Five Years of Publishing Insights: Q&A with the Director

Tina C. Weiner addressing the Yale Publishing Course class of 2013

May 7, 2014

In this Q&A, Tina C. Weiner, Director of the Yale Publishing Course, offers her perspective on the state of the Course and how it has evolved over the past five years.

Q: How has the Yale Publishing Course changed over the past five years?

A: The most significant change in my mind is that the Course has become more interactive and informal, and the speakers are more responsive to the issues the participants want to discuss in greater depth. They not only answer the participants’ questions, but solicit their comments to draw them into the conversation. The result is a lively dialogue that isn’t possible at conferences and webinars. In addition, the conversation and networking continue outside the classroom throughout the week at breaks, receptions, and meals. The curriculum itself is increasingly focused on leadership training and emphasizes not only what to DO now to keep up with the latest advances in technology and emerging new sources of revenue, but how to THINK about what lies ahead and how best to be prepared for the changes that are looming. The curriculum is refreshed each year to keep up with the latest developments and most crucial issues facing the industry.

Whereas in its first years the speakers concentrated on explaining what the digital revolution was and how publishers needed to adapt to it, we now concentrate more on best business practices now that e-books are fully integrated into the publishing process and e-commerce and e-marketing offer new opportunities. I ask speakers to discuss what strategies have worked for them as well as what hasn’t and why. Since this is a course with limited and carefully selected enrollment, the speakers are more candid than they might be in a more public setting.

Q: What are the top takeaways from the past five years?

A: There are so many! If I must choose, then I would have to say that the top takeaways are:

  • The panic that many publishers were feeling about the transition to the digital age is being replaced by a better understanding of the potential to optimize the possibilities of digital, as well as print, publication. Multiplatform delivery is a reality that presents new opportunities for delivery.
  • Content is, and will always be, king. The preferred format on which to deliver it will continue to evolve.
  • There has been huge progress in understanding and utilizing concepts such as responsive design, native advertising, data analytics, and reader-generated content.
  • New models of subscription and paywalls are still evolving, as are new opportunities in social media.
  • The overall top message is that change is the only constant and, rather than lament the fact, one should realize that makes this the most exciting time ever to be in publishing.

Q: What were some of the challenges you’ve seen in the past five years as a result of an ever-changing publishing landscape? How did the YPC address these challenges for participants?

A: The biggest challenges for publishers seems to me to be finding new sources of revenues and news ways to reach readers in light of recent major disruptions: the competition for readers whose attention is distracted by other options for information and entertainment available on the Internet; a market flooded with self-published books which makes discoverability more difficult; the closing of brick and mortar stores; Amazon’s growing market share; revenues challenged by the availability of e-books at lower prices; and, perhaps most importantly, trying to keep up with the ever-increasing advances in technology and a myriad of start-ups competing for the reader’s attention.

YPC addresses these issues by finding leading thought leaders and asking them to delve deeply into the issues and how they are addressing them within their own companies. Members of the faculty of the Yale School of Management place the concept of disruption into context and demonstrate how to manage your staff during times of transition. This year we’ve added sessions on how to use data that is now more readily available to give the consumer what they want, in the format they want, and how to market to them most effectively. We’ll spend more time discussing social media, branding, and non-traditional ways to reach readers both domestically and throughout the world.

Q: What do you see for this year’s Course and for its future?

A: The curriculum for this year’s program will be refreshed and even the topics that were discussed in previous years will be updated with new information, best practices, and case studies. More attention will be paid to finding new sources of revenue, better use of data analytics, understanding the new landscape in advertising, fostering greater involvement with the reader, and what skills are required of new and existing staff. We will continue to find ways to engage the participants in a dialogue with the speakers and to give them more opportunities to interact with them in smaller groups.

The future of the Yale Publishing Course is, of course, dependent on how well we do in staying on top of the cutting-edge issues and so far, we have had great success in providing participants with a unique educational experience.  The feedback we have received from past attendees has been immensely gratifying.  We hope to continue to attract current and emerging leaders and provide them with an opportunity to recharge the enthusiasm that brought them into the field and help them thrive in the future.

The network of Yale Publishing Course alumni is also growing and I have no doubt we’ll see even more collaborations and success stories amongst this group of industry leaders over the coming years. 

Q: What have YOU learned from the program?

A: I have seen first-hand that the world of publishing is made up of really amazing individuals who are thoroughly engaged with the profession and eager to share their thoughts and experiences. It has been an immensely satisfying experience to watch groups of dedicated professionals of all ages and from all over the world, who have never met before, come together, learn from each other, share their views, and form lasting friendships. YPC is a very intensive immersion in a classroom setting and yet, the participants emerge from it elated and energized (and, yes, a bit exhausted). For me the icing on the cake is to hear the participants say it was a transformative event in their careers.

I cannot give enough praise to the speakers for the commitment and enthusiasm they have shown.  They generously offer their time and knowledge and are dedicated to the mission of the program. They make themselves available to the participants and share insights with a candor that isn’t always possible in other environments.

Throughout the year, when reading about the turmoil and challenges in the industry, it is easy to become disheartened about its future.  After the week at Yale, I always feel much more optimistic and excited about the future of magazine media and the willingness of the individuals working in it to embrace and be agents of change.