CAMPUS has started the new academic year brilliantly. Our first guest was John Naughton, who delivered a fascinating talk on the history of technologies in general and the internet in particular. John’s background in engineering, academics and journalism (he writes the Observer’s Technology column) gives him undeniable expertise on the social, political and cultural consequences of the Web. (See, too, his latest book, From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet.) It was good to see the room filled with people from different backgrounds, a diversity that probably reflects the one we find online!
The World Wide Web truly and fully reveals who we are today – warts and all. John described the internet as ‘disruptive’, as a ‘technology for springing surprises’; according to him, disruption (such as wild/viral surges in popularity of different sites or apps) is not a bug but a feature, and has been hard-wired into the software design of the network itself from its beginning.
Our speaker (perhaps nostalgically) alluded to two phases in the development of the internet as we know it today. In the first phase (1970s–1993) it was just a database reserved for an elite who mainly used it for research and knowledge-sharing – a utopian period driven by the ideal of pure free speech. The second phase (1990s–today) is marked by massive growth in use, accompanied by ‘winner takes all’ corporate stakeouts and monopolies. We have witnessed the rise of networking and new means of communications, the surge of new forms of creativity, music and art; but sadly we have also seen a rise in pornography, racism, misogyny, etc. An increase in images of violence online might be linked to online anonymity. At this point of his talk, John Naughton stressed again that internet had been shaped by us, and should be considered as a mirror – a reflection – of human nature, in all of its brilliance or darkness.
We were also reminded of our slave-like social networking behaviour, especially on Facebook. John Naughton pointed out that we Facebook users have agreed to a model of surveillance that provides a free networking surface in exchange for giving our personal data away for commercial ends. As engaged users we are responsible for this; we get the internet we deserve, an internet where a legal challenge on ‘the right to be forgotten’ actually means the right not to be found on Google search results.
Finally, John donned his political economist’s hat to assert that the internet’s initial raison d’être has been diverted from its original idealism; it has somehow been hijacked by the power of capitalism. He emphasized the need to exercise our citizens’ power to express our disagreement with (and even our resistance to) those big profit-driven businesses.
The publicity poster suggested that the social construction of the internet ‘isn’t entirely reassuring’; someone during questions after the talk mentioned the word ‘apocalyptic’! Rather than being pessimistic, though, John Naughton took a critical, active and campaigning stance on cyberspace. What have we allowed, as John said, to go on in there?
This exciting and inspiring talk gave us all plenty of food for thought. Afterwards there were lots of questions about online citizen activism today, the exploitation of personal data online, the implications for civil liberties, and the abuse of monopoly power to bypass regulation. There were also, as one would hope, articulate voices of disagreement.
Afterwards the animated and convivial discussion continued over some more drinks in the room (and, for some, the Free Press). Perhaps all of us who were there have the idea going through our heads today that we, the users of the internet, have more power than we used to think …
CAMPUS – Cambridge Publishing Society – is having its first ever creative writing competition! 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; to celebrate we are asking for entries in three age categories: 0–11, 12–17, and Adults.
All submissions must be original and previously unpublished; they must be inspired by Carroll's masterpiece. Entries can be poetry or prose, and no more than 400 words; or they can be on a single sheet of A4, which can have a single (original) illustration.
For each category, winners will receive £40, with second prizes of £10. Runners-up may collect books, for their age group, kindly donated by Heffers.
Entries have to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or handed in (giving contact details) at Heffers bookshop information desk by 15th June 2015. Please state age category.
Shortlisted entries will be published in an ebook.
Please support this exciting new venture! Email all the writers and teachers you know with the link to this page – they don't have to be based in Cambridge. Attach the poster, too, which you can download here. And please print it out and put it up.
Many thanks to UIT Cambridge / Green Books of Cambridge for their generous sponsorship, and to Imogen, Daniela and Nora for all their hard work, imagination and general chutzpah!
Some small print: the judges' decision is final. Friends and family of the judges may not enter. Rights of ebook publication belong to CAMPUS; copyright is retained by authors.
Cambridge Publishing Society came back in full swing this academic year with an event featuring publishing guru Martin Woodhead, who is renowned for his business acumen and sales expertise. The room was full of eager students, industry colleagues, general CAMPUS members, and – as is custom at any CAMPUS event – bottles and bottles of wine.
So how did Martin become a businessman? ‘It began with hunger … because hunger is a great incentive to make money.’ However, Martin wasn’t talking about the kind of hunger that can be dealt with by a good pub lunch at the Kingston Arms or a large glass of Merlot on a cold winter’s night, but rather the hunger to succeed. Martin claims to have been given only meagre pocket money, a woe of many of our childhoods I’m sure, but that only fuelled his hunger to earn more; and he did this by buying, selling, and providing a service. From cleaning bungalow windows and earning 2/6d (12.5p) per lawn mowing with his own mower, to raising chickens for egg selling and plucking shellfish for cancer research, Martin really has done it all, even at one point digging graves for £20 per grave (or £60 a day if enough people were dying, he told us).
By 9 years of age Martin had bought his first Swiss watch (which, incredibly, he was still wearing that very night!), by 16 he had a moped, and by 17 (as self-proclaimed boy racer) a car. Martin’s calmer background in farming led to his studying of agriculture, yet owing to the curse of Newcastle Brown Ale, Martin took his exams in bed, failed botany and so went travelling to Massachusetts in the US. Martin later pursued the opportunity to become a temporary van man at Macmillan, even getting to meet Harold (ex-Prime Minister and Macmillan Chairman), calling him a ‘nice chap’. This began a wonderful career in publishing, with Martin’s next move being sales manager at Ashgate (800 titles a year) for three years. However, in 1972 Martin’s business itch came back and so, bringing his then-editor Ian Faulkner on board, he created the company Woodhead-Faulkner Ltd in Cambridge. To fund the scheme, he ‘chatted up’ sponsors for certain books, including Lloyds TSB; Jocelyn Dimbleby’s Cooking for Christmas was their first cookbook and sold in the hundreds of thousands. This company was sold to Simon & Schuster in 1989.
Martin made a new start with Woodhead Publishing, which (to start with) specialised in engineering and welding textbooks. Making £250,000 in the first year, Martin began to expand, even bringing in certain titles such as Food for the Aging Population (whilst joking that he himself, now in retirement, should give it a read). Woodhead Publishing was eventually sold to Elsevier in 2013.
So what now? After 48 years in publishing, how would Martin advise us on running and sustaining a successful publishing company? Quite simply, by keeping to the same principles that hold true for being a good sales rep: find out the needs of your customers and fulfil them. He pointed out Amazon as an example – Martin believes it’s time for publishers to engage with their customers, creating a really good website and turning fans, or those who like the free content or products available, into superfans who are by then loyal enough to spend money on the content or product. So knowing your customers and what they want – as well as how much they will pay, carrying out market research and forming a solid plan – is the key to success.
The awareness that value is more important than price has left Martin still feeling like a sales rep after 48 years, and he certainly sold us a knowledgeable, humorous, and inspirational speech, giving everyone in the room something to take away and use in their own careers. Perhaps the most important were his three key words telling us how to succeed: always be ‘humble, honest, and hungry’.
Posted by Jade Scard, Sunday, 16th February 2014 @ 2:18pm
Kim Maya Sutton, co-owner and founder of digital publishing company Safkhet Publishing, came to talk to us this week about virtual business and the paperless office. Kim was full of practical advice stemming from her own experiences in setting up and running a business from scratch, and it was clear throughout that she knows what she’s talking about.
Starting an independent press is not for the faint-hearted, and in her talk Kim showed the determination and willingness to experiment that has allowed Safkhet Publishing to succeed. Most of all, she stressed that a digital business model is not faultless – there are as many problems and pitfalls as there are in more traditional methods of working, and it is how you approach these challenges that matters most.
One of the most interesting approaches taken by Safkhet Publishing is their international nature, and the way in which the virtual model they have adopted allows them to work with authors and editors in a range of different countries. Although this offers them a significant degree of freedom, it also comes with the difficulty of maintaining relationships without regular face-to-face contact in an industry in which relationships are key. The inability to negotiate in person can lead to strain which might be more easily overcome in a meeting or over lunch, and an international business runs the risk of cultural misunderstandings that may be difficult to smooth out in cyberspace. Kim also shared her personal experience with another potentially embarrassing result of virtual relationships, the possibility of meeting your authors at an event and failing to recognise them!
Kim overcomes these problems by trying to meet the people she works with in person whenever it’s feasible, as well as sustaining an online relationship with them. Publishing events are a great way to make this a reality, and our CAMPUS talk was indeed attended by several of Safkhet’s current and former editors and authors, some of whom were meeting Kim in person for the first time. This is a great example of the power of publishing and stories to bring people together, and the ways in which our modern world is opening up more and more opportunities to connect across distances.
The talk concluded with some solid advice from Kim which is applicable to anybody aspiring to get involved in the rapidly changing publishing industry: be genuine, be authentic, be flexible and, most of all, never forget that you are dealing with people, no matter how far away they are or how you stay in contact. As time goes on it might become more common to send an email than meet for a coffee, but beyond the pixels and screens there will always be real people, and we need to continue to treat each other as such.
In our most recent endeavours, CAMPUS was fortunate enough to arrange a talk by a man who needs no introduction, but we’ll give him one anyway; Brian Webb. With a room packed with as much wine as there were people, we were all ready to be inspired by Brian and his intricate knowledge of illustration and publishing; and inspired we were. Brian reminds you of why you fell in love with books in the first place. The writing, designing, and history, but most importantly; the aroma of passion that comes from just looking at a well-produced book.
There were students and admirers galore of publishing, graphic design, and illustration but as we found out, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy “books with stories” – you just have to love them. Although we had only expected books with stories we were also treated to the story of the books and viewing examples of Brian’s work was utterly fantastic. His knowledge of the intellectual decades is admirable which, when combined with the exactness of the art form itself, is amazing. We were also given some industry knowledge as Brian spoke of brand identity, importance of print runs, the wood engravings to book cover process, issues of copyright in reproduction, and how sometimes a project can take over twenty years to come into fruition.
Brian and his company Webb and Webb have a fantastic catalogue of work including products with just the author and title on the cover, calendar pop-ups, the 2012 stamps which featured work from various artists, Bond Bound designs, and of course the 10th anniversary adult versions of the Harry Potter series. Using graphic designs from Andrew Davidson for the latter, Webb and Webb created an aesthetically pleasing collection that captures a majestic maturity and beauty perhaps not before seen in the infamous book series. As for the collected works edition Brian had visualised something that had ‘arrived at Hogwarts through owl delivery service’ with claw marks but said he drew the line at putting owl dropping prints on! The most amazing thing is that Brian doesn’t use computers for his designs as they are all hand drawn which adds a traditional touch.
Quirky, intelligent, brilliant, and with an uncanny knack to not drink free wine; Brian was everything you had hoped him to be. He always has the audience in mind, admitting that when researching you “become an expert for about a fortnight”, and helped us delve into the work of Enid Marx, Edward Bauden, Francis Bacon, and even his own daughter. As he puts it: ‘it’s not just called design – it is design’. There’s little money in it but there is dedication and passion and, as publishers and lovers of books, what more can we ask for?
If there is one man who knows detective fiction it is Richard Reynolds. The self-proclaimed techno-phobe gave a classic yet riveting talk at none other than Cambridge’s glorious Heffers in which he managed to carry the initial awe from the bookstore to the Golden Age of detective fiction. For those of you who have not yet been to Heffers picture this: floor to ceiling bookshelves just brimming with all kinds of magnificent content you can only imagine and there is a section dedicated to detective fiction. But the bookstore does not only promote visual wonderment for the soul but come to one of their talks and you can immerse yourself into a whole world of publishers, genre, and in this case, murder (which I should mention is entirely fictional). Equipped with enough books to sink a literary ship, Richard presented the eager crowd with not only hard copies of the texts he spoke of rather than just an electronic visual aid, but also divulged numerous quotes, facts and titbits from his own research and classic authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The deconstruction and reconstruction of detective fiction was academically yet humorously done whilst the hard copies gave a beautifully rustic and traditional feel.
Richard not only educated the crowd but also emphasised the importance of local detective fiction such as the Cambridge Murder series, as well as highlighting the lack of new editions of old classics which seem to have become criminally unsolved by the publishers of now. But as Richard paraphrased, if things are getting a little dull, add blood, and following in that line of thought (not literally, I should again add) he is relentlessly working with publishers to get these much loved yet increasingly lost novels back in to print.
However, in every literary evening comes the most feared moment for any academic: the question and answer session. Luckily, Reynold’s detective alter-ego Cuthbert came to our aid with his fictional side-kick Miss Clinch in order to investigate and solve even our darkest queries. Whilst we found that the perfect crime is portrayed in Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (you’ll have to read it to find out) and Richard’s favourite author is A. A Milne for his detective fiction (although we all know that if Winnie the Pooh turned into a “who dun it” all fingers would obviously point to Tigger…), everyone left happy knowing it was another success for Cambridge Publishing Society and detective fiction all round.
Overall, the talk was old-school and brilliant; almost like detective fiction itself. It was endearing yet factual and I for one was glad I had my wallet prepared in order to fund my re-inspired love of this classic genre! Richard displays unmistakable passion and knowledge of publishers and the fiction itself but more than anything he proved that you don’t need the latest technology to just enjoy a good book.
On a soggy day in Cambridge town that might have favoured gills plural rather than singular, a full house of 20 were treated to a stonecut-lettering and carving fest from the chisel of that colossus/bear/beast of prewar drawing, printmaking, stonecarving and lettering design: Eric Gill.
Rain? What rain? Geoff Green, in the blue kagoule, points out the Gill monogram in the crocodile.
Geoff Green was on fine and ebullient form as he coaxed and corralled an aberrant group of independent-minded publishers around many fascinating examples of the Gill oeuvre. Starting at an elegant circular pond in Newnham College commemorating the benefaction of Henry Sidgwick, Geoff opened our eyes to work that might easily have slipped past. Through Geoff's binoculars some blackened stone under an oriel window in Downing Street magically revealed itself as Gill's first ever (1903) stonecut inscription: 'Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés' – Pasteur's words (from Geoff's excellent Gill vade mecum handout and homework) also perhaps serving as a motto for the evening.
Gill's crocodile on the Mond Laboratory behind the Cavendish Laboratory cheerily opened its smiling jaws for us to reveal (bottom right-hand corner here) it was swallowing a monogram of Gill's initials. Commissioned by the Nobel-prizewinning physicist Pyotr Kapitsa, the crocodile is apparently an obscure Russian joke at the expense of then-Cavendish Director, Ernest Rutherford. LOL-worthy it definitely is not, but this croc is certainly amiable and quirky.
Geoff had carefully pre-arranged our entry into the Catholic Chaplaincy at Fisher House to see a fine stone in memory of Percy Fitzgerald, former RC Archbishop of Westminster. In front of this the infectious enthusiasms and insider knowledge of Eric Marland (stonecutter formerly apprenticed to Gill's apprentice David Kindersley) may have been a little too diverting: the group split in two. Owing to the miracle of mobile phones we successfully got back together outside Gill's bold relief lettering in the Ham Hill stone of the front entrance to Westcott House in Jesus Lane.
Our foray into Jesus College (amid the avant-garde pieces of the college's biennial sculpture exhibition – an enormous yellow US fire truck was parked on the perfect grass in Second Court) was rewarded with a fine plaque in the north wall of the chapel chancel. The second Gill work on our route through the college was the strikingly both sensual and bowdlerized coat of arms of Rev. White-Thompson, former Bishop of Ely, waggishly tweeted by Anthony Haynes as 'Highlight: angel's buttocks in Jesus?'
At the finish I had the pleasure of handing out Phil Treble's beautiful letterpress keepsake, setting Will Hill's finely judged typographical analysis in the typeface of its subject. Many thanks to Geoff, Phil and Will for their most generous and beautiful contributions that made a lovely and memorable evening. And so off to the Pickerell for lively banter and discussion …
PS Eric Marland has very kindly made available a photo of his rediscovery this year of a supposedly lost Gill ashtray (weighing at some 60+ kilos – the idea was to stop it being moved) in the garden of a Cambridge private house:
Starting the New Year off with a talk on open access publishing was sure to be lively, and our speaker did not disappoint. The event was well attended by publishers and students alike, all keen to understand emerging trends.
Rupert Gatti began by introducing himself and his background as an economics academic at Trinity College, Cambridge. Frustrated at the slow speed and content ‘paywall’ of traditional academic publishing, Rupert and a few fellow academics established Open Book Publishers (OBP). This small but dynamic Cambridge publishing house produces academic monographs in the humanities and social sciences, in both (free) digital and (paid-for) print formats. Peer review is central to acceptance for publication. All OBP content is open access, freely available (under Creative Commons licensing) to read and re-use. Properly credited, content can be shared and re-curated to spark new ideas and research directions. And open access goes two ways: feedback, from increased readership and over greatly reduced timespans, helps make learning part of writing.
Rupert argued that 2013 so far has been an open access ‘academic spring’, moving academic publishing away from an existing practice that is no longer economically viable or academically justifiable. Higher education funding agencies – with an agenda of transparency, accountability and value for public money – are increasingly and reasonably insisting on open access to publicly funded research. Rupert bravely dipped our metaphorical toes in the waters of the politics of Higher Education Funding Council for England and the UK Research Councils; even to a non-specialist it was clear there is significant political investment in open access, and it is gathering momentum too.
With a battery of lively and well-researched PowerPoint sides, Rupert referred us to studies showing that most academics (including ‘Nerdy Professor’ et al.) write and publish to promote debate on their subjects – financial reward is low down their list of concerns. Rupert gave the example of fellow OBP director Alessandra Tosi, whose book on nineteenth-century Russian writers took well over a year in editorial and production. Its selling price (£70) put it out of the reach of academics and libraries in Russia, and only 200 copies were sold anyway. Who benefits? Certainly not the author or her subject.
Rupert illustrated his point by mentioning a campaign for an author boycott of Elsevier journals. His slides showed rising profit margins on drastically reduced unit sales at substantially higher-than-inflation prices, plus highest-in-class per-page ‘author processing charges’ (fees charged to authors in lieu of income from subscriptions). Their relation with academia seemed, frankly, unfair, and devalues by association the work of other major existing publishers.
We heard about some OBP case studies, including a crowd-funded ‘Unglue.it’ digital edition of Ruth Finnegan’s previously published Oral Literature in Africa. Rupert – inviting intelligent and searching questions throughout – took us through some of the web metrics to show dwell times on page views as well as hits and country of viewing. We saw some impressive and credible stats, including heavy representation across the continent of Africa. It was clear from Rupert’s body language and facial expressions reacting to these figures that he is passionate about publishing the same way that good publishers – regardless of medium – always have been.
Finally, in a gesture admirably consistent with his principles, Rupert shared the OBP trading figures with us. With a business model where income derives almost entirely from add-on sales of printed editions rather than author subventions, the big publishers of Cambridge and elsewhere are not likely to feel directly challenged – yet. But Rupert’s point is that academia is concerned with the truth of ideas, and those ideas can indeed, with current technologies, become a material and powerful force. For those of us in the room in the publishing business, our speaker offered us a most lively account of new ways of doing old things. Food for rich thought.