Here’s how we’ve been putting together the program for Digital Book World.
First, I dreamed up a list of panel “topics” that I thought touched the key issues and concerns facing general trade publishers today as a result of digital change. Then we ran that list past our illustrious and helpful Board of Advisors, who pointed out some places where consolidation would be appropriate and dismissed a couple of ideas as klunkers.
That left us with a list of topics longer than we can use: we have between 18 and 24 panel slots and well over 40 ideas in hand. We figured that some would be harder to fill than others and things would sort themselves out as we recruited panelists.
In the process of discussing things with our Advisors, new ideas also surfaced. One of them is now looking prescient.
At a meeting at Macmillan with Advisory Board member Ami Greko and a couple of her colleagues, an interesting topic arose. What happens when the entry level employee knows more than the manager about how to use digital tools or play in a digital space?
After all, the top marketers in trade publishing houses honed their skills in a different era. They don’t necessarily know how to use Twitter or Facebook or Ning. But the people they’re hiring to fill entry level jobs have been on Facebook for years and they have probably already used it to organize something. Who would tell whom what to do here? Who would be in charge? And how do we apply the content-and-market knowledge that is developed through years of book experience to promotional venues that are best managed by green marketers (and we don’t mean “green” in the environmental sense!)
Although that panel figured to go on the list of those likely to be “harder to fill”, it seemed to us like an important topic.
And we got evidence this weekend that we’re not the only ones with that thought in mind, although perhaps publishers are seeing it a bit differently. The Bookseller reports that a survey by an organization called “Skillset” has revealed knowledge gaps in UK publishing houses.
Suzanne Ashley, Skillset publishing sector manager, said the report had revealed specific problem areas within training and recruitment.
She said: “There are those who know the business really well—often those who are more experienced, middle-management types—who are very uncomfortable with the wholly changing digital landscape.”
The question not being answered is whether those who “know the business really well” might actually be uncomfortable with the young people new to their team who live in, and are quite comfortable with, the changing digital landscape. That’s the question I hope we’ll explore constructively at Digital Book World. If any managers or recent recruits have thoughts to offer on this question, we want to hear from you.