The Publisher’s Atlas: How do we map the value of reading?

By Stephanie King, on 3 February 2016

Publishing, like any other commercial industry, can only survive if it creates something the consumer values and is willing to pay for. However, the main product the publishing industry creates – books  – contributes to the ‘Knowledge Economy’[1] as well as the financial economy. Books are bought and sold only if the consumers value the act of reading, which requires the ability to be able to read, and the desire to do so.

If a country’s publishing industry wants to succeed,it needs to know whether reading is valued in its country. But how do you judge how much a country values reading? Is it by the number of books published? By how much the average person reads? By literacy rate or by the establishment of reading initiatives?

Let’s take the UK for example, and compare it against every one of those proposed measures of value and see how it stacks up against other countries.[2]

Books published: In 2013, the UK published 184,440 titles, a decrease from the previous year where 190,800 titles were published. In fact, from 2001 to 2012, the number of titles published in the UK increased annually up until 2013.[3] In 2013, the UK ranked third globally in book production behind only China (444,000 titles) and the US (304,912 titles).[4]

Average reading time: This infographic based on the findings of NOP’s World Culture Score Index made the rounds on the internet a few years ago (even though the findings were actually from 2005), and shows an average of hours reading per week per person on a global scale.

Source: Mental Floss, http://mentalfloss.com/article/55344/which-country-reads-most

Based on these findings, the UK spends 5.3 hours per week reading books for pleasure, ranking 25th out of the 30 countries surveyed. This is below the global average calculated to be 6.5 hours. The number one spot went to India, with a mean time of 10.7 hours of weekly reading. The same study also looked at time spent doing other activities, and found that the UK on a weekly basis spends 18 hours watching TV, 10.5 listening to the radio, and 8.8 on the internet (this is from 2005, so I bet that number has changed dramatically).[5]

A more recent study by YouGov, and reported by The Guardian, found that “11% of men and 5% of women surveyed [said] they never read for pleasure. A quarter of the UK’s adult population – more than 12 million people – had picked up a book to read for enjoyment less than twice in the past six months.”[6]

Literacy rate: According to UNESCO’s Adult and Youth Literacy survey, “Regional averages of the adult literacy rate can be calculated for all Education for All (EFA) regions, except North America and Western Europe due to the limited number of countries in the region that report literacy rates. In 2011, the global adult literacy rate for the population aged 15 years and older was 84%. Two regions, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, were at or near universal literacy, with adult literacy rates of 99% and 100%, respectively. North America and Western Europe is also assumed to be near universal adult literacy. In East Asia and the Pacific (adult literacy rate of 95%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (92%) at least nine out of ten adults were able to read and write. However, the average for Latin America and the Caribbean conceals lower literacy rates in the Caribbean, where the adult literacy rate was only 69% in 2011. Adult literacy rates were also below the global average in South and West Asia (63%) and sub-Saharan Africa (59%), where more than one-third of adults could not read and write.”[7]

UNESCO assumed Western Europe was near universal adult literacy, but The National Literacy Trust reports that ‘Around 16 per cent, or 5.2 million adults in England, can be described as “functionally illiterate”.’[8]

Reading initiatives: In November 2015, the BBC announced their year-long campaign called Get Reading aimed “to “ignite a spark” in the nation and encourage people to read” by providing programming and opportunities for people to talk about their favorite books and to discover their next favorite title.[9] It is a similar idea to their 2011 campaign Year of Books, which helped launch the first World Book Night event.[10]

Conclusions: How much a country or culture values the act of reading cannot be based on one sole statistic. Just looking at data for the UK, one might presume that because the UK is the third-largest producer of books in the world, the people must be reading constantly. But when compared with findings that 16% never read for pleasure, the story changes. Publishers, then, need to be aware of and consider all of these factors in addition to current reading trends when deciding who and what to publish.


[1] International Publisher’s Association Annual Report 2014 http://www.internationalpublishers.org/images/reports/2014/IPA-annual-report-2014.pdf

[2] Many industry reports for 2015 are still being generated, so much of this data comes from 2013-2014

[3] According to Nielsen BookScan, which does not account for self-published  e-books without ISBNs. Data complied by The Booksellers Association. http://www.booksellers.org.uk/BookSellers/media/SiteMediaLibrary/IndustryNews/UK-Titles-Published-2001-2013.pdf

[4] International Publisher’s Association Annual Report 2014 http://www.internationalpublishers.org/images/reports/2014/IPA-annual-report-2014.pdf

[5] NOP World Culture Score http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nop-world-culture-scoretm-index-examines-global-media-habits-uncovers-whos-tuning-in-logging-on-and-hitting-the-books-54693752.html

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/feb/14/4-million-uk-adults-never-read-books

[7] UNESCO Adult and Youth Literacy: National, regional and global trends, 1985-2015 http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/literacy-statistics-trends-1985-2015.pdf

[8] http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/adult_literacy/illiterate_adults_in_england

[9] http://www.thebookseller.com/news/bbc-launches-year-long-campaign-get-nation-reading-316569

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2011/01_january/25/books.shtml

Production: Where Books Come to Life

By Elisabeth N Wilkes, on 27 January 2016

After learning about literary agency in the last post, we are now going to jump to the middle with production. The bare bone definition of production is turning a manuscript into a physical book. While it may sound like working on an assembly line, the position offers much more creative opportunities than it sounds.

According to “Working in Penguin: Careers with Penguin Group,” production is, “the physical process of transforming a manuscript into a finished book. This includes everything from producing the initial costing, arranging the typesetting, and selecting and buying paper, to organizing the printing and binding of the book and its delivery into the warehouse.” (Link)


This segment of the industry is not as romanticised as positions such as editor, but it can offer people a place to express their love of books in a different way. See if any of these describe you:


  1.     If you are practical, but also somewhat crafty: While design does most of the work with the appearance of books, production isn’t completely void of chances for artistic expression. Production is the bridge from the abstract book to the incarnated version. Design team might have an idea that works in the head, but for some reason, be it budget or unexpected demands, it is impossible to follow the plan. Production has to then step in to give alternatives to allow the book to work.


  1.     If you like solving problems: Production team members often have to find solutions to any issue that comes up in printing. They also have to negotiate to get prices for the paper design would like, or suggest alternatives if a solution cannot be found. Their main task is to do everything to keep the book on schedule and overcome any unexpected delays. It requires a lot of thinking on your feet and flexibility.


  1.     If you are organised: In production, you are working on many projects at one time and often on a strict schedule. It therefore pays to be a little finicky to make sure none of the projects get mixed up and no dates are missed. So if you like fixing chaos and are a bit of perfectionist, you might consider this part of the industry.  


  1.     If you like people: Working in production requires interacting with companies who supply the puzzle pieces for the book, such as paper, foil, and printing. They are also in communication with the design team, as well as marketing. Production managers must build connections and relationships with both sides. So if you like talking to many different types of people and getting out of the office every once and while, this job might be a good outlet for you.


If you have any number of the attributes or skills above, you might think of exploring deeper to see if this part of the industry is a good fit for you. This job is especially desirable for people who love watching ideas become a physical book to hold (not to mention that production team members are the first to see the finished product!) It’s a job with a balanced mixture of creativity and resourcefulness.

Still not piquing your interest? Then come back next month, when I will be talking about Rights!


The Publishing Project, Group 5: Editing and Dealing With the Author

By Camilla G Lunde, on 21 January 2016


The editing process can be a delicate one. As can the relationship between author and editor. Therefore, it requires a great deal of communication, and it is important to strike a balance between honesty and constructive criticism, The story you are editing is your author’s pride and joy. Remember and respect that.

In our publishing group, we are making a collection of short stories, and consequently are dealing with multiple authors for the same project. That means we are juggling several authors with the same concerns and same deadlines, and making sure they all feel taken care of.

Personal experience has shown me that most authors are grateful for the feedback and find it hugely helpful, especially when it comes to the grammar as they themselves are often too close to the project to pick up on every mistake no matter how many times they go through the text. Structural editing is a little bit different. When you start suggesting ways that the text could be changed concerning plot and characters, authors tend to be a lot more conservative and hesitant. Sometimes, they will flat out reject the suggestion.

When it comes to structural editing, checking for consistency and accuracy is high on the list of priority. As editor, you want to make sure that the pace of the story flows naturally and that the narrative is convincing from a reader’s perspective. If you then want to make structural edits that concerns the plot and characters, make sure you have a reason to do so and explain to your author why these edits will make their story a better one. That is what it comes down to: will the changes you make as an editor make the story a better one?

Sometimes, there is a need to make cuts. This can be due to a word count or it can simply be pieces of text that are unnecessary to the story in its entirety. Some authors are (grudgingly) okay with making cuts. They recognise that there are patches of the story that might look clunky and could be smoothed out. Others are very hesitant. They have put so much work and effort into every word in every sentence, the thought of cutting any of it is absolutely appalling. This is where you as editor have to be firm. Explain to the author the necessity of what you are doing, and pick pieces of the text you are sure—or as close to it, anyway—are non-essential. Every story has pieces redundant text, even if the author would beg to differ.

Different editors take different approaches, and I’m not convinced there is a “best way to edit” so to speak. In my opinion, the most effective way is to establish a good rapport with your author, and to communicate your concern and interpretation regarding the text. If your author trusts you, they are more likely to listen to your advice and suggestions, and to let you go about your job and make the necessary cuts and edits.

Our group is still in the midst of the editing, and while it is a process, it’s coming along nicely. There are, admittedly, a few hiccups along the way, but we are working it out as we move along, and the further into the process we get, the more convinced I am that the finished product is going to be nothing short of amazing!

For more information about the Works in Progress project or other inquires, contact us at:

Email: WorksinProgress2015@gmail.com
Twitter: @WorksInProg2016

Commuter Insights: Books on the Underground

By Sarah L Osborne, on 13 January 2016

So, I’ve had a month off from commuting and what a pleasure it has been! As I haven’t got much to say about commuting this month, I thought I would discuss a “project” (if you will) called Books on the Underground.

The title, Books on the Underground speaks for itself. They place books in random trains on London’s underground. They are placed there with the intent that they be taken, read, and shared with others. Books on the Underground is a not-for-profit organisation that describes itself as “your local library”.

The project’s sole purpose is to brighten people’s days in the bustling capital, and they merely ask commuters to return the books after reading them.

Books can be found via images posted by Books on the Underground. These images often feature a book in front of a station’s sign. They are always looking for other generous volunteers who are willing to distribute books, as well as any book donations.

Their idea has been so influential that there is now an established Books on the Subway in New York, and Books on the Metro in Washington D.C. Books on the Underground has also created a book club where they give out 20 free books a month to those who attend.

It’s a great idea that aims to spread the enjoyment of literature among busy commuters, many of which may struggle to find time to read and relax. It’s a thoughtful and selfless act that aims to break the repetition of daily life as a commuter, and I wish I had thought of the idea myself! It makes me look forward to the dreaded commutes, and I anticipate discovering one of the books myself. I just hope that commuters can continue to respect and appreciate the project for what it is, and fingers crossed that Books on the Underground will continue to grow!

If you want to find out more about them then have a look at their Twitter, Facebook, or website.

Next time I will be discussing a similar scheme, called Books for London.

Close Encounters of a Publishing Kind: Being On a Publishing Course Without Having an English Degree by Hannah Reedy

By Camilla G Lunde, on 8 January 2016

Being on the UCL’s MA Publishing course has been one of the most fantastic opportunities I’ve ever had. While having been able to make more friends and learn new things, I’ve also been able to boost my chances of getting into the industry and securing a career.

When I look back on the first week of the course, I remember worrying so much, because I didn’t know if this was the right course for me. The main reason for this was searching on Twitter for my new course mates and finding that the majority of them were English or Literature graduates while I was a recent graduate in Graphic Arts. I was terrified that I didn’t have the same skills the rest of my cohort had, and that I would probably fail this course.

Well, I’m writing this as I’m just about to undertake the second term, and I have to say I’m still alive! It’s been hard at times, but I really don’t regret joining this course, and it has given me confidence in skills that I thought I didn’t have and ones I didn’t think I needed from my past course. I’ve found that I’ve done a lot more designing and illustrations than I had done in my year after my graduation!

So here are a few tips for those who are interested in applying for the 2016-2017 MA Publishing course but who might not have an English/Literature BA degree. Hopefully, it will encourage and inspire you to use your skills to your advantage!

  • Don’t feel intimidated!

On the first day of the course, you and every other of your classmates will be in the same boat. You will all be learning together, so there is no level of disadvantage for anyone. Just try to keep positive and remember you are on the course because you share the same passions and interests as those of your classmates, no matter if you’ve studied a different course!

  • Use your skills to your advantage!

Publishing has many varied areas from design to finance. So there are plenty of opportunities for the skills you have learned to shine! The skills you have will always work as an advantage to you and help to make you stand out from the others on the course. Also, if they are taught in class and people are struggling, make sure you’re available to give them a helping hand. It’s also key to keep your skills on your publishing CV, even though they may not seem relatable – you never know if they may come in handy.

  • Take as many opportunities as you can!

From internships to a call for help from tutors – make sure they know what you are skilled and interested in. If you work hard and show you’re interested with your skills, you will get noticed. It’s so important in the professional world to demonstrate you have a unique selling point because you’ll be more memorable to people who may have a job for you under their sleeves!

These are tips that I have learned from this first term on the course. It’s so important to make sure that you believe in yourself, and if you have a strong love for books and a passion for reading – you’ll fit in here just fine!

Good luck to you if you’re just about to send in your application, or just about to finish your graduate exams. Hope to see you soon at UCL!