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Equality in Publishing launch event

The launch event for Equality in Publishing (Equip) took place at City University on Wednesday 19th September. Equip is a new organisation, carrying on the work of Dipnet, the Diversity in Publishing Network. Bobby Nayyar, who is at the helm at Equip, has explained the difference between the two organisations:

“Equality in Publishing (Equip) continues the project work previously managed by Dipnet. The change in name reflects our broader remit to promote equality across UK publishing, bookselling and agenting, and our key project: the Publishing Equalities Charter, which covers the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010. Dipnet had ethnic diversity as its primary focus, our aim is to continue in this vein but also explore other areas such as gender and age.”

The programme for Equip’s launch event reflected this broader remit, with speeches from Andre Breedt at Nielsen Bookscan and Alexander Ross from media lawyers Wiggin.

First up on to the podium was Andre Breedt who is Head of Publisher Account Management at Nielsen BookScan. Breedt has worked on a huge range of projects, from setting up BookScan panels in international territories (Denmark, Italy, India, New Zealand), to LibScan, Nielsen’s fledgling library-borrowings business.  He’s also been chief analyst for numerous media clients. As Bobby Nayyar pointed out, if you’ve seen a sales trend story or a sales statistic quoted in a newspaper or mentioned on television over the past six years, it has probably originated from Breedt.

He gave a short presentation of current sales trends using the full extent of BookScan data. His was a difficult task in many ways – to talk engagingly about a resource that many people in the industry take for granted. Breedt started off by describing Nielsen as ‘the invisible structure that lies behind publishing’. Several publishing professionals groaned as he explained how crucial correct bibliographic data is for the sales of a title.

Nielsen also records every single sale of a book so that individual transactions can be traced from the raw data, although this information is not made public to publishers. Ebooks are not covered by Nielsen. After being pressed on this point by Jon Slack, of the South Asian Literature Festival, Breedt said, “If I may be diplomatic, companies join Nielsen to check out the competition. If Amazon have eighty per cent of the ebook market why would they bother joining Nielsen? It’s a different story in the US, though, and I believe it will change in the UK as well.”

He talked about the surprisingly thorny issue of categorisation – something that the audience felt strongly about and there was much geeky debate about where true crime should be shelved in a bookshop. In common with all publishing events this summer there was also the obligatory jokes about Fifty Shades of Grey which is, improbably, still categorised as romance.

He showed us the figures for book sales for major publishers this year and explained that aside from Scholastic, which published the massively successful Hunger Games series, book sales across the industry are down, year on year.

Looking more closely at the children’s market, Breedt argued that sales of children’s books are outstripping the birth rate and this is because children’s books are seen as something aspirational. There is also a backlash against children learning solely from electronics. Breedt convincingly suggested that parents may be more willing to let babies and toddlers play with books which cost around £4.99 than allow them to play with an iPhone.

At the end of Breedt’s presentation, there was a lot of discussion about how Nielsen’s data could be used to analyse diversity. Breedt said that Dr James Procter of Newcastle University had undertaken a study into the relationship between reading, location, and migration. Part of this study looked at how well Zadie Smith’s White Teeth had sold in different areas.

There was quite a lot of surprise registered by the audience that the publishing industry is not more interested in researching diversity, not least for pragmatic reasons of reaching more consumers. Mary Ann Kernan (Director of Publishing Studies MA at City University) laid down the gauntlet, suggesting this would be a worthwhile research project for someone to undertake.

Next up was Alexander Ross from the specialist media lawyers Wiggin, where he is a partner and head of the Commercial Music and Digital Publishing groups. Ross specialises in music, publishing and digital media. He advises both copyright owners and licensees in the creation, licensing and distribution of copyright works in the online and mobile environment.

He gave a short presentation based upon Wiggin’s Digital Entertainment Survey, an in-depth review of consumer trends. Wiggin undertook a study of 2500 online consumers.  The sample had been weighted to reflect the national demographics of 95 % of the population of the UK.

The survey showed that ebooks are the most rapidly increasingly media channel used: whilst 40% currently read ebooks (if only rarely) 14% plan to start reading ebooks in the next six months. In contrast, 85% read paper books (if only rarely) and only 3% plan to start reading these in the next six months. Ross also said:

“With the introduction of Kindle Fire, we’ll see the death of the Kindle, I believe unless the Kindle is reduced to £20 in the next 9 months, which I think it will be.  It will make it almost disposable.”

Other than amongst teenagers, the Kindle is consistently popular across age groups.

Intriguingly, the survey showed that reading a blurb on the back of a book is still the most popular way to decide whether to buy a book or not. There was a lot of discussion over the fact that discussing a book with friends on social network is still relatively ineffective in persuading someone to buy a book. Only 6% in this survey used social networks for this purpose. This was regarded by many in the audience as a missed opportunity and something for publishers to consider.

The most controversial moment of the evening came when Ross suggested that publishers originate their own projects and then commission writers to fulfill them so that publishers, not writers can retain copyright. Although there was evidence that this practice was already being carried out, particularly in academic publishing, one writer in the audience was outraged by the idea of a writer capitulating their copyright. She argued, “I always hold onto my copyright as I won’t have a pension. My copyright is my pension.”

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