I love browsing in independent bookstores, and close to my home on the south coast of England is an outstanding example. The Hayling Island Bookshop is run by Marie Telford. She is also a member of the advisory panel for the U.K.'s Independent Booksellers Forum, regularly meeting other independent booksellers to share experiences and ideas. She recently found herself being lauded for her possible "quote of the year" when she was asked by The Bookseller for her predictions for 2014. Her forecast? Independent bookshops "will invest in small, roof-mounted, surface-to-air missile defence systems to defend themselves from passing airborne book delivery drones."
In my December 2012 column, I discussed the importance of real world/virtual world connections and the way in which digital sales of Fifty Shades of Grey had seeded and driven massive print sales. Fast-forward 12 months, and charity shops in the U.K. are grappling with a glut of donated unwanted copies of Fifty Shades, which cannot be recycled and which no one wants to buy.
One of my side interests is archeology. I live close to the site of a Roman villa that boasts some incredibly well-preserved, and beautifully detailed, mosaics. I haven't been lucky enough to discover any artifacts myself, but I'm fascinated by the thought of similar riches hiding just inches beneath the soil in my garden.
I could spend hours looking at images of couture gowns, fashion shows, and the latest luxe shoes and handbags. Since an "It" bag can easily set you back $12,000, and there's a months-long waiting list, I'm unlikely to ever own one of these items. But the world of high fashion is fascinating. Fascinating, too, is fashion's evolving digital engagement. From a slow start, it now brings together the worlds of publishing, content marketing, and ecommerce in interesting and disruptive ways.
I've been rereading Katharine Graham's autobiography Personal History, which describes her role as publisher of The Washington Post in the 1970s when that paper played such a momentous role in national affairs. It's a fascinating book that I haven't dipped into for at least 5 years, and I've been forcefully struck by how very much has changed, and how quickly, in the world of publishing. In many ways the newspaper world of the 1960s and 1970s (and even the 1940s and 1950s) that Graham describes doesn't differ that much from the one I remember when I first worked in publishing in the early 1990s: display and classified ad-driven, with clear and well-defended roles for journalists based on decades of independent thinking and reporting, and plenty of distance between the business and editorial sides of the paper.
Even the most die-hard digital aficionado surely can't help but have a sneaky regard for the hard men of the 19th and 20th centuries arts and letters, such as van Gogh, Hemingway, and Picasso-who were all, allegedly, users of Moleskine notebooks with their iconic waxy black covers and elastic closures. It's been well-documented, however, that this impressive heritage is, in fact, marketing chutzpah, since the Moleskine brand was only invented (by an Italian company) in 1997.
Publishing and education group Pearson, PLC announced in August that it has launched a higher education college in the U.K. As of September 2012, Pearson College offers business degrees to a small "pioneer" intake of 40 students, becoming the first FTSE 100 company directly delivering undergraduate degrees in the U.K. A larger intake of students will embark on their studies in September 2013.
In a generally dismal climate for European newspapers, British newspaper circulations are among the most disheartening. To the casual observer, therefore, it might have come as a surprise to read at the beginning of 2012 that MailOnline, the digital version of the U.K.'s midmarket tabloid the Daily Mail, had become the world's most read newspaper website.
Any survey of the epublishing scene in Europe should of course highlight the headline success stories that showcase innovation, risk taking, and deep-level customer engagement across a range of market sectors. Among the winners is the Financial Times, which achieved 1 million registrants for its native web app just 5 months after launch; it is also reported to get 20% of page views and 15% of new subscriptions from mobile and tablet devices.
It's been a busy year for U.K. media. It started off with the pomp and ceremony of the Royal Wedding, moved to the embarrassing unravelling of News Corp. over a phone-hacking scandal, and ended with the devastating riots, which started in North London and then inspired copycat lawlessness in cities across the country for a few alarming days in August. When you look at it all written out like that, it's a wonder we survived at all!