Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A University Press

The publishing house seemed to go from strength to strength. We even began to branch out and start publishing a journal about cinema and books about animation. This was due to the fact that one of each had been rejected by BFI Publishing (where I was then working full-time having become merely an advisor to the Publisher) and I offered them to the Publisher who, by this time, was keenly interested in investing financially in the area.

However by 1995 he had decided to emigrate to Australia and wanted to sell the media list (the medical operation could easily be sold to his French partner in Paris). He approached all the appropriate publishers part of whose list included media books and none were interested. It was at this point I offered to sell the list for him via a different route (I had left the BFI in 1993 to return to the university sector part-time and was back working, also part-time, for him).

It occurred to me that some of the new universities (all of whom had media departments) might be interested in creating their own university press. They add prestige to the university and also increase the possibility of publishing success for their academic staff. I approached the university with the then best Media departments - and one of the largest - in the country and sure enough they were fascinated by the idea. To cut a long story short a successful deal was struck and I maintained continuity by becoming the Editorial Director of the new Press (and, quite independently, the first Professor in the Department).

In my view a mono-subject university press is a very good idea. Apart from the very largest university presses such as the Oxford University Press (OUP) most university presses suffer from the breadth of their publishing profile. It is all very well publishing books from nuclear physics, through ancient civilizations to contemporary poetry but a catalogue of such a list makes no marketing sense whatsoever. This makes it impossible to draw up marketing lists and makes it a nightmare list for sales representatives to take round bookshops. On the other hand a single, albeit broad, subject list offers serious marketing possibilities.

As a result of this move the press was, for the first time, significantly supported financially and, again for the first time, employed dedicated support staff in the areas of production and marketing (albeit only one person in each area). The Press grew and attended all the major national and international conferences such that by 2002 it had published over 300 books plus ran three journals. However this was the point at which the University decided to downsize its most successful department – in both Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) terms and Research Assessment (RAE) terms – and to simultaneously close down the Press. It was this point I decided to take voluntary redundancy and, as I thought at the time, take leave of my publishing experiences for the last time. Little was I to know at the time that Intellect lay ahead.

Working as a Publisher - 1988

I joined the company on one day a week in January 1988 but after one month that became two days a week! There were other small deals I did such as publishing the annual proceedings of the Annual University of Manchester Broadcasting Symposium and books for the Institute of Local Television but it was really to Europe and beyond that I was looking both for books and marketing lists. At the same I was investigating a third strand of our publishing activity – conference attendance.

Surprisingly finding European institutions interested in publishing with us was easier than might be imagined. It was doubly interesting given that these organisations additionally had to pay all translation costs as a small publishing house such as ours was in no position to pay for such expensive activities. Not wishing to bore the reader with the details of the negotiations or the very large range of books published, these organisations included the following:

Reporters Sans Fonti̬res РAnnual Report (France)
The Institute of Media Economics (Italy)
The Council of Europe
International Institute of Communications (UK)
The International Directory of Electronic Arts (France)
The International Olympic Committee (Switzerland)
Voice of the Listener and Viewer (UK)
The Catalan Government (Spain)
West Deutscher Rundfunk (Germany)
European Commission/Eureka Audiovisuel
Article XIX (UK)
The European TV Fiction Observatory (Italy)
The Media Business School (Spain)

As a result of all this European activity the Publisher also agreed to inaugurate a second series of research monographs, commissioned by me and financed by him, called the European Media Research Monographs.

The publishing house also moved into the area of journals and began publishing three – one French and two British. One of the British ones is worth commenting on because it was a prestigious journal about journalism which was financially supported by a number of British media organisations. Fine as it (still) is it suffers from the problem of all such publications – journalists expect to receive all their publications for nothing as part of their occupation!

Constructing international mailing lists and conference attendance was a closely related experience. I drew up a list of the major international media conference organisations and discovered that some of them provided complete membership lists absolutely free of charge. These too were then entered onto the company’s databases.

The Publisher also agreed to experimenting with either one or both of us attending conferences and mounting book stands. There are a number of good reasons for attending conferences.
• Selling books – obviously!
• Publicising the list and the company.
• Meeting new potential collaborating organisations.
• Finding new authors.
• Meeting with, and representing, current authors.
• Hosting the occasional reception.

And more. However, on top of this the main intention is not to make money but hopefully to at least cover costs of transportation, residence and attendance. This doesn’t always happen but I can think of more than one occasion where what I can only describe as panic buying occurred and within two hours all the books were sold! On one of these occasions the conference was being held in a beautiful hotel on the Brazilian coast and there wasn’t anything to do after two hours but to enjoy oneself!

Of course there were also conferences where sales were dismal which can always be a little dispiriting. In such situations the one thing we always did was not to ship the leftover books back home – expensive and potentially damaging to the books themselves. We always donated them to the local university and they were always mightily pleased!

How to find books and authors

Obviously the first question I addressed was how to find books and authors that were potentially available but weren’t being published because either the organisation didn’t possess the expertise or the know-how to find an appropriate publisher. Furthermore I suspected that some organisations would have tipped their toe in the water of self-publication (not so difficult) but come unstuck because they could not distribute or sell the volume (extremely difficult). I also surmised (correctly as it turned out) that some organisations don’t want to be seen to be publishing their own research.

It must also be said at the outset that it was also very important to me and the company that we only published the highest quality research work ie we were not going to publish any books simply because we were paid to do so.

I started with the British media organisations such as the research unit for which I had worked, the Independent Television Authority (the ITA, later the Independent Broadcasting Authority – the IBA), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Broadcasting Standards Council (BSC), the Arts Council. The British Film Institute (BFI), for whom I was soon to work as a Head of Department and was partly involved in their publishing activities, was not a possibility as they had their own Publications Department. I also approached the European Institute for the Media (EIM) which was then based in Manchester and who had their own backlist of publications they found it difficult to market. We therefore published their new books and marketed the backlist.

The BBC was interesting because they were precisely looking for a publisher so that their name and logo did not appear on the book. They wanted their research to look independent as they sometimes wanted a book published in large numbers very quickly in order to give every member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords a free copy in order to influence debates. For this service they paid very handsomely but it did mean that I was given some impossible deadlines eg to publish a book from manuscript to bound copies for a press launch within six days sometimes over a bank holiday! The printers always loved the overtime on such productions but I myself was not so keen! In fact we published books for three completely separate departments of the BBC over the years.

The Arts Council deal was completely the opposite. They were the one organisation that refused to give any money at all. However the publisher agreed to publish their books for the following reasons. It was a very prestigious organisation that constructed a great series of media books for which we were the official publisher. The books were highly and very expensively designed and the authors and editors were well paid. They paid for extremely lavish and high profile launch parties and their books also sold very well in a wide range of venues.

At the same time I began to draw up direct mail lists. Obviously, I asked all the organisations for whom we began to be the official publisher, for any lists they might have. I also obtained the lists that organisation like the BFI – and in particular their Education Department (the one I was about to head) might have. Thirdly I compiled a list of all the university departments and their related libraries which taught aspects of the mass media. These were collected and given to the staff who created and maintained the databases.

By 1992 the success of the books published (over 40 titles) and the marketing undertaken, the publisher agreed to the establishment of our own research monograph imprint which the company financed and which I entitled the ‘Acamedia Research Monograph Series’ (that is not a mis-print – I reversed the word Academia) and the tenth title of the series was published in September of that year.

Given that I had originally joined the company with an internationally supported volume I was also looking overseas for publishing deals.

Experiences of Publishing

My first statement ‘Early experiences of publishing’ was largely about print technology and the changes experienced in the industry ie production, when I first became involved in publishing. This piece will begin to address financing publications and distribution.

At the time I published the first book I co-authored (1978) I left the organisation for whom I edited the quarterly journal and I went into academia. Over the next ten years I published another four books of my own (incidentally I have never published any of my own work) and it was the fifth one that raised an interesting situation and one which saw me return to the world of publishing.

After leaving academia (temporarily as it turned out) at the end of 1983 I went to work for a research unit in central London. As a result of moving there I secured a contract with UNESCO in Paris to be the director of a global research project involving nearly 40 researchers in all continents of the world. The result was a book I edited and completed in 1987. However I was unhappy at the prospect of UNESCO publishing the final report as their distribution systems are so limited. Apart from appearing in the bookshops the UN possesses in each of its head offices, the book would only be available in this country from HMSO outlets and similar outlets in other parts of the world.

I therefore requested that UNESCO give the budget for publication to a commercial publisher who would take responsibility for printing and marketing the book. The UNESCO bosses agreed and it was then left to me to find the publisher. This was not straightforward but due to a fortunate set of circumstances I met a publisher of pharmaceutical books and journals – not an obvious match with someone who worked in the field of mass media! However we met, had lunch and he agreed to publish the book which carried a not inconsiderable level of financial support.

Half way through the lunch the publisher asked what was this field of ‘mass media’ and was there any future in it. My response was to say that it was a relatively new academic subject area but that the field was burgeoning. He then asked if I wanted to work for him on a part-time basis to build list of media books. As I was working freelance by this time I jumped at the opportunity and the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least, it is part of the history I am in the process of writing.

There were many new things I was going to learn as this was the first time I was working in the commercial sector as opposed to the state sponsored or supported sector. First of all this publisher worked in a highly focussed field and one where all books were sponsored (there is a very limited market for pharmaceutical books and they tend to be included in the cost of very expensive congress fees ie there is a limited amount of marketing you can do for them).

Secondly those titles that were marketed (and there was a full catalogue) were not marketed through bookshops involving reps etc but through ‘direct mail’ (sending out catalogues). The publisher was very insistent that this was not ‘mail order’ – a term he disliked for reasons of which I was not sure.

Thirdly this direct mail activity was a very low cost activity for this particular company because the publishing wing of it was part of a larger company he owned which constructed and maintained mailing lists for other companies ie our own mailing lists were constructed and maintained in down-time of the main operation of the company.

I was therefore immediately faced with three major tasks.

The first was to construct a list of books and authors which would be attractive to the readership of my specialist field but for which there would be no financial investment by the publisher.

The second was to construct – from scratch – a list of potential readers to be entered onto the company’s computers for which again there would be no financial investment ie it was not possible to buy pre-existing lists.

The third was to create a catalogue, for which there would be a small financial investment, which could be ‘direct mailed’ to the mailing list.

On a one day a week basis I took on the work with alacrity.

Early experiences of publishing

I will start by writing about the period 1964-1978. In 1964 I became co-editor of my school magazine and we published two issues a year. The publishing process was as follows.

As editor I both commissioned and received unsolicited articles, reports, poems, photographs and drawings. I edited the written material which then had to be re-typed double-spaced and proof-read. The number of words would be indicated and we would use special type rules to try and estimate how many column inches each item would occupy. Photographs and drawings had to be sized and scaled to fit the make-up sheet grids. This was then all sent to the local letterpress printer (who was also the printer of the local weekly newspaper).

Typesetting was done on linotype machines which was an expensive process (apprenticeships to be a linotype operator lasted for seven years and their skills were prodigious) but less expensive than monotype (where you could correct individual letters rather than having to re-set a whole line if there was a mistake in it). The printer would send the visual material to a specialist block-making company. These were very expensive and once made their size could not be changed.

We would then receive ‘galley proofs’ (long thin sheets of paper) which would be proof-read and pasted on to make-up sheets using COW gum. If the calculations had been made accurately everything would fit perfectly. Invariably some miscalculations would have crept in as well as some type-setting errors (although the skill of the setters would be such that these were far less common that one currently finds in typewritten or word-processed material) and corrections would accordingly be made.

These make-up sheets would be sent back to the printer who would then make up the blocks of type and photographic blocks etc into the page ‘beds’. Page proofs would be pulled and sent back to us for final proof-reading. Hopefully there would be few or even no mistakes still appearing by this stage and once approved the printer could make the final plates and set the printing presses running,. Finally all the printed pages would be collated, folded, bound, stitched, trimmed and packaged for despatch back to our school.

In 1967 I became editor of my university newspaper and the process was essentially the same. Obviously a newspaper looks very different to a magazine and there is a greater scope for the development of a more imaginative layout. This would include typographical complexity (eg the use of different fonts for headlines etc; the use of different types of paragraph structure eg indented, hanging, full-out, justified, unjustified etc) and layout complexity. Essentially though the processes were identical with only the deadlines being much tighter (the newspaper was published fortnightly). We often had to work well into the night to make the next edition.

However the printing world was in the processing of witnessing great changes long before the arrival of Rupert Murdoch in Fleet Street. In 1968 the university purchased IBM golf-ball typesetting equipment (they looked like golf-ball typewriters but produced professional looking font-styled type-setting and could automatically produce fully justified columns albeit achieved in a laborious and clumsy way) and a web off-set printing press. A secretary was employed to do the type-setting. The result was that the expensive and highly unionised local printers were no longer required and everything was done in-house thereby also allowing a tighter turn around time. Short run printing could be done using paper plates which were made in-house with only long-run and photographic pages having to be sent out for metal plate making.

The university made these changes because the Students’ Union was, forward looking, relatively wealthy and intriguingly not concerned about union solidarity! It could afford to make the capital and salary investment needed (which involved spending a great deal of money up-front) in order to achieve a more efficiently produced range of printed materials, including the newspaper.

Seven years later I was appointed to a job part of which was to produce a quarterly intellectual international journal. Here I found myself back where I started using traditional printers who operated Linotype (and Monotype) typesetting equipment and traditional German Heidelberg printing presses. This process continued to be used until the demise of the journal in 1981.

But in 1978 I co-wrote and published my first book and the typesetting was done on a new kind of (clumsy) photo-setting machine. Again this meant that that non-unionised un-trained typesetters could be employed. The reason they didn’t have to be trained was because, like the IBM machines referred to above, the keyboard had the letters set out like a typewriter utilising what is known as the QWERTY layout. Monotype and Linotype machines had very different and complex double keyboards (one being dedicated to italics alone).

The problem in the early days was, however, that the quality of both the typesetting and the printing of the new equipment was definitely inferior to the traditional methods. This is no longer the case although the finest books printed on the best parchment are still superior when produced using traditional equipment.