Oliver Gadsby is an experienced leader and adviser of international publishing and information businesses.
Oliver is President of the Independent Publishers Guild, Chair of Zero Carbon Academy and Chair of World Textile Information Network. He was President, Academic and Professional, at Rowman & Littlefield, and Chief Executive at Continuum Publishing. Previous roles include Director of Strategy and Acquisitions at Informa, and several roles at Wolters Kluwer, in Sweden and the UK.
He is a member of the Court of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, a 600 year-old Livery Company in the City of London.
Congratulations on your recent appointment as president of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG). What are you most looking forward to in this role?
Thank you so much! It's an organization that I've known and been associated with for many years. I've been on the board for a while and I was a previous chair so I've seen the work that IPG does in supporting independent publishers.
There are always new challenges coming up for the industry and IPG provides a terrific network for publishers and as president, I'll do everything I can to foster that positive community.
I know you have worked across a number of various sectors in publishing including schools, academic, trade, and B2B. What are the challenges and opportunities that come with each different role?
I started out teaching English in Morocco and then became a desk editor in Germany in a school book publishing company. From these roles, I learnt the discipline of publishing for curriculum and classroom needs.
Over the years, I've really enjoyed discovering how you can apply creative publishing skills and technical publishing skills to a different audience. From schools to academia where there’s a global audience and you're not constrained by a curriculum, and through to trade publishing with a consumer focus.
On the B2B front, I am chairman of a B2B publishing company in the textiles industry and it is very specific, so again a totally different discipline.
I encourage those who are coming into publishing not to stay in one box but to try lots of opportunities and keep learning new skills to add to their portfolio.
How has working internationally shaped your approach to leadership and business?
It’s a good question. I’ve worked in Morocco, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and been to and from the United States a lot for work. I'm a linguist by background and so I love learning languages but I also love learning a different working culture.
Typically I’ve been involved in a leadership role to help a company move forward whilst at the same time figuring out how it works; what people's motivations are; and what the structures are in which they operate.
For instance, in Sweden, I was brought into a Wolters Kluwer company. It was a very sizable education and legal publishing business but it needed some new ideas.
There was high union involvement in decision making so, as a manager, you have to learn the processes of consulting with the unions and reaching an agreement. That business of learning the language and learning what makes people tick is fascinating I think.
Of course, in those pre-Brexit days, I moved to Germany and Sweden without a second thought and could just register locally and work there without any difficulty.
There are more challenges in Europe these days for young people but there are schemes and sponsorships available and I encourage people, as they're building careers, to think beyond the borders of this country and look for opportunities elsewhere.
Post-Brexit and post-Covid, have you been able to travel at all for work?
Since Covid my traveling has been reduced but also with an eye to zero carbon. I am working a lot with colleagues in America, India and Switzerland and the physical get-togethers are fewer than they would have been in the past, but the international interest is certainly still there for me.
Speaking of zero carbon, do you have any tips for publishers on how they can become more environmentally friendly in their production lines or in their companies themselves?
I started a business called Zero Carbon Academy and we've been working with the publishing industry and other industries too. We worked with IPG to help produce the IPG zero carbon tool kit which I would encourage people to look at, along with the associated resources.
The Book Journey Project is one that's been running for some time and that’s about reducing waste and the environmental impact of a title.
The Publishers Association also has good resources on how to reduce your carbon impact in this industry and it's something that I think a lot of people are taking seriously.
We all have a busy publishing program and often we’re working through book after book but changing your practice so that you have less of an impact on the environment is something that needs to be done.
Speaking of making these important changes, I watched your recent webinar with Stacey Scott, on accessibility, which was fantastic. Can you share some thoughts on how publishers can take steps to improve accessibility?
There is now specific legislation in the EU and in the United States about the accessibility of digital content for readers with visual difficulties. It is something to be taken seriously and there are lots of very good partners that you can work with.
I ran that webinar on behalf of Amnet and it was an interview with Stacey Scott — Head of Accessibility at Taylor and Francis. She herself is blind and has done tremendous work on accessibility. Again, take it seriously and find what you can do.
One of the great things about accessibility is it's something you can easily plan into your workflow without making it more difficult, slower or more expensive, you just have to use the right technologies.
There are digital development and publishing technologies which can help you get material out there and make a difference. There are companies that have sprung up just to develop alt-text services for publishers, so think about that as well. How are you describing your images? How are you linking them into the text to make them accessible for readers?
We’ve spoken about some new technology in publishing. AI is, of course, very topical at the moment in publishing. How do you feel AI might shape the future of publishing?
I'm actually reasonably optimistic, both about what AI technology can do for us in the industry and about the place of human creativity in all of this. I cannot see people abandoning the form created by the human spirit and the human imagination for the sake of something cobbled together by a machine. Having said that, I think as a resource for publishers and authors, it can be very useful.
In my B2B textiles business, we've been using AI for several years to research technological advances in the industry, which would otherwise take manual researchers hours to do.
Now you can look at trends and data in the wider world that you wouldn’t have been able to do normally and I am in favour of authors and publishers bringing in that broader understanding from AI, but placing it within the context of material that is shaped and written by human beings. In the businesses that I'm involved in, we'll keep experimenting.
I should mention that the IPG has been doing some great work on AI and in the skills hub and through other IPG platforms, there's some great training material and information about AI for members.
I understand you do a lot to help young people who are trying to get into publishing. What do you do to support young talent, particularly from diverse backgrounds?
Like many of us, it's something that I've tried to support in the businesses that I have run personally and teams that I have created.
I’ve tried to have an eye on diversity and I’ve worked with Creative Access several times in recent years, bringing people in from diverse backgrounds into the industry, often through paid internships and then often moving into full-time positions.
The other thing that I've been doing is mentoring with the University of Greenwich through IPG and through the Stationers’ Company.
I think those somewhere along their career trajectory in publishing should think about what they can offer in the way of mentoring and look for opportunities to do it. The IPG regularly asks for mentors to volunteer, and it's a great experience.
With all of these, they're not just giving experience. They are very much two-way experiences and you can really benefit as a mentor from the stimulation and conversation with a mentee.
Finally, I’m involved with The Stationers’ Company, where The Stationers’ Foundation gives bursaries for students entering masters programs often in Publishing or Print Technology.
Students hoping to embark on these various courses can apply for interviews and it's a very rewarding process: hearing their stories and hopefully being able to offer the money which will allow them to do the course.
Can you tell me a bit more about The Stationers’ Company and what role you have there?
For most of my career, I was unaware of The Stationers’ Company but then I was invited along about a decade ago and it's a fascinating Livery company in the city of London.
It was formed in 1403 when the writers and illuminators who worked around Saint Paul's Cathedral wanted to protect their revenues.
They formed a guild, later given The Royal Charter, and it's been there as a network of people in publishing, printing, journalism, packaging and associated trades for 600 years.
They do charitable work and educational programs helping to support a school, and then they also run industry networking events. I've found it a stimulating environment with a touch of difference.
It has a slightly broader feel to other associations because of its historical legacy: it's where copyright started. People had to go to Stationers’ Hall and write in the Register their claim over a book. We still have the Register that has Shakespeare's first folio in it and it's been there in the archive ever since.
I'd love to hear a bit more about your reading yourself, what do you like reading?
I often alternate between fiction and non-fiction. One of my favourite books I’ve read recently is by Anne Applebaum, a US-Polish historian and distinguished journalist.
The book is Red Famine, which is about Stalin's starving of Ukraine and the terrors of life in those times which, of course, have horrible echoes of what’s going on now.
I also recently read The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler, which is set in the 1930s, in Vienna. A young man enters the city and meets Sigmund Freud, amongst other things, and it's a very lyrical, gentle tale that is well told.
Thank you, Oliver!