Digital publishing: how the publishing job spec is changing

Flicking through the recruitment pages of the Bookseller last week, I came across an advert that reminded me just how much things have changed in the publishing industry. “Are you a hands-on digital maverick and guru?”, it asked.

Until recently, this was not a question you would expect publishing companies to ask potential candidates. Most wanted their graduate recruits to have a love of books and an inkling of what goes into creating and selling them. They might even have expected familiarity with the book retail market and some knowledge of production processes. But fluency in all things digital was considered something that could be left to technology vendors and the wilder shores of marketing.

Today, though, this question is not an unreasonable one. The convergence of print and online, and the rise of the Kindle and other devices, has blurred the boundaries between traditional publishing and digital media.

Forward-thinking publishers no longer simply equate content with books. They also need to consider how to market or deliver their product across a range of digital channels, including downloads, mobile web, blogs, apps and social networks. Often, this will require publishers to think differently not only about their potential market, but also about how their content may need to be adapted and optimised. For the publishing industry, this is a huge paradigm shift with which many continue to struggle.

Making the transition from the traditional to the digital world requires publishers to recruit and retain talent with skills that are largely unfamiliar to them. Rather than simply understand how to create or sell books to retailers, publishing personnel must be able to understand multiple routes to market, communicate with different groups of customers and ensure that their content works across a range of channels. This shift in thinking affects every core competency in the publishing industry – from editorial to sales and production to marketing.

So what does this mean for graduates seeking to enter the publishing industry? The first thing to note is that candidates need to demonstrate a much broader understanding than was ever the case in the past.

Publishers will be looking for individuals who can move fluidly between print and online worlds, and who can spot opportunities to grow brands and distribute content across multiple channels. The best candidates will have a good awareness of the underlying technologies for delivering content and be able to think through potential business models that publishers can apply to sell their products.

Publishing executives must also understand that the industry is no longer an island. To be successful, publishers today must collaborate with third parties, including web designers and app developers, to produce and distribute their content. An understanding of how these companies work – and how to sort the wheat from the chaff when selecting them – is also becoming increasingly important.

Few individuals possess such a complete range of skills. The crucial thing for publishers is that these capabilities exist across a team, rather than within one person. But even if a candidate cannot be expected to possess deep knowledge in every area, publishers will at least expect them to combine creativity and some technical awareness with a willingness to fill gaps in their skill set.

There are also opportunities for individuals who possess skills and knowledge from outside the industry. Recruiters will be keen to hear from candidates who can bring experiences from adjacent sectors, including television and music. With the industry currently going through such seismic change, non-traditional skill sets and the ability to challenge outdated modes of thinking will be increasingly valued.

The best publishing companies know they must change, but they don’t always know how to do it. Ensuring that they have a diverse set of skills and backgrounds on their teams will give them a better chance of responding effectively to market change.

An industry in flux requires new thinking and fresh perspectives. The good news is that publishers are hungry for this knowledge, and will be keen to hear from anyone who can maximise their chances of embracing, and profiting from, the digital age.

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