There was that big thing that happened a few years ago and it took Covid for people to stop telling me our business was doomed because of it.
The internet did indeed shake publishing up, and, yes, of course I know ‘you can get all that online now’. I really didn’t need telling that at every bookstall I worked on for the best part of the last decade. On occasion, we are left wondering 'where we do fit in'? It’s funny really, we get it from both ends. The publishing industry doesn’t always take us seriously because we don’t do ‘real’ books and the outdoor industry doesn’t take us seriously because we don’t do ‘shiny’ and we don’t use models on our Instagram (shock horror!), but we do occasionally use me on our Instagram ...
Of course, not fitting in, not being on Mam Tor with everyone else, is okay.
As a guidebook publisher we are seeing some huge changes. We used to call it honey potting. You know how it is. You’ve walked up Helvellyn more than all your other Wainwrights put together, or you’ve only climbed at Stanage, or you just go to trail centres. During the Covid pandemic, we saw huge numbers of people heading to a limited number of places. Here in the Peak, it was Ladybower Reservoir and Mam Tor. The cause of this was our old friend the internet: Google’s recommended points of interest. Then, of course, the more people who went there, the more interestingto the algorithm it became. It is one of the problems of the internet, letting it dictate what we do and where we do it. Of course, the internet has a way of proving itself right, and it is something else we are seeing as a publisher, AI generated books! If you don’t believe me, try it. You can even grab all the photos from social media. Perhaps slightly more concerning is that you can knock out instruction books using AI. Because AI can’t do new, it just cleverly regurgitates what has gone before; it perpetuates the honey pot thing; the heat maps get hotter, the points of interest get more interesting, the cairn gets bigger.
We can spend a lot of time online – and even us outdoor-in-real-life publishers can be lured into creating our books from the comfort of our screens. Should we just start churning out trig point guides, best of crap? I guess we could. However, that wouldn’t be very Swallows and Amazons would it? More just Amazons.
I was at Lee Craigie’s Other Ways to Win talk this week, and she said she chose Vertebrate as her publisher because we were all about inspiring adventure. That’s us. We want to make sure we introduce you to the kind of things you want to do – maybe stuff you didn’t know you wanted to do – to make sure you get the best out of it, and hopefully get you home again safely ... We also want to try not to upset anyone in the process – especially Gaia.
Here's the thing. Sometimes things happen when you step out that comfort zone, sometimes something new is just more fun than a Google point of interest or an algorithm, or a what-are-the-ten-best-walks-in-the-Peak list. You meet people, you see things, you learn stuff, and, probably more importantly, you forget stuff.
Our most successful books of the last few years have done (I hope) just that. The Climbing Bible, Big Trails, Great Scottish Walks, the bikepacking books, Retirement Rebel, Cook Out and Failure is an Option… because they are real, written by real people, who are discovering real things. These are the sorts of people we like to work with; the Damian Halls, the Hannah Collingridges, the Lee Craigies, Renee McGregor, Ned Feehally, Suzanna Cruickshank, Helen Mort, Alex Roddie, Liv Bolton, Calum Maclean, Suzanne Masters and the wonderful Jo Moseley. I’m not going to name everyone. These books have been written on the trail, written from the soul. They don’t want to change the world, they just want to tell you about the world as they have found it.
So that’s the masterplan really … we will spend as much time as we can outside next year, working with the kinds of people we like working with … trying to find the most fun we can to put in the books.
There won’t be hundreds of new books next year. We’re excited to have a new series of Mountain Walks books aimed to make our wild places more accessible. First up will be Snowdon, closely followed by Kinder and the Three Peaks. We will have a bit more gravel for you; we will have the quite stunning yet difficult to read There is No Wall from runner Allie Bailey. We will have another Peak Bagging book; we are working on Steve Peat’s autobiography; we have the biography of Ethel Haythornthwaite; we have books to get more from your climbing and a few challenges to go at, including a directory of the UK's trail centres, as well as a 100 running challenges guide.
Of course – it’s about you lot really, supporting us. Never has that support been more keenly felt. You lot kept us going with your kind words, reviews, eagerness to get books, and when we found ourselves in a bad place in February, it was a few nice comments on social media that made it all so worthwhile. Hey, happy Christmas! See you out there.
Jon, John, Jo, Stephen, Sophie, Kirsty, Helen, Jane, Lorna, Becca and Otto, the nervous office dog.