‘Are publishers born or made?’ is just the beginning…

Measuring the impact of events is always tricky. What can seem like a tremendous buzz on the day can quickly evaporate, and while PowerPoint presentations often impress when delivered, sometimes the one thing that really stays with you is a comment made during a coffee break – which promotes a sudden quantum leap – and an ongoing bond with the person who shared the moment (whether or not they were aware of it).

Business conferences are particularly unpredictable; the specific chemistry of those who turn up can completely make (or mar) the forum.  All present bring their experience and involvement in the outside world, but this may be as influenced by their mood on waking, and subsequent travel frustrations, as the prevailing industrial economy. Given that it is so hard to predict, let alone replicate, the atmosphere for such events, it can be equally difficult to generalise about what worked and why. It is in this quizzical state of mind that I look back on the symposium Are publishers born or made? that I organised at Kingston University two weeks ago.

Two highly effective descriptions of the day have already been published, by Suzanne Collier and Anna Faherty, sharing what each observer took away with them – which only serves to emphasise that people attend as individuals and so what they remember will be heavily dependent on their particular interests and motivations. But read both and you gain a clear impression of what went on. I will therefore confine myself to commenting on the organisation of the day.

As hosts, and working with the Association for Publishing Education and Publishers Association, we had deliberately tried to involve a wide spread of participants, and to encourage broad involvement from institutions and organisations throughout the UK (with others following us as it was live-tweeted under the hashtag #kpub12). This was achieved, and the discipline of Publishing as a whole was promoted. We were encouraged by the broadly representative nature of those present, from universities, publishing houses, representative bodies and service organisations involved within publishing. The presence and contribution of Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, was particularly gratifying as was his thoughtful content, outlining the specific responsibilities of the industry to Publishing Education – the chief one being to survive in order to recruit and employ in future. It’s vital not to forget that.

And there are things we can improve on. Trying to touch all bases we delivered a thought-provoking slide show, but perhaps fewer sessions with longer allowed for questions would enable debate as the issues arose, not after lunch (which, by the way, was excellent – very imaginative wraps and dips). Others have suggested areas that were barely explored – an issue larger conferences get around by having shared plenaries, followed by different content streams. It would be good to record/Skype the event to provide wider access, and to offer this within the international academic and industrial markets, not just the UK.

Whatever amendments we make for next time, the important thing is that we have now begun. ‘Born or made?’ felt like an event that had taken place before, with an internal logic and significant momentum – and is definitely part of a debate that should be continued. Given the number of emails received since then, suggesting it should become an annual event, we can now plan for it to become just that.

To get a deeper idea of what happened on the day, view the raw Twitter stream for #kpub12.


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