Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the Society of Young Publishers Conference at Oxford Brookes University. It was my first publishing conference and I was eager to learn more about the industry and where it was heading. From an emc design perspective, we were also keen to discover the future trends of publishing and how this may impact design.

A range of industry experts and speakers attended the event and seminar topics focused on Starting Out in Publishing, Working in Publishing, Changes in the Industry, Different Careers and Digital. Many young professionals and students attended the event and like myself, hoped to gain a broader insight into the industry.

The day was organised by the SYP Oxford Committee, led by Jonathan Davis. The following round up has been summarised from our notes as well as from the live blog updates on the SYP website from guest blogger Nicola Osborne from EDINA. Pictures courtesy of SYP.

Keynote Address – Youngsuk (Y.S.) Chi (Director of Corporate Affairs for Reed Elsevier and President of the International Publishers Association)

The conference began with the keynote speech from Youngsuk (Y.S.) Chi who spoke about the future of books and humbly answered questions about his career. He talked extensively regarding the publishing landscape and what we as young professionals should be thinking about. The talk was very inspiring as he has an interesting career background, having worked with many different people within differing sectors. Three key points (focused on the letter ‘e’) raised during the first part of his speech were Excessive, Enigmatic and Evolution:

Y.S. Chi during his Opening Keynote. (courtesey of SYP)

Y.S. Chi during his Opening Keynote. (courtesy of SYP)


  • “In 2001 approximately 10k new titles were published in the UK. By 2012 there were over 100k new titles.
  • “In 2011 more than 235k self-published books were published in the US, more than half as e-books.”


  • The Internet has destroyed the traditional publishing model.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. At Elsevier our motto is “fail often, but fail early” because early failures are not that expensive.


  • “The Internet and the digital economy are not threats but opportunities. Publishing now includes a whole new range of career paths – engineers, web designers, social media gurus…
  • “We see new devices, reading on phones and tablets; should you worry about Amazon? Well once AOL had a similar dominance on the Internet.”
  • “The landscape favours openness and increasingly books have to compete with rich media. E-books can be ever changing.” 

In the second part of the keynote address Chi answered questions from the audience.

  • Be passionate about what you do – “If you were starting out, interested in publishing as a career, I would say you need some very specific skills around the function of publishing, offset with some aspects of character that you need. It’s hard to be good at something if you are not passionate.”
  • Never say no to an opportunity just because it is hard – “I was prepared to do well… and I stuck with the people I wanted to work with. I never chose company, job title, location, or pay.”
  • Great opportunities come at extraordinarily inconvenient times – “Let things happen to you and have the confidence to make the decision at that moment. Yes, have aspirations but don’t let them be defined so narrowly that you will say no to opportunities that don’t look great at this moment.”

The address ended in applause for Mr Chi, summed up in this tweet from Laura Austin:

What a super inspiring Saturday morning. Biggest lesson – always work with people you trust and like. Nothing else matters.

Getting into Publishing – Clare Louise Kemp & Kellie Miller (Atwood Tate)

One stand out point of the seminar was that Publishing is a very engaging and resourceful sector, where networking is seen to help each other and partner with others.

  • A useful tip for interviews for answering questions about strengths and weaknesses is to explain how they are managed now and improved from previous errors.
  • Advice on CVs – grab attention, try to keep to two pages & bullet point achievements
  • Advice on Cover Letters – be more in depth for key skills, focus on three things from the job description and talk about the company and why you have chosen them

Making Good Stuff: Commissioning Digital Content – Nick Coveney (Hodder Children’s Books) and Eoin Noble (Faber & Faber)

  • “It’s not about the content but the way the technology interacts with the content.” He spoke of the intricacies of turning traditional illustrated books into e-book formats, using the ‘How to Train Your Dragon Series‘ as an example. Taking the key print components (text, layout and illustrations) he explained how you can take these out of a print environment, control certain elements and turn them into a more interactive and engaging story. This can then give the reader an alternative view point and a different experience to the print version

“Once you know exactly what the big issue(s) affecting the digitisation of your title you can look at the options you can adopt to get most control over the presentation.”

Nick Coveney during the Make Good Stuff session. (SYP)

Nick Coveney during the Make Good Stuff session. (SYP)

Nick also spoke about apps and how they function. He ended his talk on key points to think about when creating an app; how different departments (editorial, design, conversion houses etc.) interact with each other:

  1. Find the right partners
  2. Push the boundaries and make sure it’s GOOD
  3. Put the FUN back into Functionality
  4. Make sure that you have all of your PR Materials ready
  5. Speak to online communities that are your target market to engage with the app.
  6. Get as much coverage as possible in a short space of time

In the second half of the seminar Eoin spoke more about the technical aspect of creating digital content.

Having a well designed but more importantly technically sound app enables the user to:

  • perform complex search functions
  • more easily navigate through the content
  • segregate content and choose their own view/path

Key points for creating a good app:

  • clear data structure and architecture
  • concise instructions and brief for conversion house
  • work with people who know what they are doing and are interested in the same content, who are willing to try new and different methods

Eoin told us that novelist Ian Pairs came to Faber & Faber with a digital writing environment, a node structure for his chapters that linked them all together. This could, if successful, really change the way in which people read, write and create content.

Both Nick and Eoin gave insightful and engaging talks in their own respective ways which really opened up the possibilities of digital content as well as the complicated processes undertaken to create interactive materials.

Pathways Through Publishing – Lisa Edwards (Carlton Publishing Group) and Chris McVeigh (FourFiftyOne)

Lisa and Chris both have had wide ranging careers in different sectors, which harkened back to the keynote address about taking any and all opportunities. Attendees were reassured that though the industry is difficult to get a foothold in, other experiences are useful in future publishing careers.

Closing Panel

The day closed with a discussion panel regarding the future of book selling, with Matthew Cashmore, Digital Director at Blackwell’s, Alex Ingram, blogger at Pages & Screens and Lindsey Mooney, UK Vendor Manager at Kobo.

  • Matthew – “Imagine a picture of huskies, representing technology…if you have the right ones, in the right set up, they will drive your business. If they do the wrong thing they will turn your business over…technology amplifies what you are great at.”
  • Matthew – “If we behave like victims we will be treated this way. The only new thing right now is that technology is driving the speed…we can get on board or we can do this haphazardly. We have to be the architects of our own change.”
  •  Alex – “What worries me is how few people are employed in book shops. Shops used to employ 10s or 100s, now it’s one per floor. We have seen people running sections across multiple stores, not understanding one shop well…it’s an opportunity for consistency here.”
  • Lindsey – (On any weak points in Amazon’s strategy) “We do one thing well…we work with publishers. We are friendly. We do things differently. The UK is going the same way as the US, their market share is getting smaller.”
Matthew Cashmore, panel chair Samantha Missingham, Alex Ingram and Lindsey Mooney on the closing panel (SYP)

Matthew Cashmore, panel chair Samantha Missingham, Alex Ingram and Lindsey Mooney on the closing panel (SYP)

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the SYP conference, meeting new people in the industry and learning first hand the evolving aspects of publishing. Looking back now, it is interesting to see how, from my experience, that the seminars, lectures and discussions were all interlinked and connected to one another. The day also reassured me the industry is engaging and forward-thinking and gave myself and others confidence that it was a path worth being passionate about and pursuing. The conference was well organised and I will certainly be looking out for events in the future.