COVID-19: How IPG members are responding
1. What have been the biggest challenges for your business so far, and how have you responded to them?
‘So far things are fairly stable: the biggest issues has been staff and author anxiety. We all work from home routinely and have a robust cloud-based tech stack, so our day-to-day operations are really unchanged. The biggest problem for authors has been the inability to get publicity, and talks, events, training and launch parties getting cancelled or postponed. We’ve been focused on keeping communication open, and using our author Facebook group and Slack channel to reassure and update people regularly.’ Alison Jones, Practical Inspiration Publishing
‘There’s been a collapse in consumer confidence and spend. Major customers are on the edge of going under with liquidity crises. We have slashed our schedule to prioritise cash, and will have to look at short working. It all depends on what support is available. Our office is manned by a skeleton staff.’ Hugh Andrew, Birlinn
‘To date, business has gone on as usual, but we are fearful for every aspect of the business: cashflow, staffing, supply chain, sales and staff morale.’ Anonymous
‘Shops closing, so no sales. Managing current publication schedules: do we publish titles that are printed and watch them vanish into the void? Projecting how things will pan out over the medium term: is it a one-month, three-month, six-month, one-year crisis, or even longer?’ Ivan O’Brien, The O’Brien Press
‘We’re taking action immediately where possible on any matter which may cause a problem. Publishers should contact those who may be able to help, be it financially or otherwise.’ Philip Cotterell, Icon Books
‘It’s bad, very bad, and we couldn’t really see how the government measures could help us. We will try to keep staff on full hours and paid, but that is starting to look increasingly unlikely. We sell about a third of our books via events and they have all gone, along with another 15% via outlets that have shut. We don’t know yet what the book trade impact will be, but I expect bad. I’ve had to borrow money this week. The supply chain is okay. Half of staff are working from home, but we haven’t had any sickness yet. We are getting box after box of returned books.’ Anonymous
‘The biggest concern is where revenues go from here. It is too early to get a clear picture. The crisis has increased the level of interest in ebooks, but print sales are starting to slow. Australia has been really hit hard with the exodus of Chinese students who reportedly make up 10% of the total. This was exacerbated by the timing of the Australian academic year, which starts in February. The US normally responds fairly quickly to a drop in endowment values (at least it did in 2008), but it is early days there. India is in serious trouble. Librarians are too distracted with enabling online teaching to place their usual orders. In China, academic roadshows have been cancelled but orders are now being placed again—possibly an encouraging sign for the rest of the world.
Where print orders are being placed the cancellation of commercial flights has resulted in a drop in air cargo capacity and difficulties for some customers. Past experience suggests that book budgets get hit in a crisis and never return. That said, it seems unlikely that governments will cut university funding and libraries will need to spend current budgets before year-end (July in the US) and year to date sales are still very healthy.’ Tim Williams, Edward Elgar Publishing
‘The problem is not knowing how long it will take to normalize, and hence plan.’ Elizabeth Kakembo, Panaf Books
2. What major changes have you made in your business?
‘None yet. In fact we have just taken the decision to invest in enhanced Nielsen data to support non-Amazon bookstores.’ Alison Jones, Practical Inspiration Publishing
'We began closing the office after the social distancing announcements on Tuesday and it’s now fully closed.’ Anonymous
‘Almost all staff are working from home: thankfully we have the technology to facilitate that. Schedules are up in the air, and under review.’ Ivan O’Brien, The O’Brien Press
‘It changes daily, but apart form working from home we will inevitably cull the schedule later this week, and possibly rationalise staffing. Supply is all as normal, at the moment. Our marketing has moved to online promo and heavy discounting.’ Anonymous
‘We started planning a month or so back to have staff working from home, and have leveraged fairly low cost common cloud systems such as Google Gmail and Hangouts and Dropbox to enable this. Most staff have now relocated to their homes with their work desktop computers and, we’ve let the teams figure out their own working processes and trusted them to get on with it, which seems to be working well. A remote workforce has forced us to think more about communication, both at the company-wide and individual level. We've found this needs to be done differently for new versus experienced staff, and for types of job role. I think you definitely lose some dynamism when staff are remote, so finding ways to replace the casual water cooler conversations is vital. Some jobs naturally have a lot more colleague interaction whereas others are more isolated.
We are arranging calls with customers around the world to see how we can support them to maximise the immediate opportunity and mitigate future losses. While sales are critical it also seems a bit strange to be actively selling at the present time, so we're trying to be more collaborative with libraries with offers of support. A tricky balance.’ Tim Williams, Edward Elgar Publishing
3. Have you identified any opportunities or positive learnings during this crisis?
‘The importance of open channels of communication and inviting ideas. Just two examples: our authors have suggested promoting each others’ titles and reducing Kindle prices for a self-isolation promo.’ Alison Jones, Practical Inspiration Publishing
‘Not yet! I suppose we are using online distance working tools that we haven’t used before, and these are proving valuable.’ Anonymous
‘Don't panic. This is temporary.’ Philip Cotterell, Icon Books
‘We have now been forced to explore much more indirect contact methods between our team, customers etc through the use of technology. That I think will stay and be a major boon. I can’t think of a single other plus.’ Hugh Andrew, Birlinn
‘Lots of marketing ideas and an emphasis on the importance of reading at times like this. We’re ensuring our messaging is positive, and reinforcing what our independent retailers (in particular) are doing and saying. We’re helping our authors to engage with audiences online, with children’s drawing and writing classes in particular.’ Ivan O’Brien, The O’Brien Press
‘We are getting good support form our friends, and online direct orders are up about 25%, People are coming together.’ Anonymous
‘The main positive is how the team has responded to the challenge. I'm just so impressed by my colleagues! Amazingly we’re working at 100% and don’t anticipate any delays in publishing new books in the near future. Printing and distribution is out of our hands but is still operating as normal. Commissioning also seems to be going smoothly, even though we are no longer travelling or attending conferences. Our academic authors seem to have more time to discuss projects without students around.’ Tim Williams, Edward Elgar Publishing
‘Not having to travel to the same office everyday to do a job that can be done while at home. It is also great to note that pollution levels have dropped.' Elizabeth Kakembo, Panaf Books
If you would like to contribute your own experiences and opinions to this blog, please get in touch.