whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books
Eight is meant to be a lucky number. In China at least. But then google the number itself and you will discover all kinds of hitherto unknown (to me anyway) attributes. In numerology, eight emphasises business and authority. The shape of the number represents balance. Turned on its side, it gives us the symbol for infinity. All this in one single little digit.
Why the sudden reflection? Well, this week whitefox Publishing turns eight years of age. We started back in 2012, working out of our respective kitchens, and eight years later we find ourselves directed by the government to be doing the exact same thing. Pandemics notwithstanding (not words I ever thought I would write), there is always some value in reflection when you hit a milestone. So here are eight learnings from us as we look back on the life of our business so far:
1. Engineers and Magicians
I have a friend who is the creative director for a brand and entertainment business. Great with words and terrific at pitching and blending complex ideas into pithy pronouncements. We were discussing whitefox’s respective ‘products’ a while back and comparing the work we do in partnership with traditional publishers with our direct relationships with authors and brands who want to take their own content to market. ‘Ah, so for publishers you are engineers and for writers and brands you are magicians’ said the creative director. Engineers, or magicians. Process-driven, outsourced publishing experts, or nose-to-tail, hand-holding, full-service solution deliverers. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Although, I guess he actually did.
2. Nothing ever happens as quickly as you think
Our basic premise at the conception of whitefox was that general trade publishers would continue to come under pressure on fixed costs and overheads and would therefore increasingly need to outsource the publishing process so that they could concentrate on commissioning and marketing. And this has happened, but not as quickly or to as great an extent as we first thought. Whether we will see an increase in outsourcing after the lockdown, the furloughing, the bookshop closures, the levels of returns exceeding your new publishing and backlist monthly invoicing and who knows what else yet to come, remains to be seen.
‘Self-publishing, indie writers, DIY – it doesn’t matter what you call it, we’re now a long, long way from what used to be considered vanity publishing.’
3. It doesn’t matter what you call it
Self-publishing, indie writers, DIY – it doesn’t matter what you call it, we’re now a long, long way from what used to be considered vanity publishing. As we move forward, hopefully the collective understanding of non-traditional publishing will continue to shift a bit closer toward having the same cool ‘alternative to the mainstream’ resonance as indie films and record labels.
4. New models can happily co-exist
As soon as alternative models emerge within a traditional industry, there’s a temptation to see different ways of working as a fundamental threat to the existing status quo. When we started out, a lot of people said to us, ‘so how can you have your cake and eat it by working with publishers and directly with writers who want to self-publish’. But publishing has a rich and varied ecosystem, more than able to accommodate different ways of skinning the same cat.
5. The Art of Saying No
I think it is safe to say, we have all been there. Particularly when you start a new, small business, it is very, very hard to turn down work. Work that may not ultimately be commercially rewarding or reputationally enhancing or just feels as if it is somehow, intangibly, not beneficial to the greater good. And yet, we say yes. Because we convince ourselves it keeps the machine ticking over; something else may come from it that we can’t quite see at the time. Or for the irrational fear of upsetting the Business Gods that sit on their equivalent of Mount Olympus in the land of Xero accounting systems. When what we should have done all along was be brave enough to say no. No, not for us, not this time. Be brave, people, it can be liberating.
‘There’s nothing like a crisis to identify the functions of publishing that have to happen no matter what.’
6. Let’s Get Digital
2012. What would be the ratio of ebook sales to their physical siblings? Not for the first time, we were asking the wrong question of the digital revolution. It was never going to just be about e-format and e-readers or possibly ever about apps on iPads. By 2020, audio and POD have revolutionised how we consume content. Digital adoption was broader if not deeper than we originally thought.
7. Making a difference
At whitefox our mantra has always been to identify and focus on what really matters, what makes a material difference, what is essential to the process of making a book. The current closure of company premises, remote working, overreliance on online channels, reduced opportunities for PR and the overall general state of uncertainty within the industry brings this discussion right back to the fore. There’s nothing like a crisis to identify the functions of publishing that have to happen no matter what.
8. Expect the unexpected
The world we forecast and planned for in 2012, the problems we set out to solve: many have proved to be correct. But so much has come up in the last eight years that could never have been predicted (not least the current collective trauma we find ourselves living through). You’d be a fool to plan with too much certainty in publishing.
‘In the coming centuries, I’m pretty certain there will still be talented individuals helping to enable the creative process of making content public, even if we are all having to scan each other’s foreheads to make it happen.’
In the 15th century, I am making an educated guess that there were people helping Johannes Gutenberg make books. In the coming centuries, I’m pretty certain there will still be talented individuals helping to enable the creative process of making content public, even if we are all having to scan each other’s foreheads to make it happen. As we keep saying to each other at whitefox, people are not going to stop reading and writing.
And while that is the case, we say, eight years done. We want to say thank you to everyone – freelancers, publishers, writers, whitefox alumni – who has been part of the experience. Now we go again.