London is an incredible place. As an Englishperson who has never lived near the capital, it is one of those places that doesn’t seem as special as it actually is until you get there. Everything is as large as alien as all capital cities seem to be – the buildings are bigger, the traffic is wilder, the people are busier. Everything you could possibly want is contained within London, from great restaurants with diverse flavours, to theatres and concerts. And the Queen. Mustn’t forget her.
One thing that strikes me with London as a place is its self-containment. Just as the outsider looks and sees things of little relevance to them, so the Londoner looks outside of the bubble of itself and wonders what all the fuss is about. It is an entity in and of itself, a country within a country.
So the idea that London is the centre of all things is a London idea that seems to have spread beyond its borders. That all business and transaction of any meaningful kind should exist within the capital is something that England seems to just accept, shrug its shoulders and move on with. If you really wish to make it in the world, move to London. I imagine it is that same principle that draws actors and artists to Los Angeles or New York in the USA: these are the only places you are likely to succeed, so go there.
With London’s self-regard, it all seems straightforward. We all grow up to understand these things as if they are truths. If you want to succeed in the publishing industry, you have to go to London.
But… why? Why is everything based in London?
The only answer I can seem to come up with is that everything is based in London because it is. That’s where people decided to set up, so that’s where it stayed. There are issues with this, and they are issues that are beginning to surface rapidly as the discussion of diversity continues to reverberate through publishing’s hallowed halls.
What most people seem to believe within the complexities of the publishing of books, is that a fracturing and a stagnation is starting to occur. As new and exciting developments in the digital sphere begin to change how consumers are reading books, the operational standards of the industry are seeming outdated. As people move away and try to set up new ways of looking at things, others are ploughing on regardless and the power of social media is seeing a rise in complaints. Diversity, in authorial voice and industrial development, is lacking.
I will be looking into the various difficulties within diversity in publishing in later posts, but here I’d like to address the idea of regionality – the idea that publishing needs to move out of the London-centric view in order to evolve and survive.
My first response is to say, ‘well of course!’ I should be very intrigued to hear publishers give clear reasons as to why London is ‘where it’s at’ in terms of publishing. Due to the nature of book-creation, it seems that as long as there is an office in which to do business with colleagues and authors, the location of said office is irrelevant. And in some cases, like independent press Salt, you don’t even need an office, with the team working from the comfort of their own home-offices and networking through email and phone calls.
Not that I suggest Penguin Random House shut down in London and move somewhere more exotic, like Swindon. That idea is both impractical and, quite frankly, a bit weird. But the idea of opening smaller, regional offices and reducing the presence in London does make sense. Why should every single imprint of the publishing giant all be in two buildings in the same city? Especially when the majority of departments are consistently emailing each other anyway, even if there is only a floor separating them. (If that. I’ve been working two desks over from someone and entered into an email conversation about the work I’m doing. It never occurred to either of us to just walk over…)
By staying fixed in one location, the possibility for things to stay fixed is much greater. Graduates are becoming more and more resentful of the idea that they have to move significant distances from home just to get a job that, when placed in the context of London prices, just doesn’t pay enough. And those are young graduates, those who are leaving university at 21. What about the older generations? What about those innovators from further afield who are settled down, wishing for a chance to become an industry and physically can’t? To be selfish… what about me? I will be a graduate, yes, but a mature one, married and wanting to change to a personally meaningful career whilst preparing for the family-building stage of life. To be blunt, we can’t afford London. To open out again – who can?
That is not to say there aren’t publishing houses outside of the capital. There are. But they can be tough to find and even tougher to get into, with the majority being small-press teams who have been and will be established for some time. This also requires that applicants move into a field that they, quite frankly, didn’t want to go into. Bristol, for example, is becoming known for its magazine and nonfiction publishing. And if you specialise in book fiction? Marketing and publicity continue to expand as digital platforms and social media stay rooted firmly in society. And if you specialise in editorial?
Extending outside of London is not simply a question of providing people outside of the capital with jobs. The industry is keen to diversify ‘its voice’. By looking outside of London, outside of the bubble, the industry would be, in theory, thinking outside of the box. It would be an invitation to new ideas and possibilities that those who didn’t grow up in the city can deliver, working in the same way as the removal of English degree qualifications for applications has.
I love London. I love the feeling of entering into a new world as the train pulls into the station and the enormity of it surrounds you. I love the newness and the history, the Globe sat fat and white and proud next to the Millennium Bridge.
But isn’t it about time the capital started sharing? Isn’t it about time we all recognised that London is not England but only a small part of it? After all, books are for everyone, aren’t they?