PhDs: Formalised Curiosity

In PhDs: Formalised Curiosity, the focus was on Publishing PhDs currently being completed at Scottish Universities and how their findings can shape the industry going forward. Chaired by Frances Rowbottom, in this panel, we heard presentations from Helena Markou (University of Stirling), Cecilia Bennett (Edinburgh Napier University) and Christina Neuwirth (University of Stirling and University of Glasgow).

First to present was Helena Markou who is completing a PhD focused on longselling, bestselling and the shelf life of books in UK trade publishing between 2001 and 2015. Helena explained how her research began after realising the quantity of books being published in the UK and the potential impact this would have on a book’s shelf-life. As part of this she looked at frontlist and backlist titles, and how a book moves from frontlist to backlist. Firstly, from a retailer perspective as they move books off the shelf, but also from a publishing perspective, looking at the marketing spend in the lead up to a book’s launch compared to a backlist title. In this research, Helena noted the difference between bestsellers and longsellers, with bestsellers have an initial spike which then flatlines and longsellers having steadier sales.

Following on from this, Cecilia Bennett presented on translation markets in the UK and France, which looked at the two comparatively and compared their motivations. Cecilia noted the UK’s reluctance to acquire translation rights, especially compared to international markets. Interestingly, Cecilia notes how the UK and France both have colonial pasts, with the result of this being that the English and French language are now widely spoken around the world which could be utilised when acquiring books. Cecilia also argues that the popularity of Netflix and the commercial decision to dub or add subtitles to shows has demystified translated media as being ‘high-brow’ and opened up consumer perception. Cecilia concludes that consumers fundamentally look for good storytelling and are less concerned about where the originates from in the first instance. Through their PhD, Cecilia hopes to raise awareness of funding bodies which help publishers translate works, whilst simultaneously feeding back to these bodies on how they can best engage with publishers.

Finally, Christina Neuwirth presented her PhD on gender equality in contemporary Scottish witing and publishing. Beginning their PhD, they noted how there is a perception now that in terms of gender equality, things are now great with an increased visibility on Scottish women writers. By looking at prizes and who wins these, Christina notes the importance of prizes in canonising authors but also as many awards prize purses, this inequality is skewering an author’s ability to earn a living from their writing. Furthermore, Christina presents on public reviews, noting who is being reviewed and by who. They note how while women are equally likely to review male and female authors, men almost exclusively review male authors over female. While there are trends to suggest things are becoming more equal, there is a prevalence across the sector of key themes.

Thank you to our chair and all the panellists for participating in PhDs: Formalised Curiosity for the SYP Foreword Thinking: Publishing for the Future conference. The recording of this panel will be available online to ticketholders until 31st May.


Helena has kindly provided a link for people considering a PhD in Publishing (hyperlink to the link in footnotes?). Additionally, Christina’s research will be published later this spring and will be available at

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