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Ten things we learned at the 2018 Annual Spring Conference
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Posted by IPG
Just some of our many takeaways from a packed gathering in Oxfordshire. What were yours?

1 Good content trumps social media

One of the Conference’s two popular keynote speakers, the BBC’s Amol Rajan, considered the impact of social media and fake news on publishers’ content. While acknowledging the changing habits of millennials in particular, and the importance to them of Facebook and mobiles, he said that consumers still realized the value of entertaining and authoritative content, whether in print or digital. “People will pay for content if it’s good quality and unique—which is reassuring. We don’t have to rely on [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg.”

2 ‘The rules of politics are breaking down’

The second keynote speaker, veteran politician Ken Clarke, tackled head-on what he called the “elephant in the room”: Brexit. An IPG poll ahead of the EU Referendum found that the overwhelming majority of members were Remainers, and Clarke confirmed the fears of damage to European relations and trade. Uncertainty over the outcome of negotiations to leave the EU is increasingly alarming, he said—and the vote signifies a seismic shift in people’s political attitudes. “Across the western world, the ordinary rules of politics are breaking down… the established order of parties are not held in high regard by most populations.”

3 AI is coming

Ed Newton-Rex of Jukedeck led a very well-received session on the future of Artificial Intelligence in publishing. Transcribing and translating content, producing summaries, improving recommendations and even originating text and artwork—the possibilities seem limitless. While output standards have room for improvement, there is no doubt that AI is going to change workflows—and Newton-Rex was keen to present it as a big opportunity for publishers rather than a threat. “AI is going to keep getting better and better… we’re going to see it become a far greater part of the industry,” said Newton-Rex.

4 Every publisher can master audio

With the use of smartphone streaming and download technology soaring, audio has been one of the big growth areas of trade publishing over the last few years. Consultant Jo Forshaw said audio production was within the reach of all publishers now, and help is available with production, narration and other tasks. Audiobooks can lead people on to print and ebooks too, she added—and there’s no evidence that it cannibalizes sales. “Audio is the gateway drug to get non-book-buyers interested in our content… for me it’s the game-changer.”

5 Books should be beautiful

Renowned designer, author and consultant Alan Moore urged publishers to remember the value of the products they produce, and to strive for beauty in their publishing. With digital platforms dominating many people’s lives, it is more important than ever to produce attractive books. “If we’re going to bring things into the world, they should be joyful things,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to drop thinking about the money and think about how our books are going to feel in someone’s hand or heart.”

6 Content should be worked hard

Several Conference sessions explored ways publishers can leverage their content way beyond print books. Kogan Page’s Amy Joyner suggested that publishers get a strategic overview of their content and think laterally about ways they can use it, and consultant Chris Wold emphasized the importance of thinking beyond the book right from the point of acquisition. “If we aren’t leveraging our content in all the available areas then we’re leaving profit for us and our authors on the table,” he said. Other Conference sessions meanwhile looked at opportunities to sell in non-traditional retail channels and international markets, whether through rights or exports.

7 Publishers can get closer to readers than ever

Marketing was a big theme of the Conference, and training sessions on the first morning provided food for thought for email and social media strategies in particular. Consultant Ashley Riley stressed the importance of video in marketing content now, while Nosy Crow’s Tom Bonnick and Osprey’s Richard Sullivan showed how e-newsletters can help publishers get much closer to readers. Understand your market’s demographics, find the right tone, test out the best time to communicate and track the impact of your newsletters on sales, they said. “Don’t lose sight of your end-goal… not to get people opening newsletters, but to sell books,” Bonnick said.

8 Metadata makes the difference

The need for accurate, timely metadata was another recurring theme. EDItEUR’s Graham stressed its value in one of the very first sessions of the Conference, and flagged up the importance of schema and the Thema categorization scheme in particular. Several later sessions involving booksellers reminded publishers of metadata's immense importance to discoverability and retail sales.

9 Independents and corporates can inspire each other

Hachette UK CEO David Shelley—who started his career at IPG member Allison & Busby before rising to one of the biggest jobs in UK publishing—gave an inspirational talk from both sides of the independent-corporate fence. Indies can learn from aspects of big business like systems and management—but corporates can learn plenty in return, too. “Independents can be so quick and agile... they can have an idea, do it and get it out there,” he said. “I love seeing independents going to places bigger publishers won’t go—I really admire that sort of spirit and courage.”

10 Independent publishing is thriving

As if the Conference itself didn’t provide enough evidence of it, the 2018 Independent Publishing Awards were conclusive proof: independent publishers are thriving at the moment. The entry field for the Awards was bigger and better than ever before, and our judges had to debate long and hard over the winners. In the end they settled on 13 brilliant winners, including overall Ingram Content Group Independent Publisher of the Year Maths – No Problem! It was the first education publisher to win the flagship prize in the 12 years of the Awards, and typifies so many independents: entrepreneurial, creative, ambitious and in total command of its niche. Well done to all those who won Awards or were shortlisted.
The IPG’s Annual Spring Conference was supported by gold sponsor Ingram. We are grateful to all our sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and delegates.
For many 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. Our guest cartoonist’s entertaining interpretations of the Conference are here.

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