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Ten things we learned at the 2019 Spring Conference
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Just some of our top takeaways from a packed 48 hours at Heythrop Park Resort. We’d love to hear yours!

1 AI can liberate publishers

A couple of sessions on the first afternoon of the Spring Conference made it clear that Artificial Intelligence is going to transform many aspects of publishing—especially repetitive and mundane tasks. “Machine learning provides an unparalleled opportunity to excite and liberate creative people… to let you focus on the things you got into the industry to do,” said Google’s head of creative strategy Venetia Taylor in her keynote. “In the next three years there’s going to be widespread adoption of AI in publishing,” said PageMajik’s Jon White in a follow-up session. It can help with “grunt work” in pre-press and production in particular, he said.

2 Consumers want subscriptions

Subscriptions and serialisations are nothing new, said Zuora’s Gabe Weisert in his keynote—but digital platforms and the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Spotify have given them fresh appeal. “It’s an old idea in a new format.” For publishers, subscriptions can provide new and recurring revenues and a chance to get closer to readers. To tempt them in, try offering extras like supplementary text and video content, he suggested. “Start with your subscriber and wrap services and experiences round them.”

3 ‘We’re at a hinge moment in history’

The BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan was returning to the Spring Conference for a second successive year, and he was just as well received this time round. He said we are living through “a hinge moment in history… the great acceleration,” and gave an overview of a media industry increasingly influenced by Google, Facebook and Amazon and what he called the “totalizing power of data”. But publishers are well placed, he said, with people rediscovering the value of print books, and more ways to disseminate content than ever before. “For those of us in the ideas business, this is the greatest time to be alive.”

4 Growth is exciting—but challenging too

Several publishing case studies at the Spring Conference outlined what it is like to start and grow a business and make it stand out in a crowded market. Amanda Ridout of Boldwood Books set out her plans and an ambition to harness the nimbleness, flexibility and innovation that comes with independence—while staying humble. “There’s never been a better time to launch a new English language publisher,” she said.
Another experienced publisher further along the journey, Nosy Crow founder Kate Wilson, showed how exciting it can be to grow a business at speed, but noted dangers around things like cashflow, funding and changes to culture and communications. She compared the experience to "Swimming in the sea… challenging and exhilarating, but not entirely comfortable—a little bit dangerous, and with a sense of being in an element I can’t entirely predict.”

5 No-one quite knows what Brexit will bring

The Conference made it to the second afternoon without seriously addressing the B-word. But when it did it tackled the potential impacts on publishing head on—even if the general agreement was that no-one truly knows what’s going to happen next. The IPG’s academic and policy correspondent Richard Fisher suggested that publishers should be clear and transparent on their processes and be ready to adjust them at short notice, and added that the industry needs to work together to ensure its voice is heard as loud as other sectors’ in the Brexit debate.

6 Bookselling needs fairer trade

The Spring Conference heard from several booksellers, including Blackwell’s CEO David Prescott and Kenilworth Books’ Tamsin Rosewell at a ‘View from the High Street’ session. Rosewell praised independents for their commitment to distinctive publishing, and suggested that the industry needs to move away from a deep discounting culture and find a new “fair trade language” that properly rewards authors, publishers and booksellers alike. “We need to create a public conversation about the true value of our product, and about the work and knowledge behind it.”

7 Academic publishers’ reputation is being tarnished

The academic publishing stream of the Conference included a very well received session from the University of Utah’s Rick Anderson. He brought some tough messages from US academic libraries—including the view that pressure on budgets and space are driving down spending; and that publishers are being demonized in US academia, partly by association with giants like Elsevier. “The predominant narrative about academic publishers at the moment is that you’re parasites… It’s important that people in my milieu get a more nuanced understanding of what publishers do.”

8 There’s much more to be done on diversity

A break-out session on diversity heard that publishing was at last realizing the need to be more inclusive—but a lot of work remains to be done. Archna Sharma of Neem Tree Press suggested publishers need to do a better job in selling publishing as a career to under-represented groups, while Suzy Astbury set out some of the practical things publishers can do to promote diversity.

9 ‘Adventure is where you find it’

The last session of the Spring Conference was hosted by adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys. He talked about feats like cycling 46,000 miles around the world, but suggested that everyone could find micro-adventures close to home. Getting started can be tough, he said—“The doorstep mile—getting out of the door—is the hardest mile of all”—but the effort is always worth it, both personally and professionally. “Adventure is where you find—if it feels adventurous to you, then it is. The idea of living adventurously is broader than crossing deserts… it’s an attitude of doing new things.”

10 Independent publishers are in great shape

The Conference was rounded off in celebratory style with the presentation of the 13th Independent Publishing Awards, showcasing the amazing creativity, diversity and success of IPG members. The trophies clearly meant a great deal to the 13 winners, and pride in independence was a recurring theme of the acceptance speeches. “Independence is right at the heart of Faber… and this makes us all so proud,” said Stephen Page as he picked up the overall Ingram Content Group Independent Publisher of the Year Award for Faber & Faber. Go here to read about all the winners.
The Spring Conference was supported by gold sponsor Ingram Content Group. The IPG is grateful to all our sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and delegates.
For more insights from the Conference and its wide range of break-out sessions, review the #ipgsc hashtag on Twitter. You can browse through some great albums of photos from the Conference here and here, and of photos from the Awards night here. Our Conference cartoonist’s entertaining takes on the Conference are here.

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