Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The UK Heritage Publishing Sector:
A Critical Analysis

[The following is the Executive Summary for an abbreviated version of a report I have just finished revising. It is based on the research I did for my MBA dissertation submitted to Oxford Brookes University at the end of 2005. My topic was initially a marketing one, but the more I talked with the publishers working in the UK cultural heritage sector, the more interested I became in the organizational culture aspects of the "publishing field" they were working in. I think the opportunities and challenges these publishing professionals were encountering may be familiar to many people working in non-profit learned societies and institutional publishers.]

This report looks at how ten UK heritage organizations go about their publishing activities. It investigates the ways in which publishing managers attempt to understand, segment and target the market for their titles. Income generation by public bodies has been under intense public scrutiny in recent years, but the importance of the publishing function, and its place in these organizations, has not been adequately explored. A lack of management understanding has led, in some cases, to marginalization.

The primary data in this report consists of semi-structured interviews with publishing managers at national museums and galleries in the UK, as well as at the British Library, The National Archives, The National Trust and English Heritage. The methodological approach taken is described, and results are presented.

The author suggests that these heritage publishers have a unique opportunity to design innovative and successful products by measuring and targeting visitors through their on-site and online shops. However, he also argues that publishing managers’ ability to do so is too often limited by a range of cultural and structural barriers erected by parent institutions.

In conclusion, the author recommends that heritage publishers:

• Ensure that their publishing aims are explicit, that they are aligned with the overall mission of the parent organizations, and that appropriate (and not merely economic) measures are in place to judge success or failure at achieving them.
• Develop a core competence in understanding and targeting visitors, whether they visit online or in person. The opportunity to directly access a large number of potential consumers is a unique one, and while the interests of other stakeholders must be acknowledged, their importance should be secondary.
• Recognize the barriers to communication within and between organizations, and develop strategies to overcome these.

[The original MBA dissertation is archived in the Oxford Brookes University Business School library.]