2 Kay Symons remembers an important publishing lesson she learnt at the first WiP training course on book finance
I think they had the first training session in 1981. There was something called the PPITB, which I think was the Publishing and Printing Industry Training Board, which I think had folded and had some money that it needed to be spent. I think that’s what facilitated it, it meant that we could afford to hire a space and advertise it and probably pay at least expenses to some speakers so we could run a course.
And finance, I think, was one of those areas that we felt that a lot of women had little confidence in and would not have necessarily encountered in their way into their publishing careers, but was really important to understand if you were going to make progress in a publishing career.
And we had Paula Kahn, we had Rosemary Davidson, who was I think managing director of the Schools Division at Cambridge University Press, and then I think we had Jill Norman, who had just set up her own cookery imprint. We had Harriet Spicer who was production director of Virago. And we decided to limit the numbers to about 20 or 25, I think, and a lot of the Women in Publishing committee actually came along. And I remember in the audience we had, now Dame, Gail Rebuck as one of the trainees in the audience and Jane Gregory was there as well and quite a number of others.
And again, one of my real publishing lessons I remember learning from that session, because we were put into groups and we were shown how to cost a book and then we were told to price a book.
The example we had was an encyclopaedia of dentistry for vets or something, so it was a big reference book. And in the group I was in we did it in a sort of normal way. We worked out how much it was going to cost us to make it, and we worked out the margin we needed and that was our price. And it was, well let’s say it was 25 quid. And then we went round the groups afterwards, and the group that had Gail and Jane Gregory in it said 250 quid. What! And they said, ‘Well, they really badly need this book. Vets get paid a lot, their companies would probably buy it, it’s the only thing available, they’re going to need it all the time – 250 quid.’
And I still think of that because I now teach publishers about strategy and about competitive pricing and so on, and I say, you’ve just got to think about the value that the book means to the customer and not the cost. And sometimes I tell them that story. And of course it’s brilliant that those women were in that group, and particularly Gail having gone on to be a massive commercial success. And yes, it was all there, way back when.