NWF: The Future of Publishing: Scott Pack with Dominic Hoey

Scott Pack’s been around the UK publishing block. He was the head of buying for book retail giant Waterstones for six years, before venturing into publishing via indie publisher The Friday Project and HarperCollins. In Scott’s session, he talked candidly with Dominic Hoey about the ‘doom and gloom’ of the publishing industry, and some of his latest ground-breaking publishing endeavours: crowd-funding publisher Unbound, and the champion of out-of-print books, Abandoned Bookshop.

“There is a perception that the publishing industry is fucked…” started Pack, when asked about the current state of publishing. But this attitude comes from publishing’s reliance on an antiquated business model. Essentially, publishers pay authors an advance based on guessing how many books they’ll sell – and this advance is signed for six, twelve, or even eighteen months out from that book appearing in bookstores. Now advances against royalties are dropping, but Scott reckons the publishing industry will keep on ticking – if only because it’s too big to completely die.

A slightly morbid sentiment to start on, perhaps, especially considering the outstanding innovation of Unbound – think Kickstarter, but for a select number of passionately championed books – which in itself has the potential to shake-up the old publishing model and the way books are bought, made, and distributed.

But crowdfunding changes not only the book-making processes, but also how people interact with books. Crowdfunding publishing, Pack says, brings the reader and author closer together – and sometimes more literally than you might think. Somewhat like Kickstarter, Unbound consults with authors to offer a range of ‘perks’ for pledges. These can range from digital copies of the book to exclusive events, signed copies – and in the case of Mr Bingo – an insulting Christmas Day phone call. Essentially, your readers are also funding your promotion, and while the average book on Unbound sells for £20-25, their average pledge is £40. For authors with an existing platform, engaging with the market in this way can be quite lucrative – unlike a traditional publisher, Unbound split profits with authors 50/50.

Pack’s newest brainchild is Abandoned Bookshop, which he co-founded in 2016. Abandoned Bookshop takes forgotten out-of-print books and gives them a second life in the ebook market. Pack circumvents the usual bookish media channels, that often do not publish reviews of ebooks anyway, by wrapping his titles in a larger story. ‘Publisher hunts for forgotten detective novelist Clifton Robbins’ reads the title of this Guardian article, in which Abandoned Bookshop are seeking relatives of Robbins in order to pay out royalties. There’s no doubt that wrapping a story around a book like this works well on digital media, and “it’s not rocket science to take out-of-print books and make them available again,” but it does have the potential to inundate a small publisher with amateur genealogists.

And what of the New Zealand publishing scene? Pack started out his time in New Zealand at Christchurch’s WORD festival a month ago. Since then he’s seen a fair number of our bookshops. “Books here are bloody expensive” states Pack, but it’s clear that those working in publishing are passionate. There’s innovation going on here, too, with new ventures like arts crowdfunding platform Boosted which just supported Hinemoana Baker to the tune of 17K, but it’s still hard for New Zealand books to break into the US and UK markets. This is something Pack hopes to change when he returns to the UK – hinting at some possible Abandoned Bookshop New Zealand releases.

Yes, perhaps that old, rusting publishing model needs a bit of a makeover – but with enthusiastic arts champions like Pack and Hoey, I don’t doubt that publishing will continue to thrive.

Event attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

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