Margaret Heffernan – Entrepreneur and author of A BIGGER PRIZE: Why Competition Isn’t Everything And How We Do Better
Nic Bottomley – Owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath.
Sandra Taylor – Head of Events and External Relations, Waterstones
Sam Missingham – Head of Audience Development at HarperCollins
The PPC/BMS talk at the London Book Fair was, as always, a full house, with 4 speakers: Margaret Heffernan (author), Sam Missingham (Head of Audience Development at HarperCollins),
Nic Bottomley (Owner, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights), Sandra Taylor (Head of PR and Events at Waterstones) and chair Damian Horner (‘ideas gun’ and intra-preneur) and later resulted in a news story in the bookseller:
Due to the back-and-forth nature of the debate, the notes this month are slightly different in format to reflect the different style of event. Normal service will be resumed next month, but meantime we hope this gives a flavour of the excellent interactive quality of the LBF talk.
The keynote speech was given by Margaret Heffernan, TED speaker, entrepreneur and author of Wilful Blindness (a term later mentioned in the hacking enquiry), A Bigger Prize, and the forthcoming Beyond Measure:
MH: We have all grown up with the notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ (NOT a phrase coined by Charles Darwin but from Herbert Spencer, who reinterpreted Darwin’s ‘natural selection’) and this has dominated every area of our lives, from education, to sports, business and even relationships. Resources are limited and therefore surely we must encourage people to compete and win in order to succeed? But winning, it turns out, ALWAYS incurs costs. These costs have been epic in the last 50 years: high levels of cheating and plagiarism in education, doping and cheating in sports, corruption in business (the bigger the hierarchy, the bigger the risk of corruption) as well as extensive environmental damage. The evidence against competition is compelling. Heffernan writes ‘the individual pursuit of self-interest proves collectively defeating’. In a competition, there is only one winner. Do we really want to spend valuable resources on promoting the interests of the top 10 percent in society – what happens to the rest?
Angry Birds: Margaret gave the example of Schjelderup-Ebbe’s experiments with chickens (from which we gain the phrase ‘pecking order’). He put together a batch of hens which consistently and reliably produced plenty of eggs. And a second batch which he termed the Super-flock, each individually being a star of their original flocks. He left them together in their separate pens for a few months and then reported his results. The consistent hens were all quite well and continuing in their usual way, producing a good quantity of eggs. The Super-flock was a different story. Most were dead and the last remaining few were a mess and barely a feather left between them.
The more we ratchet up the competition, the higher the level of corruption, greed, waste and inequality. The alternative is collaboration. And there are plenty of examples where this has worked not only for social benefit but for greater innovation, creativity and increased profit. Companies such as Ocean Spray. Ocean Spray is a 3 billion-dollar business owned by 750 Cranberry farmers. They HAVE to be good at collaboration because they are sharing everything and everybody in the company benefits from its success. Finland’s education system is the best in the world. But it has no league tables. But collaboration is not the soft option, it is actually incredibly hard. It’s a culture and environment that needs to be deliberately cultivated. How do we put this into practise and what are the ways in which publishing can benefit? Remembering that *nobody wins unless everybody wins*
Members of the panel were then invited to apply these ideas to publishing and give their own examples of collaboration and how these worked to the benefit of their businesses and potentially the industry as a whole.
ST: Sandra talked about Waterstones and Airbnb – a PR turnaround of the Texan tourist’s experience of being shut overnight in one of their bookshops. This had already become a twitter phenomenon and Airbnb spotted the story and got in touch, offering to run a competition to win a sleepover – providing all the kit down to the slippers and sleeping bag. Then Sandra thought of getting Jeeves and Poirot lookalikes to come along – this involved other publishers:
This became a global story and turned around something that could have been negative into a collaborative event. James Daunt demands collaboration with publishers. E.g. specialist editions – The Miniaturist special edition sold 35k in the run-up to Christmas. But collaboration needs to be a genuine benefit to our customers – as a retailer you have to be very customer focussed (as opposed to publishers being author-focussed perhaps). What is going to be genuinely exciting for customers?
Collaboration is creative by its nature.
NB: Nic believes there is a healthy amount of collaboration in the book industry. He cites Books are my Bag as a great example of publishers working with the trade to support independent booksellers. He also thinks the increasing number of publishers who have in-house staff to talk directly to bookshops is great for building relationships.
Mr B’s own experience of setting up an imprint has been a collaborative experience with the publisher Canongate who have been acting as a mentor. Canongate has taken a Mr B’s staff member on secondment to give them direct publishing experience. This has been invaluable in learning about all aspects of the business.
The Bookshop Band is also a great example of collaboration. What started as an idea for bookshop staff to play music at shop events has grown into a touring band who have written the official Books are my Bag song and are regularly commissioned to write songs for new books. Nic describes this as a public publishing project.
SM: Previously worked at Bookseller and Centaur (magazines).
Sam set up the Virtual Romance Festival through twitter/facebook/google hangout iin 2014 which, although originating from Harper Collins, promoted and featured authors from multiple publishers. Their key partnership was with Mills & Boon. This collaboration with different publishers enabled them to attract good audiences and help readers discover new authors.
Sam has also run the BFI Harper Voyager SCi Fi Weekend which again was open to authors from all different publishers. Getting Margaret Atwood, a Little, Brown, author, to do a live twitter q&a for the festival is a particularly good example of beneficial collaboration.
DH: but is it all really bollocks?
SM: some are more willing than others.
MH: is one of the biggest drivers of collaboration desperation? All companies aspire to the position of monopoly but this is a short-term win. If they all promote each other, they all do better.
DH – partnerships – is this an easy route?
ST: are open to collaborations with big brands e.g. selling Kindles
DH: How much of it is down to relationships?
NB: Yes, a lot to do with that. Seems to be a big fear of the word no. Relationships that work – you have to think of it as the next answer might be yes
MH: If we do something successful someone will copy us – but this is validation – and makes the market richer
DH: we’re all collaborators but there is an ‘owner’?
MH: Collaborations must understand about giving credit, being generous and gaining trust
Audience: Are there any examples of skill swaps or exchange?
NB: Bookseller’s Association is good at facilitating this e.g. someone from Chipping Norton bookshop came to Mr B’s. We always come away with loads of new ideas from this kind of collaboration.
Audience: what about smaller independents working with bigger companies – lions and lambs
SM: yes, already doing it – if it’s a great idea, we will consider – there are plenty of gaps to fill with smaller, more nimble publishers
MH: readers and authors want more and the only way we can really do that is more event cross-collaboration
SM: is why there are now over 800 literary Festivals…with regard to supply and process, Faber does a lot of work in this area. Freelancing and creative consortiums.
NB: e.g. periscope – showing manuscripts early on to booksellers and getting feedback
DH: is it an age thing?
ST: is an attitude thing rather than age. Collaboration is difficult – what do you do when you find it difficult?
MH: I am a reconstituted competitor! Think about what you can GIVE into this situation. How can you help them? Network in terms of givers. If you want to get somebody’s attention – help them!
ST: some publishers are quite naturally collaborative
MH: Fun disables fear and fear disables creativity
MH: In Europe people build relationships first, US does other way round. In collaborative future, relationships first
DH: Open and honest and sharing – PPC is a good example!