Tue 31 October 2006 at 5.00 pm

‘The Elephant and the Rat: Innovation in Publishing’: Richard Charkin

Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies

Publishing Research Seminar

Taking Place: Buckley BG11 in Semester 1 2006

Global publishing is dominated by a handful of very large conglomerate companies: the ‘elephants'.  How do such big beasts respond to changing consumer behaviour and technologies?  How do big organisations remain innovative in the face of competition?  And how can they continue to create and sustain successful new business models?  Drawing on examples including the controversial Macmillan New Writing, Richard Charkin will address these challenges, asking how the elephant can make itself as fleet-footed and successful as the rat.

Richard Charkin is Chief Executive of Macmillan Publishers.  Previously he worked in a variety of roles at a number of companies including as Managing Director of the Academic and General Divisions  at Oxford University Press, and as Chief Executive of Reed International Books.  He also worked for Robert Maxwell's Pergamon Press, based in what would later become the Headington Hill Campus of Oxford Brookes University.  His blog on publishing and beyond, http://charkinblog.macmillan.com/, has attracted a lively online community.

Report on the seminar by Mae Dagre, MA in Publishing student:

Richard Charkin, Chief Executive of Macmillan and author of the most influential blog in the publishing world, visited Oxford Brookes University on 31 October 2006 to give a talk at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. His creatively-titled research seminar explored areas surrounding the impact of size and ownership of publishing houses on innovation, the different strategies pursued by editors when developing new titles and Charkin's extensive industry contacts and personal experience surrounding innovation.

In the seminar the size of publishing houses was explored in relation to its impact on achieving innovation, and it was concluded that the sheer enormity of some of the larger houses (with their very diverse portfolios and management structures remote from day-to-day activities) could inhibit the light-footedness and agility needed to innovate. A possible solution explored in the seminar is to break houses into smaller units or imprints (as Macmillan has done with its Macmillan Science and Macmillan New Writing initiatives), and Charkin stressed the importance of delegating true autonomy and decision-making power. Charkin also explored the idea that company ownership by individuals can be a catalyst for innovation in many houses, and that privately-owned companies often find it easier to stay nimble and innovate.

The seminar was followed by questions from the audience and discussions surrounding issues ranging from the role of women in publishing boardrooms to the difficulty of entering large publishing houses as a new recruit - and then refreshments and networking opportunities were provided and enjoyed by all.