The 2015 London Book Fair is underway and there are a number of events on recruitment. With the digital revolution opening up new areas of media for publishers to explore, MA Publishing student Joe Sedgwick asks if they should be hiring employees with a wider range of skills from less traditional backgrounds.
Armed with an English degree, I wanted a year in work and failing to get my dream job working for a publisher, I took the next logical step – working for a retirement house builder. Okay so I was in the marketing department and they were quite technologically savvy, but surely I was wasting my time? I wasn’t working with books, I was updating websites using a CMS, and assisting the social media manager with blogs that got 5 views. I wasted my spare time on Reddit, watching YouTube videos or playing ‘Angry Birds’, when I could have been doing something more productive. I decided to leave the job and undertake a Publishing Masters – that would give me the ‘right’ skills. What I had learned at the house builder might even come in handy. Imagine my delight when I learned that my skills – which may be considered non-traditional publishing skills by some – are increasingly being utilised by publishers to curate content.
With changes in content production, and what Lorraine Shanley has called ‘cross-pollination’ of media, publishers are moving in circles that stretch much wider than the book. Recruiters are increasingly looking for employees that are not only capable of producing books, but also developing and uploading blogs, writing code, producing video content and updating social media. Increasingly, large publishers are more actively going into areas where young fan-bases are, and encouraging them to produce content that crosses multiple platforms. Last year’s ‘Zoella’ boom is an excellent example of where a publisher has capitalised on this ‘cross-pollination’ of media by integrating itself into a digital community.
The digital revolution has not only created new roles for people previously interested in the industry, but also opened the door for those who may have a skill set not traditionally catered for in publishing. For some time now, publishers have been recruiting engineers and computer scientists from other areas of media for jobs at traditional houses. A quick look at Penguin’s careers web page lists the more the ‘traditional’ publishing roles of ‘Managing Editor’ and ‘Font Assistant’ alongside ‘Insight Analyst’ and ‘Freelance Digital Copywriter’. This suggests that jobs have been specifically created to provide analytical insight; such is the importance to remain on the pulse of the constantly fluid industry the digital world has created. Large publishers are also hiring individuals to produce content solely for online platforms.
Why train people already working in the industry how to produce slick video content and analyse thousands of pages of data when someone who’s been working for, say, a supermarket or car manufacturer has been analysing consumer data for years and is already qualified to do the job? Many of these skills are transferable, so long as the individual with those skills is able to integrate themselves into the industry. Entrepreneur and publisher Tom Chalmers argues that today’s businesses should be excited to find people who might have an interest in the industry, but who also have a different set of skills: ‘one of the next key steps is to accept ‘outsiders’, to embrace new skills, vital to quickly evolving our businesses.’ Publishers therefore recognise that to stop moving forward is to die, even if that means widening their recruitment net into all areas of business. The skill set, rather than the literature degree, is now king.
Can we conclude from this that the way forward for publishing houses is not to hire ‘publishers’, but people from outside the industry with more technical and analytical skills?. Emma Barnes suggests that publishers currently working in the industry need to update their skill set in order to keep up with the digital revolution, specifically by learning how to code. Whilst the love of ‘the book’ still has currency it would seem that recruiters are moving towards individuals who can bring in experience and skills from various walks of life.
Suddenly the hundreds of hours I’ve spent on twitter, using a CMS and playing ‘Angry Birds’ don’t seem like such a waste of time. They simply highlight my grasp of social media, content management systems and problem solving. And to quote Dean Johnson of Brandwidth “A publisher is just as likely to produce the next Angry Birds as a one person band is capable of creating the next interactive War & Peace”.