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Five Minutes With: Fiona Swarbrick, National Union of Journalists Books and Magazine

“The book industry had the foresight to proceed with a paid model rather than wander blindfold into the digital age as the newspaper industry did. Many media conglomerates are now shored up by the profits of their book publishing wing,” says Fiona Swarbrick, former editor at Taylor & Francis, currently the National Organiser in the Publishing Department of the National Union of Journalists.

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A rather famous member of the NUJ was George Orwell, who wrote of ‘Big Brother’ in “Nineteen Eight-four”. Room 101 is said to have been inspired by a conference room at the Senate House of the University of London, now one of the libraries University College London students use to conduct research. The NUJ membership is open to authors as well as journalists, photographers, broadcasters and designers.

Q. What do you think will become of books?

There will always be an appetite for stories, but there is a risk that the complacency of publishers will create a situation that people see no benefit in paying for books.

Q. What will audience learn from the event?

That the survival of the book publishing industry is reliant on the ability of publishers to demonstrate that they add value to a story by excellent quality design, editing, commissioning, marketing and distribution. This quality is dependent on the workers the NUJ represents. Whatever the format, publishers need to give the same regard to training, reward and security if they are to get the right people and ensure they are doing the best possible job. For too long many publishing houses have taken for granted the love of books that, almost without exception, motivates every single employee in the industry. This does not however constitute a viable long term plan for the growth and maintenance of a stable and diverse sector.

Q. What is your favourite book? By author/photographer, design or publisher?

It’s the second hand Pan copy of “Mrs Dalloway” I bought when I studied it at university. Both because it’s my favourite novel and because that particular copy is such a joyful artefact!

Q. What was the last book you read? Or published!

“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, which my friend and I read aloud to each other as we travelled across America this summer. Reading aloud is a really great and social way to enjoy books.

Q. Finally: Kindle, PDF, HTML – or print?

For myself, print. I’ve yet to see a digital reader as beautiful as a shelf of Penguin paperbacks. But I think publishers should be investigating every avenue and investing in the future. I’m delighted by the expansion of digital publishing and very, very pleased that the industry had the foresight to proceed with a paid model rather than wander blindfold into the digital age as the newspaper industry did. As a result, many media conglomerates are now shored up by the profits of their book publishing wing. This may move the industry into a very influential position in the future.

This Q&A was originally done to promote our event for The London Design Festival 2011, “Whatever is to become of books?”. It took place on 17 September 2011 at the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building, UCL Main Campus, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT. 

Story Of Books founders are members of the National Union of Journalists.

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