Library and their yachting communities. Alistair Horne from Cambridge University Press also discussed communities and social media as channels for engagement for readers, emphasising the need for excellent content, a point made by Nicky Whitsed from the Open University in her talk on MOOCs.

Turning to libraries and users, Hazel Woodward considered who the winners might be in ebook consortia purchasing, based on research from the JISC Ebook Consortia Project. The real winners? The users who had access to much more content and used it.

Presentations from Kiren Shoman at Sage and Richard Burkett from Proquest looked at the textbook and how content can be linked to the student workflow, huge opportunities for publishers and universities potentially but with considerable challenges and costs.

A lively panel at the end of the day discussed how libraries and publishers work together, with questions around business models whereby libraries buy content through aggregators but can also receive it directly on publisher platforms with generous DRM. A question on who is going to defend DRM was met with near silence. Possibly a theme for Ebooks 2015?!

We tweeted from the conference using #EBooks2014 and there’s a Storify here.



The annual EBooks conference at UCL takes place next week (Thursday 8 May).

This year we’re thinking beyond the ebook. Ebooks have come of age. Research in the United States has suggested that the huge year on year increase in ebook titles is flattening out and that ebooks have become a fully accepted format for publishers, readers and libraries. However it is unclear at this point whether that levelling out is, in fact, the end point for ebook adoption ie that is there will be a continuing balance between print and electronic for some time to come – though it is difficult to say what that balance might be. But what is also clear is that there are other upcoming changes which go beyond what we currently think of as an ebook and that these changes may in turn promote another radical shift in digital content. So, what comes next?

We’ve assembled speakers from the publishing industry and libraries to address this and other issues. I can’t wait!





Shelf Help

Here are some photos of the Bloomsbury book shop The School of Life which offers personalised reading recommendations from bibliotherapists (‘shelf help’ rather than self help…). Bibliotherapy is an expressive treatment that considers the content of books, poems and other written matter to help people deal with issues at certain times of their lives. The point is that reading is a healing experience and you can match books to the situations we might face. I’m giving a talk on bibliotherapy  in May in Florence and looking forward to learning more about this fascinating subject.


Bibliotherapy. Note the section headings

Shelf Help

Shelf Help at the School of Life

Beautiful books available

More beautiful books available

Birmingham Central Library – beyond the traditional

News about libraries in the UK has been pretty bleak in recent years so it’s worth mentioning the wonderful new central library in Birmingham which opened in September 2013. We visited with the students from the programme in early December although I heard recently that four libraries in the city are due to close due to budget cuts .

Old library


Over ten years in the planning, this wonderful new building was designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, cost just under £200m and was built to replace the concrete brutalist 1970s structure shown above. As well as providing access to the city’s library and archives the site for the new facility was chosen to regenerate an area of Birmingham. Buzzing Christmas markets around the building would suggest the area is thriving.

The library is currently getting 10,000 visitors a day, and up to 15,000 at weekends, a vast increase on the past. In addition there are numerous visits from architects, schools, library and information professionals.

New library


Design detail


Knowledge core in the library

The new library has working spaces throughout as the building is a resource for everyone whether they are studying or creating. For instance the music library has recording rooms which artists can rent out for a small sum. Here’s an interactive digital display which allows users to interact with the library archives. We had fun with it.

Digital resources

A feature of the building is the interaction between the old and the new. At the top of the building you’ll find the 19th century Shakespeare library, reconstructed panel by panel.

Reading room



The Book in France

The Centre for Publishing in University College London has had a link with Universite Paris 13 (UP13) for some years now. They teach a Masters in publishing (in English) and we have conducted joint research in the past. On Monday this week a group of students from our course in London spent a day in Paris learning about the French publishing scene.

imageThe first visit was to labo de l’édition, an initiative funded by the mayor of Paris (and one of seven incubators currently being run by the Paris Region Innovation laboratory), to help publishing start-ups and publishing professionals adapt to digital challenges.

The lab is an open plan space of 500 square meters, located in the Latin Quarter of Paris, close to the Place Monge. It consists of a ground floor area with space for events and meetings including a coworking space and a first floor which is used as an incubator for innovative young enterprises.

The Lab

In the picture, the black and white bookshelf is actually images of classic French literary works with QR codes that take you to the full text of each work held at the BNF. Our morning at the lab began with a talk by Jennie Dorny, foreign rights manager at publisher Le Seuil. Jenny gave an informative account of the publishing industry covering reading patterns, structure of the industry and of course, digital issues (ebooks in France make up 3% of turnover compared to 20% in USA and 12% in the UK).

Unlike in the UK, the publishing industry in France is protected in various ways we’ve long since abandoned (fixed retail prices for books most importantly), and the government provides financial support for translations through its cultural centres around the world. Budgets have been reduced, but the help is still there.

Le Seuil (‘threshold’ in English) was founded in 1935 and the company now publishes 600 titles per year, seeking always to tackle current issues, problems and social challenges, not always with incident. During the Algerian war of independence their pro-independence stance led to their offices being bombed three times. As a major social science and humanities publisher they count a number of leading academics as authors including Bourdieu, Levi-Strauss, Derrida and Roland Barthes (Barthes incidentally, is their biggest selling foreign rights author).

The link to Roland Bathes and the afternoon was cemented by a semiological tour around literary Paris led by journalist and publisher (and niece of Roland Barthes), Mariette Darrigrand. Semiotics (which was new to me) is the study of signs and sign processes and is fascinating, covering colour coding (red for hot, blue for cold) to globalization (culture codes). With this introduction our walk was centred around Boulevard Saint Germain, the neighbourhood which was once home to much publishing activity in Paris and although the publishers have largely moved out (literary publisher Gallimard remains), many sites echo the literary past. We started at bookshop La Hune, a former Christian Dior boutique where books are presented with style and originality.

Proust book2

Work by Proust displaying both the modern version and the author’s working manuscript. Note the way text is cut and pasted.

La Hune

We then visited a luxury spa and Japanese tea shop both of which displayed books as objects to admire and dress the room. The books in the tea shop were in Japanese, we are not expected to understand them, but a message in nevertheless communicated when viewing them.

Japanese books

This was followed by visits to Kenzo and Hermes. Kenzo uses books as cultural reference points many of which are from the 1960s and 1970s, the formative decades of the designer’s career.

Kenzo 1

Although the DNA of Hermes is high quality leather work, and specifically beautifully crafted riding saddles, the company now produces a range of luxury goods. To extend the product range Hermes sells books in its flagship shop, displayed almost as sacred objects on a lectern (below).

Hermes I

Hermes has published its own books with French publisher Actes Sud. The limited edition titles An ABC of Hermes Crafts was published in 2012 and retails at E20 (making it one of most affordable things in the shop).

Hermes book

The week before our visit to Paris the luxury goods company LVMH announced it was buying a 9.5% stake in independent literary publisher Gallimard (once described by The Guardian as having the best backlist in the world). This is an interesting tie-up, both high-end brands and there would seem to be some synergy, although a more cynical account suggested LVMH are more interested in the property assets of Gallimard. Whatever the truth, it is a scenario we are unlikely to see anytime soon in the UK.

A visit to the Archive of British Publishing and Printing

Last week I spent a day at Reading University where you will find the archives of the British publishing and printing industry. The day was part of a wider UCL sponsored activity looking at Preserving Publishing  Archives. This started with a symposium held at Faber and Faber June 18th 2013. The event brought together a mix of publishing industry people, archivists and academics with the aim of highlighting good practice already happening, and help us to move forwards with ways of helping conserve more of the book trade history that is being lost.

My visit to the Reading Archives was a follow up exercise and therefore a chance to spend some some time understanding what’s available in this wonderful resource.

Longman archives

The range of publisher archives held at Reading is vast and covers most sectors of the publishing industry. The full list of companies represented includes the following:

Given the huge choice, I had emailed the archivists in advance and asked to see some of the Longman archives (having worked for Pearson in the 1990s this was of personal interst). Helpful archivists guided me through the paper catalogues I narrowed my choice down to ‘general correspondence’ from the 1960s and 1970s to get a flavour to past times, and even this was highly selective.

The files were organised by title and resembled the sort of ‘closed’ file you have after a book is published. Each file contained correspondence with the author (including some lovely rejection slips with the familiar excuses about books not fitting lists etc), title proposals, author marketing sheets, AI sheets (Advanced Information sheets sent to booksellers outlining the key facts about the forthcoming book), as well as sample chapters, jackets and various marketing collateral such as leaflets and bookmarks. The typed notes from one department to another, asking for ‘action’ were a gentle reminder of a not too distant world before email.

With only a limited amount of time I also looked through some of the Mills and Boon archives. I was particularly interested in their famous cover designs but sadly these were out on an exhibition tour. The correspondence was fascinating nevertheless and concerned discussions around the Library Booksellers Group and the library licence agreement, which John Boon though of ‘as the most important part of the NBA’ (Net Book Agreement, scrapped in the 1990s), as well as negotiations with  Canadian publisher Harlequin.

There is plenty of rich material to be unearthed at the archives and one day, I would hope to be able to spend more time researching the archives in depth. What struck me was that despite all the rapid technological change the publishing industry is currently experiencing, in some ways nothing changes. Going through the archives and looking at costings sheets, concerns over sales targets, book trade discounts and other familiar publishing woes such as typos on printed book jackets, I felt a comfortable connection to the past.

Reflections on Digital Shoreditch 2013 #DS13


Digital Shoreditch is a ten day festival that brings together all those with an interest in digital technologies and the creative industries. The festival is based around Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Brick Lane. This year over 500 events will take place, ranging from conferences, interactive talks, workshops, hackathons and more.

I attended Future Brands on Tuesday 22 May. This was a day dedicated to the challenges and opportunities in advertising and consumer engagement. Over 40 events were on offer and I had selected eleven of interest to me, but this was optimistic. A run through some the talks follows.

Ben Claxton from  spoke about the possibilities of using mobile phones to gain an insight into what customers, and potential customers, were thinking and experiencing. An example is their site Are you Being Served? which invites people to upload photos of customer service experiences, potentially hugely useful information about brands and companies. The thinking here is that mobile research captures contexts and emotions now. You can ‘borrow’ people’s eyes and ears to learn.

Companies stress the ‘experience’ angle as experiences give more vaue than a mere product. Experiences stay with us whereas product only gives so much enjoyment. Or so the thinking goes. Like much of the day, the catch phrases were flying around and it would have been nice to have had some of this research quantified in some way.

A healthy dose of cynicism was injected by Jon Morter who gave a lively talk about the greatest hits of the condescending corporate brand page. This was very much personal opinion but he cleverly showed the power of social media when he discussed @automatedfail a Twitter account set up as a digital honeytrap (Location: Mugsville. Nothing of any worth whatsoever is tweeted by us) which now has 12,000 followers. Similarly, @Likeourpage had one fan in September 2012 and now has over 40,000 after posting essentially no more than jokey content. The serious point being however that engaging content can and does attract people. He finished with a run down of top five pet hates, such as made up national holidays (National Toilet Day anyone? sponsored by Charmin) to the You Must Comply! type campaign with various threats about cute pets getting it in the neck if you don’t Like, Comment or Share, and the ubiquitious Keep Calm and…You get the picture.

Jed Hallam’s talk on What Happened when Social Media Grew Up was thoughful and relevant. His view that as organisations have SEO strategies, DM strategies, strategies about strategies, content strategies etc they need to think of themselves as social businesses with human insight as part of the organisation’s DNA.

The point was made (again and again and was a theme of the day) that data was the new raw material of business (the new oil as someone else said later in the day). Are we going to see Chief Data Officers? Certainly, social media measurement is meaningless without context.


The other theme was how social media can increase customer acquisition, retain customers, aid innovation and improve product development. Luke Brynley Jones @oursocialtimes made some good points about how the emphasis should be on using social media for customer service rather than getting new customers as on average  80% of future revenue will come from 20% of existing customers. As anyone who has worked in publishing will know, no surprises here. Despite this he claimed global spend on advertising is $500bn, CRM $50bn but a mere $9bn  for customer service. Stop feeding the monster!

Ogilvy advertising spoke about the new marketing principles, the key point being that we are moving from selling to satisfying means and the sales talk should be of features and benefits rather than specifics. This seems vary familiar and I’m sure we were saying the same in the 1990s. The point about meeting expectations remains valid however and marketing and design must be better integrated.

Pearson (one of the corporate sponsors, interestingly) talked about a hackathon they ran to develop an app for kids. A hack is a time limited session focused on a specific task with key people working in the same location.

The basement of Shoreditch town hall contained a cool exhibition. The most interesting part for me was an exhibit from Digital of significant websites from 1991 set on contemporary hardware. No archive copy or screen shot of the first website created by Sir Tim Berners Lee and the CERN team exists, but a copy from 1992 was on show (image below). In some ways we have come so far.

First web page 1992

Becoming a Stationer

DSC_1566Time at the end of a busy week to recount my experience of becoming a Stationer on Monday. Officially, I am a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, one of the oldest Livery Companies in the City of London, founded in 1403 and unique among Companies in that so many of its members are active in its sectors (the communication and content industries). Today the Communications and Content industries contribute over 6% of the UK’s GDP.  As such they represent a vital part of the UK’s economy, matching the contribution of the Financial Services sector.

Membership as a Freeman or Liveryman allows you to contribute to the activities of the Company, further the interests of the communication and creative industries, attend events and network and share in the life and tradition of the Company.

The Freedom ceremony takes place in Stationers’ hall off Ave Maria Lane, in front of the Master and the Court and two Wardens, sitting in gowns behind an impressively sized table. After a short rehearsal we were ushered in and read out the script we had been handed before signing our names in the book.

Despite being an historic institution the Stationers’ organises events around digital media , copyright issues and other current topics through its industry forums.