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15 things we learned at our Autumn Conference
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Posted by IPG
Some of the countless takeaways from our biggest and best ever Autumn Conference—one from each session

1 Creativity breeds success

Our keynote speaker Rohan Silva knows plenty about entrepreneurialism, creativity and innovation, and they have collided to great effect at his bookshop Libreria. Independent publishers can get the same benefits by thinking about ways to make their workspaces more stimulating, he suggested. “The challenge for all of us is how we can help people be more creative and flourish… independent publishing is playing a huge part in that.”

2 Independents are in good shape

Nielsen Book’s Jo Henry ran through some of the topline findings of this year’s Harbottle & Lewis Independent Publishing Report, which shows that nearly half (48%) of IPG members reported growth in their main category over the last year, with another two in five (40%) stable. No-one’s pretending there aren’t big challenges ahead, but the report has good grounds for optimism. There is more about the report here and here.

3 Better organisation means better rights business

There is huge scope for publishers to increase their rights income, said Jonathan Griffin of the Publishers Licensing Society—but only if they get their houses in order. Buy the right rights, document and store all your contracts and other information properly and make rights management a business priority, he urged. PLS can help in lots of different ways, including via PLSclear, workshops and webinars.

4 Dig into your data

All publishers have torrents of data at their fingertips now, but it is only useful if you know what you are looking for, said Simon Kingsnorth, author of Digital Marketing Strategy. Work out how your data can influence your marketing, and make sure you take full advantage of video, he advised. Distil your data into a dashboard and use it to “tell a story,” added Rowman & Littlefield’s Oliver Gadsby.

5 Find the publisher-author balance

The balance of rights between publishers and authors is always a tricky one, and Nosy Crow’s Kate Wilson and the Society of Authors’ Nicola Solomon explored ways to stay in harmony. Nosy Crow likes to buy world rights in all its books and then exploit them to their full potential—but the work involved in doing so shouldn’t be underestimated. Solomon urged publishers to be fair, realistic, transparent and communicative with their authors—without whom, of course, no book would be possible.

6 Experiment with publishing models

A firm alarm interrupted Amanda Ridout’s session on the rise of Head of Zeus, but not before she had passed on many lessons from other publishers to learn from. Its hybrid model has put ebooks at the start and end of its publishing, but with print remaining a significant channel in the middle. It has helped Head of Zeus to build a vast backlist of ebooks in a short space of time, but to establish itself in bookshops too. “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” she advised.

7 The academic sector is changing fast

Academic publishing is challenged by change in Higher Education demographics, funding, policy and technology, the IPG’s academic and policy correspondent Richard Fisher noted in a session on modern students. Those challenges will only be exacerbated by the Brexit vote—not least because nearly half (46%) of full-time postgraduate students are domiciled outside of the UK. For Richard’s reflections on the Conference, click here.

8 Be bold and innovate

Independent publishers are very well placed to innovate, said Write-Track’s Bec Evans. Give people the tools, techniques and confidence to try new things, and accept that some of them—if not most—will not work. “To have a good idea you have to have lots and lots of ideas—and be ready for some of them to fail.”

9 Publicity is like matchmaking

A session on winning media coverage with publicist Ruth Killick and the Bookseller’s Tom Tivnan was standing room only—an indication of the importance of publicity to independent publishers. It’s like matchmaking said Killick, pairing up books and authors with media outlets and then watching the sparks fly.

10 Design for everyone

As several Conference speakers noted, print is enjoying a revival after years of rising ebook sales. To take advantage though, publishers need to produce high quality and desirable books—something that Jenny Broom and Rachel Williams have been doing with aplomb for Quarto’s Wide Eyed Editions list. Channel Ikea’s slogan, Williams said: ‘Design for Everyone’.

11 Sharpen up your marketing databases

Kogan Page’s Helen Kogan said good direct marketing was vital in the digital age, especially for specialists. Strive to keep your mailing lists accurate and make sure your recipients are receiving what they want to receive. “The aim is longevity—you want to make sure the names on your database keep wanting to hear from you and buy from you.” Make sure you stick to the regulations, added Harbottle & Lewis’ Alex Hardy; it can be a legal minefield.

12 Brexit impacts pricing

Several Conference sessions touched on the impacts of the Brexit vote and the increased costs that have resulted. “What’s really important [post-Brexit] is what we do with pricing to manage gross margin,” said NBN International’s Ken Rhodes. But as Baker & Taylor’s Chitra Bopardikar and Thomson-Shore’s John Sinclair pointed out, Brexit has at least made the opportunities for UK publishers in export markets all the more apparent.

13 US public libraries are a big deal

One particularly good market for UK publishers to explore is US public libraries, said Baker & Taylor’s Sally Neher. The US has more than 8,000 branches with a materials budget of $1.4bn a year. Services like Baker & Taylor’s Global Publishers Services can help publishers access opportunities like this.

14 Dyslexic readers deserve better

Dyslexia affects one in seven people, and publishing isn’t doing enough to meet their needs, said Barrington Stoke’s Mairi Kidd. This is a marketplace not a niche, so publishers should find more ways to remove the barriers between readers and books. It’s another reminder of the amount of diversity work that remains for publishers to do.

15 Start it up

A lot of publishers like to think of themselves as start-ups, but it is easy to become corporate, said The Curve author Nicholas Lovell in the Conference’s closing session. The definition of a start-ups is around mentality rather than size, and it’s fine for them to admit to confusion about their products and how to make money. “The job of a start-up is to figure out what it needs to learn and learn it quickly,” he argued. The good news is that independent publishers do just that every day.

Thank you to all our Conference speakers and delegates, and to our gold sponsors Baker & Taylor and the Publishers Licensing Society; our silver sponsor Thomson-Shore; and our bronze sponsor Wearset. You can read more about the Conference as it happened on Twitter.

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