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11. Ideals vs. Practicalities: Tensions in a Small Business | David Norrington

wordcatcher innovation quality sustainability

This is the eleventh in our 12 Days of Christmas series of posts detailing how Wordcatcher Publishing Group Ltd plans to meet the ten commitments it signed up to as a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact.

In previous posts in this series we’ve committed to high ideals. But there are tensions between these ideals – what we’d like to do – and the restrictions of having limited human and financial resources compared to larger companies. How can a small business strike a balance that feels true to our purpose and still be achieveable?

Our Limitations

  1. Power to influence the supply chain

If Amazon decide to de-list your book, there’s not much you can do if they don’t want to listen to you. The fact a POD title is always in stock might not convince Waterstones to show your book as available in 7 days, but show it as out of stock, or permanently unavailable. If you are a larger publisher, with a dedicated account manager at Amazon or Waterstones these issues can be resolved. For the rest of us, it can be a battle to get matters resolved.

2. ‘Monitoring’ of authors – the dilemma

Is Wordcatcher ‘representative’ enough? It’s a difficult question to answer. Do we take that to mean representative of the population of the UK, or Wales, or Cardiff, where we are based?

We’ve never accepted manuscripts to fill quotas or tick other people’s boxes for the ‘type’ of author we sign. We choose books to publish because we like the idea and the writing, and think it might sell. We have never monitored or asked about the personal traits of authors when submitting, or post-acceptance.

We have, however, asked our contributors what the reception might be if we were to ask them about their sexual preferences, age, cultural heritage, or other monitoring questions. It spawned a debate that seemed to split opinion. Some authors are more than happy to divulge this information, others were more reticent. The majority of our contributors, however, did not engage in the conversation. It wasn’t a scientifically conducted exercise, so no real conclusions can be drawn, other than it is a complex issue.

3. Time – or lack of it

Time is at a premium – there are only so many hours in the day to do all the things that need to be done. Adding layers of form-filling or checklists for the sake of appearances is simply unrealistic. Anyone who works in a small business knows that time is probably their most precious resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And in any business you want to spend as much time doing what you do, rather than doing other things. And, it’s what your customers want you to concentrate on too.

How to live up to our ideals

So, sustainability and equality has to be a part of the culture – not something that you ‘do’, just something that ‘is’. It permeates every aspect of the business without being seen as an extra, or something that looks good to be involved in. It informs every business decision. It challenges ‘how we do it now’ to be better. It is something we are proud to pursue, even when it means being at a competitive disadvantage. It’s something that evolves as we learn more and embrace new ideas and workflows. It is not always easy, but it is very necessary.

In case you missed it, here is yesterday’s post about out our aims to take action on at least one Sustainable Development Goal every year.

Join in the conversation on social media with the hashtag #SDGPublishersCompact.

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11. Ideals vs. Practicalities: Tensions in a Small Business | David Norrington

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