“Every day is different because every book is different (…) it’s always varied, always challenging, but never boring”
Nicola Ramsey, Head of Editorial and Publisher of Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies at Edinburgh University Press, was the first visiting speaker of 2018. Nicola gave a warm, frank and interesting talk on the world of Academic Publishing, sharing insights on EUP and the particular dynamics of the sector, on the process of bringing a book to life and on her personal experience. Curiously, it was her 25th anniversary of being a student of the Publishing Studies course. If her clear passion for books was not enough to immediately captivate her audience, her common history and background with the listeners at the University of Stirling certainly was.
Nicola started by explaining that Academic Publishing, i.e. publications by and for academics, is dominated by UK and US players, being characterised mainly by 3 types of operators – commercial academic presses (e.g. Taylor & Francis), university presses (e.g. EUP) and, more recently, new university presses that defend Open Access (e.g. White Rose). She emphasised the global nature of the sector, and the high-value of the books produced (that are consequently more expensive than the average book). Editorial work is the engine that drives the business, contrary to what happens in Trade Publishing, which is much more market-driven. The Edinburgh University Press, which falls within the Academic realm, is a well-known mid-sized house focused on publishing books such as textbooks and research monographs, and journals across a range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. It was born in the 1950s as a mere department of the university. Since then, it has metamorphosed and grown immensely. Just this year it plans to publish more than 200 books.
One of the most intriguing things Nicola discussed was the positive relationship between print books and ebooks that takes place in the Academic sector. There is a symbiosis between the two formats, which are commonly perceived as adversaries and as cannibalising each other’s sales. The visiting speaker believes this is because people enjoy the discoverability/accessibility/searchability of an-ebook but opt for print when they need to do some deep reading. As so, it really seems to be all about the content rather than the format, with paper and digital co-existing in harmony.
The visiting speaker’s role in the EUP is one of great responsibility. As the Head of Editorial, she ensures the publishing program matches the press’ strategy, and that key targets are met (e.g. control of costs, etc.). She must also keep an eye on industry developments and on innovations that can potentially improve internal processes or reveal business opportunities. As a Publisher, Nicola is a list-builder, undertaking market and competitor research, building relevant networks, and meeting authors. Maintaining a good reputation is seen as preponderant for the success of the publishing house, because it translates into attracting both more clients and authors. Trustworthiness is core for the Academic sector.
A typical day at work for Nicola involves lots of tea and lots of emails – and it is never boring. Indeed, all books are different and so represent new challenges. The best parts of the job include making a difference in authors’ lives, the success stories (when a book sells), being invested and involved, and the constant learning.
All in all, Nicola’s lecture was extremely insightful. Exposure to industry professionals really is an invaluable opportunity, allowing us to get a fresh perspective, and to further develop our knowledge.