Ten things we learned at the IPG’s 2022 Spring Conference
More than 30 speakers gave us some brilliant insights at the first in-person Spring Conference for three years on 8 and 9 June. Here are just ten of the many messages we took away… we’d love to hear yours.
1. ‘Metadata is a gamechanger’
The Spring Conference opened with a couple of sessions on metadata led by EDItEUR’s Graham Bell, who emphasised its huge importance to discoverability and sales. Kate Pearce of Phoenix Publishing House—highly commended at the 2022 Virtusales Metadata Award—said it had been “a gamechanger” for the business. “Metadata is your public face—it represents your company—and it’s not as scary as you might think.” Martin Klopstock of Kogan Page—winner of the Metadata Award—stressed the importance of checking for accuracy and getting everyone in the business involved in it. He also flagged resources to help publishers provided by EDItEUR and BIC.
2. ‘Feedback is a conversation’
Another couple of training sessions focused on management issues, including how to have difficult conversations with colleagues, authors and partners. Tutors Nancy Roberts and Clare Grist Taylor noted the importance of planning tough meetings and making them two-way. “Feedback is a conversation… you should be actively listening as well as speaking.” A second session on “the squeezed middle” helped people who direct teams while reporting upwards as well, and looked at the need for managing time, delegation and self-care. “Ask yourself every day: where and how can I make the most difference?” Later in the Conference, Fox Williams’ Mary Elliott looked at managing remote workers, and how businesses are free to set the rules on working styles—so long as they follow the correct procedures. “Ensure you can be adaptable and flexible… but don’t be afraid to put the needs of your business first.”
3. ‘You can build a community around any books’
The first Conference keynote came from Ben Keene, founder of the Rebel Book Club and an expert in building communities. Groups like his offer good potential for publishers, he said. “You can build a book club community around any niche you want… it’s a really exciting time.” Growing communities requires a focus on the three Rs— the rituals that make a group special; the rhythm of communications that create structure; and the respect that’s needed to establish trust and engagement. Identity is important too: “You have to be really clear what you stand for.”
4. ‘TikTok is media’s most disruptive force’
Another keynote came from Guardian media editor Jim Waterson, whose overview of trends highlighted the surging influence of TikTok—both as a trigger to sales and a rival in content consumption. “TikTok is the biggest and most disruptive force I’ve seen for a very long time… If you’re not on it yet, open an account now.” He also discussed the growing polarisation between long-form and short-form content, and argued publishing should speed up. “As an industry, I think you need to get faster. Why does it need to take so long to get a book out?”
5. ‘People want choice in formats’
A session on multi-format publishing looked at the many ways to reach consumers now. Amanda Ridout, founder of Boldwood Books and chair of the IPG, said the ten formats Boldwood publishes simultaneously for each book were increasing sales rather than cannibalising them. “People want choice in publishing—they want the format they want, when and where they want it.” In the same session, Ingram’s Ruth Jones shared five more priority areas for publishers who want to grow sales across all formats: make sure you have global availability, print locally, nail your metadata, take advantage of consumer data and make the most of your backlist.
6. ‘Publishers need to look at pricing’
Leaders from publishing and bookselling tackled one of the industry’s biggest issues at the moment: pricing. While costs are rising, book prices aren’t—Nielsen BookScan data shows they have risen just 15% in 20 years, against a wider inflation rate of 50%. “There’s an absolute imperative for publishers to look at pricing, because the cost base has gone through the roof,” said BT Batsford’s David Graham. “If not now, then when do we increase prices?” Retailers also need to be involved in the debate, said former Blackwell’s CEO David Prescott, who agreed about the need to educate consumers about pricing and emphasise the value and quality of books. “This is the time to increase the attention you pay to the quality of the product—to make it an appealing thing to buy.”
7. ‘Supply challenges are going to continue’
A panel session on supply chain looked at big challenges across the supply chain at the moment, including the soaring costs of paper, printing and distribution. Swift Press’ Diana Broccardo suggested reviewing print specs, avoiding reprints, tilting marketing towards digital rather than print, and streamlining publishing as ways to bring down costs. “You have to be ruthless about what you publish.” Clays’ Vicky Ellis said conditions would get worse before they get better, and advised publishers to keep up close relations with their printers, and David and Charles’ James Woollam advised staying nimble with print runs, locations and freight. But he was optimistic too. “We’ve got to assume these challenges are going to continue…[but] our sales are good and there’s a great market out there.”
8. ‘Brexit and Covid have accelerated change’
Conference sessions on academic publishing looked at big issues including Open Access and trading conditions in Europe and the US. A break-out on Brexit-related impacts noted the extra costs and bureaucracy of selling into Europe, which Antje King of Boydell & Brewer suggested was accelerating the shift to digital delivery. Consultant Rob Johnson said Covid had been another catalyst for change, by moving more academics and students towards online teaching and research.
9. ‘Sustainability is an opportunity as well as a challenge’
A session on sustainability showed the IPG’s work to help publishers reduce their environmental impacts, including via a new toolkit to reach zero-carbon status. Simon Graham of Zero Carbon Academy said consumers’ interest in the climate crisis had never been greater, and that it was crucial to demonstrate commitment to action. As well as being the responsible thing to do, it can boost a company’s reputation. “Sustainability is a massive societal challenge… but it’s also a vast commercial opportunity.”
10. ‘Diversity is a superpower’
Closing the Conference was Perminder Mann, with an inspirational story of her rise through publishing and her leadership of Bonnier Books UK, one of the IPG’s newest members. She pointed out that improving diversity in publishing wasn’t just a moral obligation, but a competitive advantage. “Conformity breeds complacency… difference is the ultimate superpower,” she said. “We’ve got where we are today by creating a culture where every perspective matters.” Independent thinking is crucial too. “We’ve forged our position with a truly independent spirit, and we’re nailing our colours to the mast as a member of the IPG.”
The 2022 Spring Conference was supported by gold sponsor Ingram Content Group; silver sponsors Paperback Shop and ProQuest, part of Clarivate, and Publishers’ Licensing Services; to bronze sponsor Bookwire; and to bespoke sponsor Edelweiss+.
There are extensive reports on the Spring Conference at The Bookseller and BookBrunch.
For more views from the Conference and its wide range of break-out sessions, take a look at the #ipgsc hashtag on Twitter.
For photos from the Conference, see this Facebook album.