Public/Private: how both sectors can learn from each other

Amy’s inspirational post yesterday describing her move into children’s publishing from the education sector has got us all thinking about the pros and cons of working in the public and private sectors and how they can learn from each other.

I have had the benefit of working for both sectors, moving from publishing to the amazing charity Booktrust and back again into publishing. The Bookstart Bear represents the perfect public/private partnership. Here he is carrying the Olympic torch!

Children’s publishers are a strange beast in the private sector. They produce wonderful, inspiring books to help children love books and reading and are well supported by teachers and librarians, but they are also a business with stakeholders who are looking for a return on their investments. The simple business of acquiring and selling rights in children’s books is not the most lucrative one and no-one who works in children’s publishing would say they are in it for the money, but it is nether-the-less a business run for profit which thrives on competition.

Charities on the other hand are not-for-profit, and generally run on a complicated mix of public and private sector money. Booktrust for example is funded by the government via the Arts Council and directly to run its book-gifting programmes including Bookstart, which prides itself on its public/private partnerships. Generally this means that publishers provide books at cost with some money for marketing with the government paying for the administration and distribution. The prizes normally rely on media sponsors and foundations such as the BBC, The Sunday Times, the Independent and the Roald Dahl Foundation.

This model is obviously vulnerable to changes in government (Bookstart was a project very dear to Gordon Brown’s heart) and sponsors – I saw Nestle, JLR, the Teenage Prize, Early Years Awards and Orange sponsorships all disappearing as priorities changed for the sponsors and foundations.

Back in December 2010 Booktrust was told from one day to the next that they would lose its £3 million funding of the schools programmes. With the power of Twitter, there was uproar from the public and authors rallied round to save us culminating in an amazing headline in the Observer on Boxing Day 2010 and rapid back-peddling from the government. Now Booktrust is campaigning to keep public money for their programmes with their Bookstart 20 campaign.

Now I have moved back into the private sector to join a brand new publisher – a very rare thing to find these days, but one full of passionate, experienced and knowledgeable people prepared to work differently to the rest of the industry, explore different models of funding by partnering with organisations like the Arts Council and most importantly work transparently, a very refreshing thing in the private sector.

So, over to you. Tell us about your experiences of working for the private and public sectors and how they can learn from each other.


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