Some of our top takeaways from a host of insights at this year’s gathering in Oxfordshire
1 Innovation is essential
“It’s no longer business as usual,” said Conference keynote Terence Mauri. “The pace of acceleration is breathtaking now—it creates huge risk and huge opportunity.” All publishers need to update their mindsets and make innovation a daily habit rather than a one-off thing, he argued—and no-one should be afraid to make mistakes. “Look at failure not as the opposite of success but as a stepping stone to success.”
Mauri was followed by three publishers who showed innovation in action: Helen Kogan, who has tackled what she called Kogan Page’s “midlife crisis” by revamping its proposition; Nicki Howard, who has rebuilt Gill Books by imagining what she would do were she starting the company from scratch; and Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson, who suggested that publishers learn from one another’s triumphs and mistakes.
2 Growing companies should think small
The Conference’s second keynote brought a fascinating outsider’s perspective from Joe McEwan of drinks brand Innocent. He showed how a fast-growing company like his can maintain the approach of an entrepreneurial start-up, connecting with customers on a personal level and keeping a friendly rather than corporate tone of voice. “The bigger we get the smaller we act,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the gap between the guys in the ivory towers and the people in the street as small as we can.”
3 Booksellers are on the front foot
A session from Nielsen Book’s Hazel Kenyon revealed that print book sales enjoyed something of a renaissance in 2016, with the children’s market a star performer. A panel of retailers brought even more positive messages: James Daunt said Waterstones would be opening more branches, Blackwell’s David Prescott emphasised how much the chain wants to work with IPG members, and Andy Rossiter of Rossiter Books said a “new breed” of talented independent booksellers was emerging. “It’s a good time for general and independent booksellers, and we’re going to see more of them,” said Daunt.
4 Search is changing
Understanding how search engines work is crucial to digital discoverability, and Glynn Davies of Pi Datametrics explained how Google and other platforms have edged away from conventional keywords towards “conversational” and voice-led searches lately. With a fifth of all mobile queries now done by voice rather than fingertips, it is time to think as much about how smartphone users find their online content as what they search for.
5 Start-ups need passion
Miranda West gave the Conference a potted history of her Do Book Company—a publisher that has been typical of many independents in its ability to target a corner of the market and carve out a clear identity. Understanding the needs of readers is vital, she said, but so is a personal passion for the publishing. “At the end of the day, if I’m not excited by the books then I can’t expect readers, bookshops or the media to be.”
6 ‘The internet is video’
So said website consultant Alex Shaw, following research that suggests up to 80% of web traffic will be video-based by the end of the decade. Generate as much video content as you can and try to get it shared, he advised. Other tips included thinking of a homepage as a business card—“It should tell people quickly what you do and how you can help them”—and staying on top of key analytics, especially page impressions, unique visitors and click-through rates.
7 Zero inventory is a reality
Print on demand has transformed the way many specialist publishers produce and distribute books. As Ingram’s David Taylor said in a special POD session, it has the power to keep books in print forever and cut the need to store piles in reserve. Incoming IPG chair James Woollam of F+W Media International added that it helps publishers get books out quicker, too, and lets them take a gamble on titles they might not consider if they had to commit to big print runs.
8 Publishing needs to get better at blurbs
In a popular slot on copy writing, James Spackman was blunt about publishers’ failings on book blurbs. “We write bad blurb—compared to our graphic design our copy is distinctly ordinary,” he said. To make it better, work in collaboration, getting input from marketing, sales and publicity people as well as editors and authors; and move away from the idea that copy has to be led by the demands of SEO.
9 Persuasion is an art and a science
A well-received Conference session on persuasion from Steve Martin, author of Yes!
, showed publishers how to get the edge on deal-making. The secret is in the delivery rather than the content, he reckoned. “Having a compelling case to make is not the same as making a case compellingly… It’s not what
you give to others that matters, it’s how
you give it.”
10 Independent publishing has a lot of success stories
While there are acute challenges in some sectors, the tone of the Conference was resolutely upbeat. Positive sentiment was reflected in the entries for this year’s IPG Independent Publishing Awards, which were the best ever in terms of both quality and quantity. The winners of the 13 Awards
all have inspiring success stories, and none more than Edward Elgar, Fox Williams Independent Publisher of the Year. It’s a company that, as Peter Faber put it when presenting the prize, “embodies the ambition and passion of independent publishing, punches way above its weight and wears its independence with great pride.”
The IPG’s Annual Spring Conference was supported by gold sponsor Ingram. We are grateful to all our exhibitors, speakers and delegates. For many more insights from the Conference, follow the #ipgsc hashtag on Twitter.