The Society of Young Publishers Scotland were thrilled to be able to launch our inaugural conference with a keynote from Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Having been a publisher at Blueprint and editor at The List on his journey to the festival, his view of all sides of the industry was the perfect introduction to 2020: A Publishing Odyssey.
“We publish books because we want to change the world.”
Publishing, Nick begins, is a legalised gambling. In publishing a book, you raise the stakes on your own bet. So why go into publishing? “Not for the money, that’s for sure.”
JK Rowling, the world’s most famous author, reportedly earned £10 million last year. David Beckham earned £50 million. “How long since he kicked a ball?”
Even at its highest ranks, the book industry is not a money driver like other outlets. From the outside, it may have seemed Penguin’s profits came from Zadie Smith’s debut in one particular year, they were in fact down to Jamie Oliver. This, he notes, is the kind of gambling he’s talking about.
“We publish books because we want to change the world,” says Nick. Books are the source of mass dissemination of information. Here in Edinburgh in particular, it’s a city of enlightenment and conviction. “The best publishers are very vanquished by their beliefs.” Believe in what you’re doing and everything else should follow.
“Keep the faith.”
He takes us through many projects he has been involved in, from getting HG Wells’ The Rights of Man republished with Ali Smith as an introduction (“this book was a leap of faith”), to a Cedric Price book that came with a best before date, as he felt books cemented ideas, and opinions change in 20 years. On those who change the game in publishing, he points to Michal Shavit of Jonathan Cape, who has the confidence to publish what others wouldn’t dare. Even in Scotland, there are those people and companies that change the game: Jamie Byng of Canongate, Hugh Andrew of Birlinn.
There are many projects, and many who have spoken over the years at the book festival, that simply have to be in print. They are important. They need to be heard. The book festival has done many things to bring stories to new audiences, including exchanges where many not published in English will attend the festival and tell theirs. He tries to fuse important topics and conversations into the festival, he wants the alternatives to become the norm; he wants diversity, whether it be topic, person or format, represented without needing a separate strand. That’s his hope for the way forward.
On what those in attendance at our conference can do, he notes, “My plea to you as young publishers is to keep the faith.”
Nick’s keynote speech is informative and inspiring, showing the impact that books can have to people around the world, and how he’s been lucky enough to, through his work, have some great impact through print and events hosted in Charlotte Square. Words fail to do justice to the energy in the room, but as we have a recording that will be coming at a later date, we’ll leave you with this on the importance of publishing:
“Stories and books are a key piece to understanding what’s going on in the world.”
For all updates and recaps from #SYP2020, click here.