The Gatekeepers’ Conundrum

LeHatOften, we debate about the changing publishing industry. But, have we stopped to think about the possible scenarios that could occur with regards to the strong, silent gatekeeper of the world of books?

It is hard to pinpoint the exact nature of the commissioning editor role within the publishing industry, owning to the distinctiveness of the trade, academic, educational, and journal spheres. However, as the name suggests, the underlying function of the commissioning editor is to unearth potential authors and content that will deliver the best value possible, keeping in mind the nature of the frontlist and publishing company.

So, will the role of the CE change in accordance to the Internet and its digitally fostered environment? Common logic dictates, yes, evolution is bound to happen and change is inevitable. Also, history lends its voice as well. The question is how? Relevant skills to manipulate the cyber world are a necessity, rather than a requirement. Will the CEs start holding degrees that demonstrate expertise in information technology? Will XML knowledge become a prerequisite for an already formidable post?

There is already evidence of the changes taking place. Most of the major companies have embraced XML in its entirety, keeping in mind the benefits and its flexibility. This has given rise to a new type of editor – the technical editor, who deals with the content and the markup language, such as XML and HTML. Skillset, in particular, has identified skills such as product and brand development skills, multimedia production skills, understanding web analytics and the ability to price and sell in the digital environment as extremely relevant skills.

Commissioning editors have contributed to the enduring mural that depicts editors as gatekeepers and guardians of content. Yet, today, their role as gatekeepers is threatened from different sides. Self-publishing, the new darling of the industry, bypasses a lot of factors to get published and with major companies like Pearson and Simon & Schuster acquiring self publishing companies, there is something of a cloud brewing. Agents are slowly becoming more involved in the screening process, and as the growing perception is that CEs’ are too time constrained to fully invest the kind of attention required for a book and the author, it is likely that the agents may have a bigger slice of the entire pie. Finally, with market knowledge becoming more important, it is not implausible that sales/marketers may usurp some of the CE’s functions.

Assassin's Creed BrotherhoodCD assassinscreedbookToday, the CEs are searching for books that can stand its ground against game companies and other entertainment ventures. Ultimately, due to the crowded entertainment arena, the CE’s role may slowly deviate away from books and focus on acquiring content that can be produced in a plethora of formats. Yet, the most important thing to keep in mind is that a good story will always sell irrespective of the format it appears in. Plus, talent will constantly need to be unearthed.

Image Credits: Data Entry, Amazon


A Leap of Faith

LeHatRecently, I completed my work placement as a marketing intern at Penguin Group of the Pearson plc. banner. As I would rightly say so, it was a childhood dream come true. I was engaged with Penguin Press – one of the sub divisions that handled imprints like Allen Lane, Penguin Classics & Penguin Modern Classics, Particular Books, and Reference. Needless to say, the journey was a learning experience and a great
eye-opener. But, as I jot down these words, I’m led to marvel at how deeply the influence of Penguin and Pearson has run in my life.

Although I have a hazy recollection of the memory, the first book that I read was Where’s Spot, by Eric Hill and published in 1980. I went on to read the iconic Ladybird series, slowly graduating from the red, blue, green to purple levels. The series also introduced me to some of the most well loved tales around the world, from The Sly Fox and the Little Red Hen to The Enormous Turnip. Such exposure to the enchanting stories was undoubtedly instrumental in stoking my lifelong love for reading and writing.

As I entered my pre-teens, I became acquainted with Roald Dahl and his books, illustrated by Quentin Blake and the Classics published by Puffin. I remember being fascinated by the bright colours and the quirky illustrations on the book cover and within. During this time, the DK encyclopaedias caught my eye and led me on a curiosity search about the world. ‘Why?’ had been my favourite question since childhood and finally there was a vessel to quench my thirst and much relief for the grown-ups.

The Classics are an enduring mural in my life. Through them, I met the Bastables, ran with Axel and Edward Malone and jousted with the noble knights of King Arthur’s Court, amongst many others. The grizzly Allan Quatermain took me as a companion around Africa – just one of the many travels I undertook around the world and far beyond, all within the confines of my room or car. Much laughter, fear, mystery, and surprise was shared as my fingers incessantly flipped pages.

Yet the authoritative, still charming voice of the Penguin Classics eluded me. The lucky and first ever Penguin Classics’ book that I got my hands on was The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens – and it was nothing like today’s sleek and distinguished black titles of Penguin Classics’. During my college years, there was an overdose of Penguin Classics’. With their insightful introductions and forewords, my grades were doubtless boosted and I understood the inner psyche of the authors, whilst they penned down their lines. Little did I know it at the time that studying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein would become an area of interest and later the subject of a publishing project. Moreover, one had never imagined receiving a personally signed copy from Charles Moore, the author of the bestselling book, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography.

Pearson plc. is a company whose motto is ‘Always Learning’. Over the times, the aura of Penguin has evolved and taken on different forms and meanings. During the placement, I observed how a team of people contribute to the brand. They are a balanced folk of ideas, charismatic team players, and have a commercial head. What is interesting is how Penguin is effortlessly able to balance the romance of publishing with the business arm. I was able to experience the culture and values postulated by Penguin first-hand. But what also struck me was the cutting edge attitude, the passion to innovate, and reach out to new avenues and explore new ways of connecting with the consumers. As an upcoming young publisher, I wonder whether it was books or Penguin, which made me to take the leap of faith to becoming a publisher.

Image credits to: Penguin Books (UK)