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Freedom to roam | WE ARE TEN

Freedom to roam | WE ARE TEN

By John Bond |

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

I used to work in a North London independent bookshop run by the late great Ian Norrie. Norrie had been a successful bookseller, and more widely a chronicler of bookselling, for decades. He was an idiosyncratic, hugely well-read boss, scourge of publisher reps and small children eating ice creams, but always fiercely loyal, generous with and supportive of his staff. He managed the business until Tim Waterstone finally found a huge premises virtually across the street and it became only a matter of time before the by then sparsely stocked three-unit shop would be shuttered.

Ian also wrote a column for his friend Fred Newman’s weekly trade journal, Publishing News. He continued to hit his copy deadlines long after he’d ceased running the bookshop. And the signs of someone away from the coalface started to appear. Gradually, the journalistic brio and topical opinions became less about the book publishing zeitgeist and more about the increasing length of queues in his local post office.

Thought bubble: How to avoid a similar fate.

For me, it’s now more than ten years on the outside of corporate life, nose pressed against the glass, peering into this thing we call publishing – the day-to-day manifestation of walking around the aisles of a book fair, skirting those enormous stands, small city-states of temporary MDF splendour, wondering what it’s really like to be on the other side of those branded panels.

Except, after ten years of whitefox, an anniversary which we celebrate in April 2022, it would be hard to feel any more relevant to the broader commercial ecosystem than we already do. Making books isn’t, and never has been, one thing or one place. It has always been a multifaceted world of entertainment, information and education. Of evolving formats and delivery platforms, in-house inspiration and outsourced creative expertise. With all the while, a process of redefining even what it means to actually be called a publisher. Just like the upcoming London Book Fair at Olympia, freedom to roam outside of the proverbial box will only ever illustrate quite how diverse and open to interpretation the concept of publishing can be.

Think of those publishers who looked at their market-share data in 2021 and thought how what used to be niche had become mainstream, wondering how they could start acquiring more expertise in graphic novels and manga. Or US fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, who recently crowdfunded over $24 million to self-publish four new novels. Our world keeps shifting, morphing, moving on. There are so many different versions and models of adding value to creators. And ten years on from whitefox’s inception, we’re in the middle of it all. Still unbundling and shining a light on the value of the component parts of publishing, making it more transparent. Still building a sustainable business, doing something we all love, and trying to make a difference.

A few years ago I was asked in a trade press Q&A what would be the next big thing in publishing. I gave an equivalent of a LMFHO emoji and professed that I was just about the last person anyone should ask about that. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe we were just too close. To see that, in our own way, we were in exactly the right position to have a ringside seat and bear witness to Publishing 3.0.

So. Here’s to the next ten.

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