This summer Oxford helped me to realize three things
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Dr Haseeb Md Irfanullah is an AuthorAID mentor and an editor of Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy hosted on BanglaJOL. On 7−18 July, Haseeb participated in a 2-week publishing summer school at the Oxford Brookes University, UK, with financial support from the INASP. This article captures his recent realizations and thoughts on publishing. Working full-time for a UK-based charity Practical Action in Bangladesh, Haseeb is available on hmirfanullah@yahoo.co.uk and can be followed on @hmirfanullah


Size

I work for Practical Action − an NGO which uses simple technologies to help the poor. Here we believe in ‘small is beautiful’ – a philosophy EF Schumacher introduced several decades back.

In the publishing industry, however, big is better and [the question of size] is becoming unavoidable. In the publishing training I attended, Amazon’s ever-increasing size, its monopolization, and its fight with Hachette came up again and again. Our visit to Lightning Source/Ingram, the world’s largest print-on-demand facility, showed us how you can have 11 million titles in hand and  be ready to print just 1 copy of 1 book if 1 person places a request. Bloomsbury Publishing – the publishers of the Harry Potter books −, on the other hand, acquired 10 smaller academic and professional publishers during 2007−2013 and achieved 300% revenue growth in just 4 years (2010-14). Publishing is [definitely] not dying, if anyone had any doubts!

Innovation

My day job engages me and my colleagues in technological innovations – to grow more food and to tackle waste, for example.

The world around us is changing so fast − innovation is surely a continuous process.  No doubt, the world famous Bodleian Library (still having the ‘chained books’!) is fantastic, and the Oxford University Press − the largest university press printing 6000 new titles a year − carries on 536 years’ printing legacy of Oxford. Publishing in Oxford, as around the globe, however, is moving very fast to cope with technological advancement, consumers’ demands, and making the business viable.

Re-packaging of well-known literature (like Shakespeare on Drama Online), making publishing more environment-friendly, and fighting against cunning copyright infringements are a few examples asking for innovations. Creating an interactive digital product, which is a combination of book, documentary and video game, is the extreme example of publishing innovation.

Participation

As a development practitioner, I work not only for the people on the ground, but also with them. This is called the participatory approach, which helps to create a development project owned by the targeted people.

I was amazed by the revolutionary concept ‘crowd-funding’ in publishing. Initiatives like Unbound connect readers with the authors when a book is a fresh manuscript. You pay £20 not just to see your name in a book you liked; you join the effort in making the book ‘happen’. That is why it is very exciting to see that ‘The Wake’ by Paul Kingsnorth became the first crowd-funded book making the long-list of Man Booker Prize 2014.

Before I finish, I have some non-publishing experiences to share: the English summer behaved unusually well this July, the award-winning John Henry Brookes Building at the Oxford Brookes University looks outstanding, and the Chef of The Lounge can really cook! All are something to tweet about!

That reminds me, in mid-July, there was a twitter conversation on ’a black cat in a dark room’ analogy. Author Philip Pullman wrote ‘Literature is like being in a dark room and opening the door’. In his fantastic talk in the summer school dinner, John Mitchinson, the co-founder of Unbound, added, publishing is like putting a pan of milk outside the door, making the cat come out!

I can’t agree more!

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