Cathy Moore in Conversation
Review by Emma Longden
To mark the tenth anniversary of Cambridge Wordfest, Campus invited Festival organiser Cathy Moore and programming adviser Anna Whitelock to share the origins, secrets, and aspirations of this twice-yearly literary event which to date has welcomed 80,000 ‘Wordfesters’ through its doors.
Casting her mind back a decade, Cathy recounted how a bad experience as a trainee teacher led her to approach Waterstone’s for a bookselling post which would build on her early professional experience in London publishing (Longman and Dorling Kindersley) and fuel her natural love of books and reading. Progressing from application to interview to shop floor in the space of a week (surely a record) Cathy was given the opportunity to organise events for the branch and it was during a signing session for Hotel World that she met Ali Smith and a fortuitous conversation ensued! ‘Why was Cambridge missing from the national literary festival calendar and why didn’t someone do something about it?'
The idea for Wordfest was born that evening as Cathy set off by bike for Madingley and planned in detail by the time she arrived at her front door. Within months Borders, CB2 and Cambridge Picturehouse had offered their services as venues, publishers had been approached and the line up agreed for Cambridge’s first literary festival. It was 2002 and 800 tickets were sold that first weekend.
Ten years on and Wordfest is now firmly established on the Cambridge calendar. Cathy remains at the helm, supported by two part time staff, an active team of advisers and trustees, plus a 60 strong force of volunteers who don their Wordfest T-shirts each day of the Festival with the utmost dedication to ensure its smooth running.
Anna Whitelock attributed the success of Wordfest to ‘Cathy’s ability to make a wonderful gin and tonic in the literal and metaphorical sense’. Her skill in intelligently blending events, speakers, pairings and panel events to create a perfectly balanced, fresh and fizzing programme lends Cambridge Wordfest a well-crafted and unique quality.
The audience were given insights into the funding, management and future strategy for Wordfest (which can’t be shared in case other literary festivals are reading). But rest assured, with lots of ideas in the pipeline, the festival, like books themselves, looks set to endure.
The much-vaunted CAMPUS books-about-books group, after much flapping, finally took to the metaphorical skies – well, the stylish wine bar in the Hotel du Vin. Friedrich Kittler's fierce but wonderful Gramophone, Film, Typewriter was our first: eagle-eyed publishing types will go 'Aha! No books there!' and they will be right. All I can say is to quote modified Kipling: 'What do they of books know who only books know?' Kittler gives us a framework and language for understanding media in the most generalized terms – this is surely the most useful at a time of rapid technological change. The complexities of his argument seemed easier to understand after the second bottle (shared!) of house white – at £16.95, with free olives and pistachio nuts, surely one of the surprise bargains in town.
At the next meeting at the end of April we shall be talking about the rather lighter This Literary Life by Peter Van Straaten – a telling and wry book of cartoons about writing/publishing. Also The Craftsman by Richard Sennett. All CAMPUS members are very welcome, but please e-mail me (david [at] therunninghead [dot] com) first.
Posted by Emma Longden, Thursday, 16th February 2012 @ 8:56pm
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This was a new venture for CAMPUS – nothing to do with publishing, just the simple pleasures of some beautiful wines on a long winter's night.
The Arts Theatre Wine Bar was a central and stylish venue. The star of the show, though, was Paul Bowes from Bacchanalia. Paul took us on a magical mystery tour of nine fascinatingly different types of wine, from the crisp Prosecco Bertiol Valdobbiadne at the start to the sumptuous Liqueur Muscat Skillogallee at the end – by which time, I promise you, most us weren't too bothered about correct spelling or pronunciation.
Paul has a relaxed, friendly, informative but above all enjoyable approach to the wines - his enthusiasm was (in a very good way) contagious. I wrote down some of the adjectives he used – some we chipped in with too: lush, soapy, unfocused, farmyard, balanced, clanging, smoky, pebbly, fruity, gooseberry, Werther's Original, butterscotch. None of them were pretentious, all of them made sense and really helped us taste what was there.
We learned to look at each wine's (I kid you not) shoulders, tears and legs; then we swirled and sniffed; finally we chewed or slurped and had a real good think about all the different sensations we taste in the 20 or so seconds after. With practice it seemed easier and even more interesting as we started to notice each wine's very different character.
Many thanks to Paul for being such a brilliant guide, to David Williams for working hard to make it happen, and to all for coming. An excellent evening.
Merlin Fox's devotion to CAMPUS involved staying focused enough to take these fine photos of the evening …
Samatha Rayner and Leah Tether have very generously invited all CAMPUS members to attend the Masterclasses on their MA course:
Wed 25th – Introduction to Web Design Short Course (6 weeks) starts, 6–8 pm
Tuesday 31st – Richard Fisher (CUP) Masterclass on being a Commissioning Editor, LAB 222, 2–4 pm
Tuesday 7th – Will Hill Masterclass on book design and typography, LAB 002, 6–8 pm
Tuesday 21st – Colin Walsh Event: Spread the Word: LAB 002, 6-9pm (sponsored by CAMPUS)
Thursday 23rd – Children’s Book Publishing Masterclass – Anne Clarke, Piccadilly Books, HEL 118, 11 am–12 midday
Tuesday 28th – Getting into Publishing Careers Event, with mock interviews, LAB 214/215/216, 6–8 pm
Tuesday 6th – End of the Line: Used Books and their Magic (Michael Cahn), Plurabelle Books, Purbeck Road, 4–6 pm
Wednesday 7th – Leah Tether Research Seminar on Publishing Digital Editions of Manuscripts, LAB 006, 5–7 pm
Tuesday 13th – Publishing Medieval Texts Research Seminar (Book Publishing Histories Seminar Series), Tower Room, Selwyn College, 5.30–7 pm
Tuesday 20th – Andrew Brown (CUP), Digital Publishing Issues, LAB 027, 2–4 pm
Please notify Leah in advance if you want to come.
How have technological advances created new opportunities for content owners to make money? To some a somewhat dirty subject. To others the very purpose of being.
Four speakers from different sectors of the media industry addressed this complex and sometimes thorny topic at this, the final Campus event of 2011. With sponsorship from Creative Front and partnering with CaMedia this was the largest scale event we’d ever staged and one of the most eagerly anticipated!
At the eleventh hour the Chair of the session cancelled with a sore throat. Colin Walsh, ever supportive and generous stepped into the breach and chaired the session with a deftness of touch, intelligence, insight and aplomb. Thank you, Colin.
First up was Graham Taylor, Director of the Publishers Association. Packed with pithy soundbites – ‘it’s never been easier to be a publisher – it’s never been easier to be a bad publisher’ – Graham suggested that digital changes everything (product, commoditization, channels, skill-base, marketing) and digital changes nothing (role of value-added, copyright, power of brands, demand-led thinking). Citing examples of publishers who are successfully monetizing content (ProQuest, Cengage, Espresso), Graham minimized the open-access threat in the journals sphere and prompted the audience to consider unresolved questions in his round-up – how to meet the needs of people who spend less time reading more, how to play the big brands, how to promote discoverability, how to move beyond hardware. Plenty of food for thought.
A project to monetize archival content in the culture sector was the topic of the next speaker pair. Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of Collections of the Scott Polar Institute, described how the need to fund the care of their precious collection of 150,000 Arctic-themed images led them to seek ways to monetize this asset through digitization.
The resulting online image bank with its unique interface and pioneering ‘search’ functionality was demonstrated to a rapt audience by its creator Alan Payne of Deep Visuals, Scott Polar’s project partner. The project strongly illustrated how existing assets can be monetized through advanced technologies and the benefits of this to archival preservation, but it also highlighted the ethical aspects of improved access for research.
Heather Lane and Alan Payne
The outcome of Sobia Hamed’s PhD from Oxford University was her company DataGiving, which helps organizations working with charitable data to create value from their content, deliver better processes and new avenues for monetization. In Sobia’s world, an organization’s ‘content’ is its data; by adding value to this data, and giving it meaning and context in the real world, it has saleable value in a whole new way.
Our final speaker was Chris Thompson, Director of Enterprise and Innovation at Ravensbourne (alma mater of David Bowie) who addressed the topic from the perspective of the film and television industry in a fast-paced 15 minutes. The Commissioning Editor is dead! Creators of film and TV content have the power in their hands to make money without the patronage of the man from the BBC. Citing the example of The Long Way Round and Fred the Movie, blogs and Twitters and YouTube features with a proven following can from a low-cost basis be turned into multimedia money-making machines. But individuals must collaborate – don’t develop the skills, find and leverage them from others!
A lively Q and A followed the panel presentations, after which everyone networked over rustic breads and Italian ham, courtesy of Creative Front, with lots of red wine and some intelligent discussions ensued.
The monetizing content theme made me reflect on what content of my own I had to monetize. Intellectual property? No. Ground-breaking creative ideas? No. Cupboards of clothes and shoes? Yes! Ah! eBay!
A good number of faithfuls had braved the damp November evening and the mysteries of the ARU signage. Quite a lot of new faces had come along too, showing that the work put in by the Working Committee makes a clear difference. Well done to all. (In the background, the sound of Muppets-style clapping.)
Meanwhile, the impressive new Lab 002 lecture room was buzzing with the pre-talk chat of those enjoying the pleasures of the excellent John Smith's Group hospitality – many thanks to JSG for their generousness.
Our own Nigel Atkinson introduced the speaker, revealing over two decades of friendships and crisscrossing paths in this very interconnected world of ours.
Alan mapped out a magisterial overview of the industry, building up his important learning points (in best publishing practice) from the easy-to-follow story of his career path over 30 years. Alan started off both evening and working life at the legendary Foyle's, with their unique combination of the prescient selling of shelf space to publishers, early awareness of brand value and a bizarre triple queueing system not otherwise seen on this side of the Iron Curtain. Alan learned the virtues of patience and cunning: days when the fabled Mr Stimac would say 'No!' and tear up the order would be followed by brief windows when he said 'Yes', but Alan needed to remember to make a copy first.
Alan's 'bookselling bug' – a disease for which only bookselling is the cure – remained dormant during his 10 years at Routledge and Kegan Paul/ABP, first as sales rep then as UK Sales Director. The joys of the company car: driving everywhere in central London, carting stock out of the boot and selling from bound books. One of the things Alan was most proud of was the Routledge black/white face profile redesign – £80,000 spend (a lot of money in the early 1990s) and still in use.
Alan then moved back the other side of the counter to become Managing Director of Blackwell UK Ltd, innovating a drastic revamp of the flagship store in Broad Street – still Alan's favourite bookshop in the world – and navigating between the clashing rocks of the Blackwell family. Indeed, Alan proved so effective at this he lasted 4 years as MD – still a record. En route Alan also managed the setup of the first online books service, BOB (Blackwell Online Books), and decided that the Blackwell brand national rollout didn't need to rename Heffer's: 'Cambridge is different'.
Hammicks' trade offer introduced Alan to the pleasures of Christmas and children's selling. Their buyout and decline (under Ottakar's) led Alan to make some excellent points in one of his broader narratives on the rise and fall of the chains.
The University of Dundee Press startup, Compass Academic (aggregating the sales efforts of small/mid-range academic publishers) and now John Smith's Group continue to benefit from Alan's commercial acumen and experience.
There was so much wisdom and learning on offer it is difficult to summarize Alan's more general points, but he covered the rise of the e-book and models for selling it, how bookshops have adjusted to and compete with the online sellers (Amazon apparently amortise software development costs as depreciation and have operating costs at 4% of turnover!), the implications of the collapse of the Net Book Agreement – and much else.
Throughout Alan stressed the importance of IT and good data, good teams and good people, innovation and intuition, leadership and risk-taking, and adaptation to change. It is typical of Alan's deeply thought-through approach to customer service that he insists that reps follow through the sale to 'selling out' to customers, not just 'selling in' to the shops.
We all had a richly valuable entertaining and educational evening, presented by Alan with energy and elan – many thanks to him and his company.
Alexandra Pringle, Group Editor-in-Chief of Bloomsbury, has very kindly agreed to be a CAMPUS patron. She knows Cambridge and ARU well: her degree was from ARU's predecessor, Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology. She was also awarded ARU's honorary Doctor of Letters in 2009.
Alexandra began her career in publishing as Editorial Assistant at the art magazine, Art Monthly. She then joined Virago Press in 1978 where she edited the Virago Modern Classics series. In 1984 she was made Editorial Director, later becoming part of the management team to steer Virago through their management buy-out from Cape, Chatto & Bodley Head. In 1990 she joined Hamish Hamilton as Editorial Director and four years later left publishing to become a literary agent. She joined Bloomsbury in 1999. Her list of authors includes Donna Tartt, Barbara Trapido, Richard Ford, Esther Freud, William Boyd, Ann Patchett, Colum McCann, Patti Smith and Elizabeth Gilbert. She is a Patron of Index on Censorship.
We are delighted and grateful to welcome one of 'the most influential people in publishing' (The Guardian 24/9/2011) to be on our side.