Publishing: Evolution, Disruption & the Future


Last week we ran the first Edinburgh Publishing Conference (EPC 2013) which explored innovations and disruption in academic, news media and book publishing. We hosted 11 speakers and broadcast the event live on the web, attracting an audience of over 200 people. The conference was split into  the following three sessions:

  • Session 1: Open Information, Innovation & Communication: Making Publicly Funded Information Free (academic publishing). Speakers: Cameron Neylon (PLOS), Tom Pollard (Ubiquity Press), Matt Mckay (Ubiquity Press), Mark Lester (Open University)
  • Session 2: From Gutenberg to Amazon and Beyond: The Evolving Modes of Publishing. Speakers: Rachel Willmer (Luzme), Linda Gillard (indie author), Mark Coker (Smashwords)
  • Session 3: Can Blogs, Apps and Newspapers Co-exist in Harmony? Speakers: Bill Jamieson (The Scotsman/Scot-Buzz), Alex Porter (Scottish Times), Brendan Miles (The List), Andrew Price (GOOD magazine)

Most of the talks are available to view on YouTube, please see the conference website for links to individual talks.

The conference programme was deliberately designed to include speakers from a range of sectors in the publishing industry, from academia to self-publishing and frontline news, so that these groups could mix with each other and gain an insight into a different sector within the industry. This mixture of topics attracted an audience from a variety of backgrounds and specialisms and we hope that it leads to several collaborations in future.

The first session explored academic publishing, an area which is currently undergoing rapid change. Cameron Neylon from PLOS started the session and quoted Clay Shirky saying; “publishing is no longer an industry, it’s a button.” He went on to discuss how we could take the existing publishing organisations and tools that existed in the 20th century, combine them with the new tools, and create value. Cameron also gave a concise overview of the history scientific publishing which set the scene for the next two speakers in the session, Tom Pollard from Ubiquity Press and Matt Mckay of the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). Matt described how publishing is becoming a more personalised process, moving on to individual devices like phones and tablets and changing from a closed process to a more open one, where authors now promote their own work via social media instead of relying on a publisher. The final speaker in session one was Mark Lester from the Open University who gave an interesting insight into the success and future of MOOCs in higher education.

After a break for lunch, session two started with Rachel Willmer, the founder of Luzme, who talked about lean and agile startup methodology and how to apply it to publishing. She described the build, measure, learn approach that is popular with tech startups and how many of the same principles apply to self-publishing. This approach has been effectively implemented by indie author Linda Gillard, the next speaker in the session, who opted to leave her publisher and self-publish her books. Linda delivered an inspirational talk about how she writes her books, becoming a bestselling author, battling with cancer and writing about various subjects instead of concentrating on a particular niche. The final speaker in the session was Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, who was inspired to start his own self-publishing platform when trying to have his own novel published. Mark gave an interesting overview of indie publishing, how it compares to traditional publishing and how this may evolve in the future.

After a final coffee break, session three started with an impassioned and fact-filled description of print media and its current battle for survival by Bill Jamieson (The Scotsman/Scot-Buzz). Bill described, with anecdotes from his own experience, how the newspaper industry is changing fast and how we are seeing Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” in action. Next up was Alex Porter (Scottish Times) who talked about “democratising digital media via reader participation” in particular, the upcoming issues surrounding the Scottish independence referendum. The third speaker in this session, Brendan Miles (The List), elegantly described how the digital version of The List made use of accurate data to deliver the best experience to readers and how The List had successfully transitioned from a paper publication to a digital one. Finally, Andrew Price (GOOD Magazine) gave us a clear overview on delivering good content, describing how the job descriptions for writers, editors and publishers were currently in changing to reflect new technologies.

The inaugural Edinburgh Publishing Conference was hugely successful and we will be holding it again next year in June 2014.  In our post event survey, we were delighted to see that 95% of attendees rated the conference as “excellent” or “good”, and 99% said they would attend again next year. Survey respondents were overwhelmingly positive about the conference and provided us with several suggestions for new topics to tackle next year. If you would like to suggest a particular topic for us to discuss at next year’s event, or if you want to hear updates about EPC 2014 as it develops then please subscribe to our mailing list.


Finally, these are some of the comments from the attendees of EPC 2013:

“An engaging, informative and inspiring event. The quality of contributors was outstanding.”

“That’s the best conference I’ve been to, bar none. All interesting, all relevant, and with an audience from a much wider range of interested parties than is usually the case (congratulations!). I was there partly as a digital library specialist, but also as an author looking for an appropriate publication strategy in the new environment.”

“Brilliant speakers, good range of topics, high level of discussion, well organised and paced event.”

“I found it very inspiring – very glad I attended.”

“Thank you for organising such an interesting and stimulating event.”

“Congratulations to the team for a superb event!”

“An excellent roster of speakers, an experienced knowledgeable audience, many very effective presentations.”

“Very relevant and gave good insights into disruptive markets in publishing.”

For more comments see posts on Twitter with the hashtag #pubconf.

3 thoughts on “Publishing: Evolution, Disruption & the Future

  1. Graham Steel (@McDawg) says:

    “In our post event survey, we were delighted to see that 95% of attendees rated the conference as “excellent” or “good”, and 99% said they would attend again next year”. Can’t argue with that !!

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