Three-Question Spotlight: Home gamer helps publishers

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In the early-mid 1980s, as the new Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer was introducing a generation to the joys of gaming, the young Andy Richardson was honing his skills as a ‘bedroom programmer’. Three decades on, his company Influential Software helps publishers deal with their data and reporting requirements. In the first of our new informal interview series ‘Three-Question Spotlight’, he explains how he turned his programming skills from home gaming to publishing.

How did you start out?

Between the ages of 11 and 15, I spent my evenings and weekends mastering the BASIC and Assembler language used by the ZX Spectrum and  worrying about how to code increasingly-complex games into 16KB of memory.

I designed and wrote a platform game (to rival Manic Miner), a football manager game (the first to have the concept of a transfer market) and a reality game around running a power station. These games were sold via a UK distributor, who bought the rights in an auction of around 20 distributors, and were launched at the annual events in Alexandra Palace.

I also invented an advanced joystick that won a nationwide Marconi award for applied science and technology and a sensor for switching off water flow in taps to avoid flooding, which also won an award.

I learned about the birth of business intelligence (BI) software when I was working within the Equity Research team of James Capel stockbrokers (now part of HSBC) and it was from this BI/research experience that I saw the opportunity to set up Influential Software.

I launched Influential in January 1993, at the age of 22, with the aim of promoting BI software into the wider market, particularly the publishing sector.

We help with any part of the publishing lifecycle, including vendor selection, mergers/acquisitions, bespoke software development and, of course, BI systems to better manage data/reporting. We use high-level resource within the local universities to ensure we are always using the very latest ideas and technology. Many of our customers are large publishers but we have also been working on a software product that will allow SME publishers to take advantage of our experience within BI and the publishing sector generally.

What are the best things about the scholarly publishing industry?

The industry is a very pleasant one to work in – the people are nice and our experience and work are always appreciated. I can honestly say that this doesn’t apply to every industry we work in.

We find the publishing  industry is often several steps behind other industries. This means that our experience within finance, insurance, health and legal, for example, can easily be replicated within publishing, to great effect. 

Scholarly publishing is somewhat incestuous, which we see as a very good thing – we do a great job at one publisher and then, typically via word-of-mouth, get referred to the next.

What are the biggest challenges?

The publishing industry is facing one of its biggest challenges since its inception – the move from print to digital.

Not only do the processes around the workflow of creating a book need to change, but crucially thought is needed around the sales model – how to sell, account for, report on and consider author royalties on the resulting e-product(s).  Historically, a publisher received sales from one source (distributor/warehouse) but now has to additionally consider tens of disparate sources (e-book aggregators, websites etc.), each of which could be in a different format and for a different accounting period. This problem impacts the entire sector, from a self-publisher to a FTSE-100 giant, and is getting more important by the day as the shift to digital gathers pace.

Our perfectly clear “take home” message from the 2012 London Book Fair was that the SME publishers desperately need to deal with the challenges of reporting on e-book sales and they need to do this as soon as possible.

Andy Richardson is managing director of Influential Software. Interview by Sian Harris