Continuing our regular feature focussing on some of the most popular small businesses, we take a closer look at publishers
What do publishers do?
Publishers produce everything from text books, fiction, magazines and – more and more so – online publications. They can cover a whole range of topics from murder mysteries to highly specialised industry publications.
While some take submissions from authors, others might commission an author or company to produce a work. The latter approach is especially common in business publications. Once the manuscript has been completed, a publisher can help edit it before getting to the business of publishing it.
This involves typesetting, designing covers and other aspects and the production process. A team of in-house or freelance editors, proof-readers, designers and printers are often used.
Once completed, publishers will organise ways to distribute the final product. This could be online through various websites, distributed to educational or industry bodies, or through shops.
It will also include organising any overseas sales (which might involve getting works translated), the levels of royalties for the author, and marketing plans for the publication.
To get started you really need a degree in a related subject. If it’s general publishing you’re going into, English is a good start. If you’re going into a specific sector – such as historical, medical, or finance publishing – you will need a qualification or experience in these fields.
Once you’re in the industry, you’ll need a few years’ experience before you can think of setting up your own company.
In this time you need to learn about the skills needed in publishing and how the industry works, build up a good selection of contacts, learn how to spot talent, and try to find a spot in the market for your new company.
When you decide to go it alone, pick a market and develop a business plan for it. Then you’ll need some offices with a few staff or a handful of freelancers that you know and trust from proof-readers to designers.
Joining a body like The Publishers Association is also a good idea as they can provide you with credibility and support.
The publishing industry – more than most – has been affected by the move to digital. And while there have been positive signs that print-based materials are still showing strong sales figures, it means there has been a level of uncertainty in the industry.
In recent years, many companies have had to adjust their business model to reflect these changes, while those who have been in publishing for years have had to retrain.
Self-publishing on sites like Amazon has become a lot simpler in recent years – and a viable route for people to make money. This has taken some business away from publishing houses, while also devaluing their services. People assume that just because they can do it themselves, they can do just as good a job as a professional publisher. Publishers now have to explicitly state what value they offer authors.
Sites like Amazon or Ebay have also had another big impact on publishers – they have created a large market for second-hand books, reducing potential sales of publishers’ back catalogues.
As mentioned above, being in publishing is a competitive industry. Not only that, it’s a highly desirable one, with many people wanting to become the next publishing sensation.
This means there is high demand for publishing roles with an ever decreasing need for them as digital techniques make the whole process less reliant on large numbers of staff.
Other challenges include managing expectations of authors in a changing market. Many wonder why they’re paying to have their work published when they could do it themselves.
And it can mean long hours reading through manuscripts and trying to find the right one for publication.
• Publishing accounts for around 193,000 jobs in the UK – almost 10% of UK creative industries employment, according to The Creative Industries.
• There were 2,160 publishers registered in the UK for 2013.
• 2016 was a record breaking year with sales of books and journals reaching £4.8bn, their highest ever level, according to the Publishing Association.
• Digital sales were up 6% to £1.7bn.
• Physical sales were up by 8% to £3bn on last year
• Europe remains the largest export market accounting for 35% of exports.
Case study: A full house at Igloo has been the route to success
After working in publishing sales for 10 years, John Styring decided he wanted to go on his own. Along with his wife, he set up IglooBooks.
Starting as a clearance house for other publishers, he decided he should be creating his own books. And he did just that – a lot. His business model is based on volume, producing 500 new titles a year, mainly aimed at children.
And he’s managed to keep his head above water in this digital age by creating interactive books that don’t translate to digital formats.
Since then they’ve gone from having 5 partners and office in Northampton to annual sales of £30m and prizes such as Export Champion in the European Business Awards, a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, and The Bookseller Independent Publisher of the Year.
And it doesn’t end there – he sold the rights to one of his most popular books, How to Train Your Dragon. It’s now a hit animation for Dreamworks, winning a Golden Globe.
His combination of providing audiences with what they want, predicting changes in the market and have a unique business model prove that you can make a difference in the publishing world it you’re willing to put the work in.