Tag Archives: electronic publishing

The Publishing for Digital Minds Conference

Just ahead of the London Book Fair comes The Publishing for Digital Minds Conference.  There are a few of these ‘digital’ conferences about publishing and to be fair the question was asked, ‘When will we stop doing a specific digital conference?’ – surely it’s already now an integral part of publishing.  Perhaps it will be renamed ‘The Innovation for Publishing Conference’ next year?

Hosts were John Mitchinson and Sam Missingham and they brought us an interesting mix of author and publisher updates.

Sarah Lloyd of Macmillan chaired the session on ‘New Trends: Marketing; Tech; Social’.  More and more segmentation of audiences means you can cleverly decode when and who to target.  You need to know your audience – which is changing. We need to change our marketing methods with them.  We don’t necessarily need a Snapchat strategy but need to be aware of it.

Very much in the news recently is the idea of subscriptions and there was an interesting (if slightly too European with a pinch of US) session ‘Busting the myths’.  Good to hear what’s happening with Mofibo in Denmark and Sweden but I’d like to know what UK publishers are thinking. I did like Justine Solomon of Bytethebook’s question that people can only deal with 7 subscriptions – so is this a viable option.

We had an unusually ‘Objective Case Study’ on Amazon from Charles Arthur, a journalist. He told us that habits are changing and we need to remember this to get an objective overview. Amazon is plateauing in terms of sales; the Kindle uptake has stalled; they’re ambitious in sales of hardware so people will buy the content but sales of the Fire phone bombed – they’re not very good at hardware. He questioned their cashflow and whether they can continue not making profit. He called Kindle self-publishing ‘the world’s biggest slush pile’ where publishers can pick up the occasional gem.

Well done LBF for a session not on Trade/Consumer publishing. ‘Edtech: Lessons to be Learnt’ was a great insight into what’s going in traditional and new, digital only content and there’s a healthy competition!

Edtech - lessons to be learnt

Steve Connolly of Hodder Education feels technology is a means to an end and we shouldn’t over complicate things. Teachers know how to assess a book quickly, if they can’t assess a digital product in a few minutes, it isn’t going to work. If you can do 20 things highlight the top 3. Understand that analytics are at the top of everything.

Michael McGarvey of Cambridge University Press advises publishers to be realistic about what you can do on your own – CUP has worked with an exam board and raspberry pi on a new MOOK. Publishers are uncomfortable with iteration but need to see you can’t now have perfect product to take to market – you need to take ideas out and see how they work, then improve.

Jim Riley from Tutor2U was a controversial voice with clout – they have engaged an audience of 30 million.  He advised it’s more important to have customers then users as they pay the bills.

It was good to hear from the Digital Innovation Awards Finalists as they did a set 7 minute spiel for the audience vote.

The highlight for me was the Digital Minds Question Time chaired by Richard Mollet, Publishers Association with Charlie Redmayne, HarperCollins; Mandy Hill, Cambridge University Press; Andrew Barker, Liverpool University; and Dan KieranUnbound.

Question time

Questions included:

  1. Which department has been the slowest to change?
  2. How far along are you in diversifying away from reproduced text?
  3. Can you get people in a company to think digitally?
  4. What has the greatest red herring been?
  5. Amazon having problems – is this good news or bad?
  6. How many more years will publishers need a conference on digital?

Next will be a blog on the London Book Fair from our perspective…


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Emma Barnes: embrace the code


This is a guest from Emma Barnes.
Emma is m.d. of Snowbooks, the independent publishing house she co-founded in 2003, and c.e.o. of the FutureBook-award-winning Bibliocloud system for publishing. As both a publisher and a coder, Emma has a unique vantage point on the intersection between digital technologies and innovative content.

When I graduated with an archaeology degree in 1996, and got a job as a management trainee for a global retail group, I had no idea that 8 years later I’d co-found an independent publishing company. And when I co-founded that independent publishing company, I had no idea that,13 years further on, I’d find myself a professional Ruby on Rails developer.

Life is weird. And you can’t plan it out. All you can do is try to be happy, and learn as much as you can on the off-chance that it’ll come in handy. I’ve got lucky: not only do I run Snowbooks — a lovely little publisher of amazing books — but nowadays I’m the lead programmer of Bibliocloud, our title management software which we’re formally launching out of beta at the London Book Fair this year.

A decade of steadily automating away the administrative drudge of publishing has left me a proficient programmer: first in XML and XSLT and now in the tools of the web development trade: Ruby on Rails, jQuery, SQL, HTML5 and CSS3 and database management on PostgreSQL. Using these tools, with my team, I’ve built Bibliocloud to be an enterprise management application which takes care of almost every aspect of our business. Snowbooks has relied on Bibliocloud throughout the app’s development: at the end of 2012 we started to license its use to other publishers and organisations.

Starting to code was not a frightening step into the dark, because I took baby steps. In 2003, I opened up an ONIX file. ONIX is XML, written more or less with English words. Figuring I could use it to populate AI templates, I tinkered with manipulating the XML until that was second nature. Coding is very moreish — start down the road, take small, incremental steps. Let the years pass and before you know it, you’ve got your 10,000 hours under your belt.

You shouldn’t think that you could never learn to code. My mental arithmetic skills are worse than my 6 year old’s. I would have been laughed out of a computer science degree interview. But I love patterns, and stories, and brevity and elegance: all the things that publishers are good at. You don’t know whether you can do it unless you try.

I learned to program because I needed something like Bibliocloud to exist so I could run Snowbooks properly. No-one else was going to write it, so I tooled up and did it myself. I had to go from a standing start, skills-wise, so it did end up taking quite a few years to progressively learn the right skills. But now I’m at the other end of the journey, it’s interesting to be able to compare life without coding skills, and life with.

And life without coding skills is awful! It’s chock-a-block full of admin. No-one goes into publishing to spend their days filling in repetitive, endless spreadsheets, surely? But unless you can manipulate data throughout your working day with little programs, you’re tied to the manual way of doing things.
If you can’t code, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what’s possible. You can’t be a digital creator because you’ve got no tools at your disposal, and no understanding for collaborating with others on such projects.

Only a select few publishers employ programmers at the moment. This will change, and the change will be overnight — but it takes time to learn how to code, so start now, or the new jobs will go to outsiders. Nowadays there are some amazing, cheap ways to learn programming — because people who can code are passionate about sharing their skills with everyone else. Look at Codeschool. Come to our own course, Try Programming for Publishers. Read The Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl — by the end of it, you’ll have written your very own version of Twitter. Imagine!

In seven years, the kids who are currently learning to code in school, as part of the national curriculum, will be graduating. People with all sorts of degrees will have coding literacy, a skill as basic to them as English and maths. You’ve got a seven-year head start on them. Start to learn code now and you won’t be skilled out of the market before you’re 40.

Emma is on Twitter as @bibliocloud

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Smart Data Live!

Last week’s Smart Data Live! Forum, organised for publisher members of the AOP and PPA, provided valuable insight and direction to media companies still working out how to extract optimum value from the increasing data flow into their businesses. In his opening comments, Jeremy Bedford, VP of EMEA at Sailthru, stated that big data, as a concept, is useless. The aim is to create Smart Data, he said – a means of taking data, doing something useful with it and using it to answer questions.

Following the opening comments, Breton Fischetti, Senior Manager of Business and Audience Development at Business Insider, explained how data helps publishers understand what readers want to read and allows them to capitalise on readers’ interests. “Great digital stories drive everything”, in his view, but “data makes it easier”.

Business Insider

The challenge was, he said, how to use data to create value, underlining that print is still a good medium, but digital and data are the drivers now. His clear message concerned the need to unlock the value of passionate and engaged communities with a focus on what’s going to drive revenue rather than what’s nice to know, and that audience data can be monetised now in a way that wasn’t possible previously.

Guillermo Christensen, VP of Product, Intent IQ, addressed the challenge to media owners of serving content and advertising to individual preferences. “People are different, concentrate on those who are similar”, was his advice to businesses trying to understand audiences better and make more money. It is possible now to “track people in a way that reveals preferences and allows visitors to segment themselves across interest”, he said.

Ian Eckert, Managing Director of Audience Development at Abacus Media gave further food for thought by discussing how data and breaking down audiences by segment enables the identification and development of markets and new products.

A concluding panel discussion considered the importance of editors. “Algorithms can’t write great content”, Fischetti told the audience, “There’ll always be a need for editors”. Data is the new tool that can now support editors and media companies and allow them to unlock value.

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Visiting the BETT show (the world’s leading learning technology event that brings together inspiration and innovation within the education industry)

Alison, Stefania and I braved the trip out to Excel last week for the infamous BETT show (stands for British Education and Training Technology in case you’re wondering!).  As you might imagine it’s a vast hall bursting at the seams with all things educational including publishers, technical suppliers and lots of teachers.

It was fascinating to see some of the new innovations in educational content – so much is now digital and video based, learning really should be fun!

We saw lots of our publisher clients there (there were 779 exhibitors so we can’t name them all but here’s a flavour):

Bloomsbury Publishing
Cambridge University Press
DK presenting their new product DKFindOut.com
Encyclopaedia Britannica (uk) Ltd
GL Assessment
HarperCollins / Collins
Oxford University Press

There were some big name speakers including John Couch, Vice President of Education for Apple, who pointed out that educators are expected to perform miracles.  ‘Today’s classroom should be creative, relevant, collaborative and challenging’.

Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education gave a keynote speech outlining that £1.7 billion will be invested in superfast broadband, but teachers need better training to match.

There’s tons of info on the BETT website including seminars, videos and you can download a copy of The UK Education Market Opportunity Report.

David Hoare, Chair of Ofsted questioned why 1 in 5 children leaves school without the numeracy or literacy they need to get a job.  There are lots of reasons but the charity we support, Beanstalk, is doing lots of good work to provide one-to-one reading support in primary schools to children who have fallen behind with their reading.

Do check it out and put in the diary for next year!

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The FutureBook Conference (part two)

The afternoon at the FutureBook conference was as busy and inspiring as the morning. After lunch, I decided to learn a bit more about “the long-term role of social media in publishing”. The amazing Rachel Fershleiser (Director of Publisher Outreach at Tumblr) told us everything we needed to know about Tumblr. Publishers often underestimate the potential of Tumblr where there is an incredible community of readers sharing their thoughts about their favourite books. Tumblr users react to art by creating their own content. Publishers have to be aware that their audience now have an audience too. And again, Rachel agreed with the idea that digital and social media gives you the opportunity to publish more specific content as you can get straight to your readers.

David Ripert (Head of YouTube spaces EMEA at Google/YouTube) gave another example of how book fans can turn into real promotion executives! Have you ever heard about BookTubers? (part of the audience had, I must say I hadn’t). It’s basically book fans like Sanne Vliengenthart who own their own YouTube channel and use it to talk about books. It is entertaining and educational and has become very popular in the last few years. BookTubers now have over 26 million views and 426k subscribers. Why so popular? Because it’s accessible and shareable.

Joe Cohen (CEO at Movellas) actually goes further with Movellas, a community site where you can publish your own stories – or movellas as they like to call them and your audience is actually a source of content. They think of themselves as the home of the fan girl!

I spent the rest of the afternoon finding out about what’s happening in the digital sphere today and hearing about predicted trends for tomorrow. FutureBook was provocative, informative and overall a great day.  I don’t think anybody that attended could deny the importance of digital and social media in the world today and its relevance to the publishing industry.

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The FutureBook Conference (part one)

Last Friday was my first time at the FutureBook Conference. I was promised a lot of fun and interesting talks and wasn’t disappointed. It was a dismal morning and we all arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre under battling rain. In contrast, the atmosphere once we got inside was full of excitement and the audience was captivated by the three key note speakers. While George Berkovski (How to build a billion dollar app – see our blog) advised publishing professionals to learn from million dollar start-ups and start using Google Analytics a bit more, Carla Buzasi (Global Chief Content Officer at WGSN) urged companies to take digital risks. The digital community is forgiving as long as the content you publish is good. Tom Weldon (CEO Penguin Random House UK) confirmed PRH will not turn into a retailer: “If Google, Tesco & Sainsbury’s can’t do it, we can’t either”. But trade publishing is the only industry that has entered digital and not shrunk, according to him. Weldon presented PRH as having a strong digital strategy with a focus on children’s books and how to adapt children’s products (he then rewarded us with a little trailer which prompted some oohing and aahing from the audience).

The tone was set! The whole day was packed with talks from innovative, provocative and visionary speakers. I had a difficult decision choosing which sessions to attend next, but I decided to start with “How does digital impact the editorial process?”

For Kimberley Young, Head of Women’s fiction at HarperCollins, publishing has always been challenged and the biggest change that digital has brought is transparency. Social media is an incredible tool to facilitate our understanding of what consumers want and to find new talent. Digital media allows publishers to be more reactive and dynamic and to jump into the market within a day instead of waiting months for a book to be printed.

Kimberley’s point was very well illustrated by Darren Nash, Digital Publisher at Gollancz, who convinced us that digital has colonised the editorial process. You can now publish a digital edition of a book in less than 45 hours to beat a TV show (e.g. The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers was published by Gollancz to coincide with the airing of the True Detective’s pilot, the series inspired by the book). Darren also introduced another very important idea: people will pay for digital if you can add value.

Ruth Madder Head of Dictionaries Publishing at OUP also agreed with Kimberley Young. Digital allows publishers to be closer to users and to see how content is used and to learn from that.

In the end, all the speakers agreed that digital narrowed the gap between publishers and readers and increased the reactivity of the former to match their consumers’ expectations. As Nathan Hull (Digital product Development Director at Penguin Random House) said, “we just need to get better at being brave and bold and imaginative”.

The second morning session I attended, “Who should you hire and how will they change your company”, was crucial for me as a publishing recruitment consultant. As Ben Willis from Headline rightly noted, it is a very difficult question in an industry of constant change! It’s all about being agile and adaptable. Sanne Vliengenthart, Digital Coordinator at Hot Key Books, is a perfect example of how social media allows you to reach people (potential readers or a potential employee) as she was an active BookTuber (read our second FutureBook blog post to find out what a BookTuber is!) before becoming a publishing professional.

Marissa Hussey from Orion had a very good point when she asserted that digital is not an advanced form of traditional publishing roles. Publishers need to hire people who are creative, willing, analytical, logical, resourceful and most of all curious. People who can understand digital technology and extend their personality online. But it is also very important that publishers understand how to keep their staff, starting with a decent salary, said Crystal Mahey Morgan, Freelance Digital Marketer who got a round of applause for that!

It was a busy morning! Watch this space for the second part of our FutureBook blog.

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Frankfurt Book Fair

Claire and I (Helen) had a great time at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week. We had a small stand in Hall 4.2 next to the lovely ladies from ALPSP. Here’s a picture of us at our stand with a group of students from the Oxford Brookes Publishing MA, who stopped by for a chat. FBF14_Brookes

We had meetings but also took time to walk the halls and attend some seminars, which we will blog about soon. Watch this space.

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The Five Realities of Recruitment in Publishing

Back in January, I had a lovely chat with then-SYP Oxford Co-Chair Emma Williams about publishing employment myths, legends and unconventional career paths. The interview was originally posted on the SYP blog.

I am reposting it here (with a few small updates).

The Five Realities of Recruitment in Publishing

Reality One: You don’t have to do a Publishing/English/Humanities degree to go into Publishing.

Although there are a variety of fantastic qualifications out there which will certainly provide a good start to a career in publishing, having a degree, MA or other academic qualification is by no means the only way in. Real world experience is very valuable, and whether you are a Scientist, Financial Analyst, or a Language specialist, there are many opportunities for people with different skillsets to find satisfying work in Publishing. Claire Louise herself has worked in various roles previous to working at Atwood Tate, and we discussed the impact of how early employment in social work, rights administration and qualifications in computing have given her skills that she can now use daily to match up employers and employees successfully. Claire Louise says:

“Along with experience, employers look for people with passion and a willingness to go above and beyond. Look closely at everything you had done up till now, and make your transferable skills obvious in your application.”


Reality Two: An interest in literature is helpful, but you’ll need to look beyond a book to get ahead.

The importance of HTML, XML and other ‘techie’ skills shouldn’t be underrated by applicants in the current publishing environment. The explosion of blogging, social media, digital and other computer based skillsets are useful and relevant skills to develop, regardless of your job role (editorial, production, publicity and many other areas within a business may use the same skills for a variety of purposes), and will help to boost your own visibility and, of course, that of your future employer. For instructions on HTML, there’s a series of helpful articles here on the blog.


Reality Three: A role in Editorial is not your only option. There’s so much more to apply for!

The move to digital, e-books, e-readers, new platforms and social media have all encouraged new types of publishing companies to launch and develop, and within them, work in areas that are perhaps less obvious or familiar. Those interested in moving into the Industry might want to consider Licensing, IT, Digital Content, Database management, Publicity, Social Media/Communications or a number of other options, as well as the more typical publishing job roles. For more information check out the PressForward live blog of the SYP conference 2013 at or on Twitter at #SYPC13. A glossary to the world of publishing can be found on the Atwood Tate website.


Reality Four: When applying for a Job, the most important thing you will do is write a specific, appropriate and interesting covering letter.

So, when you need a job, it seems logical to approach the matter by statistics- the more you apply for, the greater your chance of getting one, right? However, if you rush through the application, without taking care to review the job specifications, weigh your own interests and skills, and evaluate the chance of a good match, it could all end in … well … rejection. The cover letter is your one and only chance to put this in written form, and stand out from a crowd of applicants. When done correctly, it should clearly show that you have both the skills and interest to do the job in question to a high standard.

Therefore spending time working through the points that the company are looking for and matching them to your own experience and skills will allow you to present a strong, clear and persuasive cover letter. This should be a real priority, and should be done carefully for every single application you send out! Have a look at our guide to the perfect cover letter.


Reality Five: Make friends, don’t alienate people!

Publishing is a very social industry, and so networking and people skills are important. Self-development, career development and an awareness of the larger industry trends as a whole can be worked on through talking to contacts, friends and colleagues that you make along your journey through the industry. Attending events, working on blogs, using twitter, joining groups and getting involved with things in your local publishing community are all free/low cost ways to get experience and make friends. It’s a lot of fun, and you never know when additional learning gained in this way might be helpful in a current or future role.

For example, Claire Louise has recently co-founded a book group which has coincidentally brought together people working in all areas, companies, non-profits and other areas of publishing through their love of books, and there are many other groups, courses and events held in the UK including SYP, OPuS, BookMachine and many more.


Have some thoughts of your own to share? Why not comment below, or get involved on Twitter (@AtwoodTate), or find us on FaceBook.

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Narrative… Text… What Next?

The Oxford Publishers Society (OPuS) recently held an event looking at Transmedia publishing in a Brave New World, and Charly (one of the committee members) has once again very kindly done a little post-game analysis for those of us who couldn’t go. Over to her!
Charly Ford

November’s OPuS event, Narrative… Text… What Next? Transmedia publishing in a Brave New World, showcased interesting and dynamic approaches to storytelling.

First up was White October, held in high esteem for the award-winning online tool Lambeth Library Challenge (winner of a Nominet Internet Award 2013). Dave Fletcher entertained and informed the audience by showing us the interactive documentary Pine Point, online feature Snow Fall (available via The New York Times website) and an extraordinary Arcade Fire music video. All of these were not only fascinating but also gave an insight into creative ways in which technology can be harnessed to give the consumer an interesting experience with content.

Graham Nelson and Emily Short gave a presentation on interactive fiction – fiction that the reader is able to control to some degree. We enjoyed a live demo of the ‘Inform’ system and gained an insight into the Versu ‘living stories’ that are being developed by Linden Lab. It was interesting to see a digital playing-out of the classic ‘choose your own’ concept and it certainly gave the audience food for thought.

Richard Fine’s talk focussed on video games. A game developer himself, Richard showed us a sneak preview of his current project Infection – last rites and explained the idea of ‘Ludonarrative dissonance’ – essentially a concept that means a video game player won’t always act within the story that the game wants to tell. This is definitely worth further investigating for anyone interested in the gamification of content.

Last, but not least, were Jen Porter and Kirk Bowe from BeyondTheStory (only hours before their presentation at the Futurebook conference in London). BeyondTheStory focuses on dynamic storytelling experiences and we were given a preview of their work with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and heard about the success of their The Almighty Johnsons companion app. Anyone involved in digital publishing should keep their eyes peeled on Porter and Bowe’s work – it will be interesting to see the ways in which publishers will continue harnessing technology to maximise their content.

So, what indeed is next for publishing? We can’t be entirely sure but I’m confident that all of these ideas, and other influences from surrounding creative industries, will play a significant role in shaping the next stage of our industry’s progress.

A big thank you to Charly for taking the time to write this post. I highly recommend you sign up to receive the OPuS newsletter and we’ll hopefully see you at future events!

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Trading Standards – Recruiting needs between STM/Professional and Trade publishers

When recruiting into the publishing industry we find that most entry level individuals, or even candidates looking to move into publishing, tend to be focused on editorial roles within a trade publishing house. The industry itself tends to attract a particularly creative crowd. It’s fair to say that many of those coming to us have a dream of working with established authors, taking long lunches to flesh out new creative visions and clinking glasses with an innovative team light years ahead of its time. The dream job.

Anyone who is currently working or has worked in the publishing industry before will know that the day-to-day reality of publishing isn’t always like that. Perhaps inevitably, from our perspective, we tend to find that STM, Educational, Academic and Professional publishers are often overlooked by those starting out. The bulk of our business tends to be within STM, Academic and Professional publishing markets. These markets are changing, growing and advancing quickly, digitally and commercially.

That being said, the differences between the recruitment needs of every sector don’t vary as much as you would expect. For instance, the obvious assumed prerequisite for recruitment within STM would be a relevant academic background. It is certainly helpful, in editorial roles particularly, but not always the case. Production, Sales, Marketing and Operations teams within Professional and STM publishing require the same excellent attention to detail, strong communication skills, the same ability to liaise with people at all levels and a great commercial focus and analytical eye. These skills will always be transferrable, whatever sector you’re looking to work in within publishing.

In regard to published content when working in STM, Educational, Academic or Professional publishing you may work on publications covering endocrinology, oncology, neurology, respiratory medicine, vibration or trauma. You may also come across journals covering sociology, art, language, logistics or even graphic novels. The sheer scope and proven impact of academia is far reaching and, some would argue, equal to the equivalent cultural reach of trade publishing.

It always helps to have some connection with, or interest in, the content you’re working on. This is why the Trade editorial route appears to be the preferred career path for candidates when stepping on to the publishing ladder. It’s fair to say that marketing or working in the production team for a physics journal may not be as immediately attractive as a popular fiction paperback list. However what is not said often enough is that the content, product, business models and markets in STM publishing are revolutionising the publishing industry and the scientific community which will have an impact on both our professional and personal lives.

STM and Academic publishing are pushing boundaries in terms of Open Access, peer reviewing and the general accessibility and distribution of content. STM and academic content has been digital far longer than trade mass market ebooks have been around, and digital skills in these markets have been in high demand for even longer. It’s the Developers, Project Managers and all-round digibods in these sectors that are now being hunted for trade publishing.

There are undoubtedly aspects of Academic, Professional and STM publishing that are worlds apart from Trade: the target customers and market that Sales and Marketing teams are focusing on (Academics, Students, Librarians); the production lifecycle of a journal is quite different to that of a book (it’s quicker!); the marketing tends to focus on a brand not an author/particular book/list; and the content is peer reviewed and edited by peers within that particular community rather than on an Editor’s laptop late on a Friday night. This knowledge of the industry isn’t inherent in anyone; they’re things that people learn from relentless enthusiasm and a bit of experience. Ultimately, relentless enthusiasm and a bit of experience is the most transferrable criteria of all.

Ultimately, regardless of the sector, Marketing roles need creativity and a good analytical eye, Sales roles need excellent interpersonal and relationship building skills, Editorial roles need an excellent grasp of the language they’re bashing into a coherent bit of text, Digital roles need pretty much everything. All of these are transferrable. The rest of it you can pick up or learn on the job – all you need is to think outside of the trade shaped box.

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