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​Start it up​
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Posted by IPG
I have worked as a publishing finance director at independent publishers for more than 15 years. In the last three of them I have been involved in the sale of two established and successful independents to larger corporate publishers: of Constable and Robinson to Little, Brown in January and, before that, of Frances Lincoln to the Quarto Group in August 2011.

The consolidation of corporate publishers and their acquisition of independents often means the exit of good, experienced staff—either voluntarily or as a result of redundancies—and a reduction of titles from the pre-acquisition forward publishing programmes. Many, including affected authors, despair at this. But these events also create opportunities and ways for independent publishers to succeed and achieve. Independents can get valuable industry insights from these experienced staff, either by employing them or hiring them as consultants and advisors. Getting access to authors and titles looking for a new home is also a valuable opportunity for growth.

Acquisitions can be a catalyst for the creation of new independent publishers, who can move into gaps that are left in niche markets. In one such case Jo Christian, Frances Lincoln’s former senior commissioning editor with a wealth of publishing experience, launched her own publishing company. It filled a gap in the market for fine illustrated books on gardens and gardening that was left as a result of Quarto’s acquisition of Frances Lincoln. I was fortunate enough to be able to assist Jo in her plans, and Pimpernel Press already has a publishing pipeline of almost 50 titles, and attended its first Frankfurt Book Fair this year on the IPG stand.

Starting up a new publisher can of course be daunting, and financing can be a significant barrier. There are few industries that put such a demand on working capital and cash as publishing, and a start-up must get sufficient initial investment to cover not just its set-up costs but its working capital for its first few years of operation.

Knowing where to get support is the first step to overcoming this obstacle. Government investment schemes like the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) offer very generous tax reliefs to investors that greatly reduce the risk, so long as the start-up, the investor and the investment itself satisfy certain conditions. These schemes are a good way of finding the investors that start-ups need, and the IPG also hosts ‘Meet the Investors’ evenings to help members explore access to funding opportunities; the next one is on 3 November.

For a new start-up, getting the right people on board to establish and grow the venture is another challenge. Hiring full-time staff, with all the associated fixed costs, can be prohibitively expensive, and the sensible option is usually to use freelance service providers. Only paying for services as and when they are needed is economical and efficient, and keeps a company’s operational gearing low. It also allows a publisher to easily change the mix of services it employs, helping it to adapt to changes quickly. Specialist service providers like White Fox and Rippon Publishing Managementare among useful sources of this support.

Another consideration, often overlooked by new publishing start-ups, is the need for sufficient, effective systems and workflows. In the modern publishing age metadata is not just a buzzword but an essential component of communication with customers and supply chains. Get good IT equipment and support as the first step, and then engage a knowledgeable industry consultant to assist with the design, implementation and maintenance of title management and workflow systems.

By thinking creatively, identifying niche markets, understanding core competencies, applying a ‘light-footed’ approach and knowing where to go to get expert support and guidance, both start-ups and established independents can grow and prosper in this changing landscape.

Jon Rippon is founder director of Rippon Publishing Management. Visit the company’s website and follow it on Twitter.

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