“Fail Harder.” Peter Collingridge 1
www.aptstudio.com / email@example.com
- Talk given to Society of Young Publishers
- London Book Fair
- Pecha Kuch (21 seconds per slide!)
- 21 April 2009
“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure 2
without losing your enthusiasm.” Sir Winston Churchill
- Asked to do this 12 months ago
- “Fail” seemed apt then
- Since then - lots of big failures - capitalism, economy.
- Failure seems a bit grand for my minor personal disappointments
- Some things you want just don’t work out
- Inspire you to fail
- Winston quote
Who Am I?
Why am I here?
- Not existential dilemma
- Don’t consider myself publisher
- On fringes of publishing for 12 years: Canongate, Film, Apt, Enhanced Editions
- Evangelising about technology, creativity, beauty and the web
- PASSIONATE that Books and web made for each other
- Uphill struggle for last 11 years
- Suddenly all going on
How Did I Get Here?
By failing to get what I wanted.
- If you had asked me when I graduated where I would be 12 years later, not here
- Here is glamourous Acton, where I live
- But actually I’m very happy. Working on incredible projects with great people, making beautiful stuff
- But only because I failed to get what I wanted
- Harry Beck’s tube map: struck me on this slide that similar: Harry was evangelical about technology improving something (Tube map) so did it on his own,
and believed it would ultimately work out. It did.
- So - here’s some failures
1993: Wanted Oxford.
Fail. Got Edinburgh.
- School. Wanted to do graphics. Made me do as 4th A level so I could go to Oxford.
- Worked hard and focused on going to oxford to read english and French. Fail
- Went to Edinburgh, found out had to do 9am lectures on linguistics in this building. Fail.
- Tried to switch to School of Art - wouldn’t have me. Fail.
- French department rubbish. Dropped it. Fail.
- BUT! English Literature was perfect for me.
- Courses on hiphop, film, cultural theory, economics, history, psychology.
- Made me decide I wanted to be “paid to be pete”
1995: Wanted Paris.
Fail. Got Vienna.
- Heart set on Paris as part of lit (hey, I was a 18 year old arts student!)
- Applied ERASMUS. Fail.
- Got Vienna.
- Only requirement of literature was to speak English. Yay!
- Spent all time listening to hiphop and writing my thesis on Tricky (see picture)
- And getting into books, literature, finally.
- Also got into the internet.
- But - still had 8 am jacobean poetry seminars on a MONDAY!
1996: Wanted to be a hiphop DJ.
- Had been in bands at Uni.
- Taught me about being a “producer”.
- All about the getting the crowds (and the girls) in.
- No musical talent.
- Worse than drummer: Scratch DJ
- Loved it. Minor success, but incompatible with career.
- Abandoned in 1998 other than Book Fair party slots. Which don’t count!
1997: Wanted to be an ad exec.
- Ah. Advertising.
- Perfect communion of my love for language & visual communication
- Glamour, creativity, wealth, recognition
- Fuckers wouldn’t have me
- Application forms dripping with 2:1 post-Marxist / Jameson theory.
- No dice.
1997: Wanted a (Guardian Media) job.
Wieden + Kennedy.
- When graduated had zero interest in publishing.
- Lots of job applications that I convinced myself i REALLY wanted
- Ended up setting up a cashmere outlet for friend’s dad
- Thank fuck not at JWT, KissFM, Grey.... other ones I’m still bitter about!
- Then met girl through band who lived on a canal boat
- She was editor at Canongate....
1997: Joined Canongate Books
- Got job Canongate: knew Jamie from Chocolate City (funk club)
- Pre-life of pi days
- “Lucky” to get £10 day. Parents supported me.
- First task was counting the books in every store in Ediburgh. Yup.
- Most visible part of Canongate (to my parents) was Rebel Inc: Irvine Welsh. Gave appearance of publishing the odd pamphlet from smacky stairwells.
- Really good for me: entrepreneurial, cult, fun, creative. Taught me to be maverick in approach.
The Pocket Canons
- Fantastic project: republish bible in individual books with celebrity introductions (Nick Cave, Bono, Will Self)
- Most staggeringly beautiful book design I’ve ever seen
- Brilliant. Audacious.
- Taught me that people buy good ideas.
- But it’s all in the execution.
- Also, my parents got it. It was in the paper! And they were proud!
- “Second coming of the bible”. Jamie compared to jesus etc (hair!). Blasphemy.
- Talking of second comings....
- This is _really_ embarrassing failure. Ego.
- I thought I was doing well at canongate, really enjoying working with Jamie
- Flourishing under his leadership
- Drinks with one of the board, late at night (common occurrence)
- He said “We thought you were Jamie’s amanuensis when you joined”
- I thought this was some Christian word and that I was destined to be the second coming of Byng.
- Until I looked it up in a dictionary.
- It means gimp.
Wanted to be an internet entrepreneur.
First business plan.
- Realisation at Canongate that I was not going to be a designer or art director, or editor or publisher
- Self-glorified PA
- Had been getting increasingly into the web
- Friends filmmakers
- Decided to have creative business ideas instead
- business plan: pop promos for books
- taught by ex-MBA how to write business plan
- learned a huge amount and am indebted to him (David Graham)
- Submitted business plan to Scottish Arts Council for £25,000 funding
- And it worked!
- Was good idea: make good films, let people watch them, they will buy books from a site that is converting 8% of visitors to customers
- Well executed: Gil, Life of Pi (3m). Others not so much.
- Flawed strategy. People watched but didn’t buy. In their millions.
- Made me resolute to focus on commercial AND creative success.
- To this day more focused on it than some of our clients!
2000: Really wanted this jacket to be better.
- All going well at Canongate then? Good company, good job?
- Also acquiring books.
- The Testament of Yves Gundron, Emily Barton.
- I was the only one who had read it.
- Someone briefed in the most awful jacket.
- I had a vision for Angus (Pocket Canons) to do it: could see it in my head. Instead sub-Tolkein fantasy photoshop disaster.
- In the end I had to fight to get US edition (above) used.
- Epiphany: no room for me here. Not being listened to.
- Accepted offer from Screenbase, company who had built Canongate web site with me
- Left publishing.
2001 - 2005: Dot Com Dream
Full of Fail.
- Dot Com Dream - all going off - be part of a rock group in a bubble
- Boss who promised me everything and, in particular, trusted me and gave me space and latitude
- Also offered me bigger salary.
- Bubble burst. FAIL!
- Perversely, I decided to focused new business on publishing (not famous for technophilia or pecunious)
- Boss was weird mix of trust and micromanager: whenever we did something, he’d come in and change it at the last second
- I ended up running new business and production - learned a huge amount
- Personal clashes led most of us to leave and set up on our own: company died
- Owed lots of money. Horrible. Horrible.
- But luckily learned some very very valuable lessons - which jobs to take on, cashflow, running a small business and team - whilst (just) being paid - during a
- Left in May 2005.
- Set up Apt to consult to publishers
- Joined in 2007 by James Bridle. Wasn’t looking for people to join, but he was just awesome and very convincing.
- Done great work together: Granta, 4th Estate, James Frey
- Had some minor failures together: lost pitches really wanted, been close to killing clients, some twitter-based indescretions
- But maintained focus on quality of idea and execution
- Evening Standard “50 most influential” in publishing
- Both shortlisted British Council Young Publishing Entrepreneur: India trip above
- Update: UKYPE FAIL! (Congrats to Davy the winner)
- 2006 Apt was fine, growing, but I was in a bit of a rut. Still “dark ages” in publishing and the web
- Had lots of very rich friends in superstar industries
- Still had/have advertising hangup
- Massively talented friend / colleague and I cooked up a brilliant idea for getting rich quick
- Both “had a clue” about web. Independently and jointly very experienced.
- High-quality, high-price “White label” web stuff for the legions of design and (particularly) ad agencies who don’t have a clue.
- I was moving house, to London, having babies - couldn’t commit. Couldn’t decide.
- He went off and got a £250,000 year job....
- Source of very great frustration to me
2009: Enhanced Editions.
- 2008 the day Apple launched the App store
- Blogged as to why publishers were not in there
- Decided that this is what I would do instead
- Broke rule that would never become publisher
- Set up “A team”
- Used all 12 years experience of books and tech
- Enhanced eBooks on iPhone
- Launching this summer
- No idea if it will fail
- Got a good feeling....
- Enhanced Editions pulls together all my working passions (as did English Lit)
- Where I’m at now is the logical conclusion of my failures.
- Failure recently got me to India with the British Council
- Persistent, tenacious, ambitious failures.
- Mini revelation in India (predictably!). “Found myself”
- UKYPE made me comfortable with “entrepreneur”
- Encourage you to...
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. 21
Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett
- Most of you at beginning time in career.
- See yourselves as an object in movement, not at a point in time
- Economic climate great time to think things through.
- I would encourage you to be wildly ambitious.
- Take risks, CHEAPLY!
- Follow your passion with integrity and quality.
- Do what makes you happy, not rich.
- Fail quickly, cheaply, forwards.
- If I’d got what I wanted I’d be very unhappy now.