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Celebrating female digital publishing pioneers

Celebrating female digital publishing pioneers December 6, 20132 Comments

Casting around the digital landscape I sometimes feel disheartened. The power players that shape our online lives and interactions – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple – were all conceived by men. I wonder what Search or Social would look like if they had been conceived, or co-designed, by women (the answer, by the way, is not Pinterest, which was also designed by men).

A key aspect of achieving equality will be women’s involvement in imagining and creating the tools used by society at large. Another essential element of achieving equality is visibility and representation so when I look at my industry – the book industry – I find it impossible not to take a little heart.

As digital technology transforms publishing, I am heartened to see many women taking leading roles – heading up the digital strategy of the big houses, launching start-ups that make the most of the new opportunities on offer, and making exciting new types of work.

In the UK, the heads of digital strategy at Random House, Pan Macmillan, Penguin and Bloomsbury are all women. Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey, has steered the company in a bold direction, using digital technology to connect with readers in new ways.

Women are launching new types of publishers. Rosemarie Hudson set up Hope Road, an e-book only publisher that focuses on writers of Caribbean, Asian and African origins, and Kate Wilson set up Nosy Crow, a children’s publisher that develops interactive picture books for screens. They are joined by women launching new types of retailers such as Emily Books, a subscription e-book club set up by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry, and The Pages, an online retailer for independent publishers set up by Seyi Newell.

Then there are the more technology-focused start-ups such as writer-focused print-on-demand service Completely Novel and pay-as-you-read service Valobox, both co-founded by Anna Lewis, and Bibliocloud, the cloud-based bibliographic database for small publishers founded by Emma Barnes.

Many of the forums and events focusing on books and tech have been founded by women, including Futurebook, Byte the Book, Book Machine and the magazine and agency I co-run, The Literary Platform.

Finally, but most importantly, are the writers using digital technologies to make exciting new types of work and in doing so are shaping what it might mean to ‘read’ and ‘write’ in the future. Naomi Alderman writes literary fiction, bestselling apps and has written a novel on social writing platform Wattpad. Kate Pullinger, recipient of the Governor General Award for Fiction for her novel The Mistress of Nothing, is also the writer of Inanimate Alice, an episodic, participatory web novel used in schools around the world, and has recently been exploring Live Writing as part of Memory Makes Us.

Alongside them are a host of artists and makers taking a playful approach to stories and books. These include Alyson Fielding who has engineered a print book that speaks to readers and Lucy Heywood, co-founder of Stand and Stare Collective, who create surprising story experiences using RFID technology, among other things.

This post is not an attempt to tally the numbers – they won’t. Nor is it an attempt to make out that everything is fine – it isn’t. The challenges women face in publishing start-ups has been documented in two blog posts – and a lively discussion thread – over on the Digital Book World Blog. Women in the book industry face the same struggles as women in any workplace: unequal pay, resistance to flexible working and typecasting. What’s more, black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are woefully under-represented in the industry as they are across the wider culture and medial sector.

All this post is, is a small celebration of, and a shout out to, the women who are shaping the future of writing and reading and who offer inspiration to those around them along the way.

Image of Joanna Ellis by Marcus Bastel.

About the author


Joanna Ellis

Joanna Ellis is the chief operating officer at The Literary Platform, an agency specialising in books and technology. She is also the co-founder of The Writing Platform, a site and events programme for writers.

Follow Joanna via The Literary Platform on Twitter @thelitplatform

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