Independents’ Day

From 26th to 28th February, in the genteel environs of The Crowne Plaza hotel in Heythrop Park, Oxfordshire, there took place the annual Conference of the Independent Publishers’ Guild. Printondemand-worldwide sponsored and exhibited at this prestigious gathering, and we combined our accustomed messages about publisher services with banners, postcards and literature promoting The Great British Book Shop, our newest venture, which has seen us become only the second POD supplier in the UK to offer a full, online consumer retail service (the other being a certain company based in Slough). One of the privileges of sponsorship was to have our name attached to The Specialist Consumer Publisher of the Year award, and our MD, Andy Cork, duly handed the award to Absolute Press at the Gala Dinner which forms the social and sartorial highlight of the three days, being a black tie and shimmering ball-gown affair.

The Conference offers several presentations on a range of key industry themes, but the visits to exhibitors’ stands and the informal mingling that takes place in between the sessions are at least as valuable, allowing publishers and exhibitors to meet and exchange experiences, information and (it must not be denied) gossip about the trade. The unique aspect of the IPG is the diversity of size and activity among its members, bringing together household names such as Usborne and Bloomsbury and one-person outfits operating from their front rooms. There is also a more intangible but equally important benefit from these gatherings, which is to bolster morale among what can be – especially during such a time of rapid technological and structural change as we are now experiencing – a community that feels somewhat beleaguered. The Conference delivers this both through providing advice and information that can be inspiring and reassuring, and through the sense of bonhomie and respect engendered by the social aspects, and especially at the Awards Dinner, an effect which is not impeded by the copious appreciation of alcohol-based beverages at the tables. This demonstration of respect in the industry was particularly in evidence when waves of affectionate applause and a standing ovation greeted the acceptance of two awards by Usborne Publishing, namely those for Children’s Publisher of the Year and the most-coveted Independent Publisher of the Year. This company represents, for many, much that is commendable in the story of publishing in Britain, a country which has produced a disproportionately high number of innovative and successful children’s publishers.

The keynote speech by Stephen Page, CEO of Faber & Faber, very much set the tone, as it delivered a message about the opportunities unleashed by new technology, and celebrated the freedom of not having to be financially shackled by huge physical print runs lying in expensive warehouses (a model around which PODW is of course, very focused). Stephen also enthused about the ways publishers can and must engage in more varied, specialised and personal ways with their readers using creative social and e-marketing, a theme which was to recur throughout the Conference. Major retailers Amazon and Waterstones explained how publishers could best work with their systems and promotions; James Daunt, Waterstones’ CEO, gave a detailed account of how the chain is improving its performance and profitability by, for example, a wholesale physical overhaul of its shops and an increased differentiation of its stock profile between various regions. John Dyer of Domino Recordings provoked constant amusement as well as offering insight into how the music industry’s earlier journey into the digital realm compares with that of publishing. Using perhaps the most memorable phrase of the Conference, John described the young Turks who dominated the transition process in music as ‘Nazis in chinos’. One of the most dynamic and creative of the current crop of independent bookshop owners, Patrick Neale of Jaffe & Neale, gave an insight into how a book-cataloguing system called Edelweiss had transformed the shop’s ability to select, stock and promote specific books from the millions of titles that are available. There were also very valuable guides to assessing the financial worth of a publishing company and being more flexible and aggressive with pricing, delivered via many graceful and detailed charts and graphs.

We spoke to a very good number of existing and potential PODW clients and enjoyed the company of people from across the trade for the Gala Dinner, namely Alison Shaw and Julia Mortimer from Policy Press, Aurelie Noirbent from Osprey, Dick Warner from Class Publishing and Gerard O’Hare from The Bookseller.

Thanks to Bridget Shine and her excellent team at the IPG, and the very helpful and welcoming staff at the Crowne Plaza, for a well-organised, varied, stimulating and useful Conference.

(All images courtesy of IPG 2017)