Independent Publisher’s Guild Spring Conference 2023 – Key Takeaways for Publishers

I walked away with loads of takeaways about independent publishers and the UK publishing industry from my first ever Independent Publishers Guild Spring Conference for Timehouse.

A friendly and informative event, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about independent publishing in the UK, soaking up loads interesting facts and expert views, including some insights on how AI is changing things for us all.

Here are some key things I picked up on, though I know there is plenty more I did simply did not have the time to see!

Dharshini David kicks things off

The day was kicked off by a brilliant talk from BBC journalist and author Dharshini David who explored issues connected to the economy. A measured and insightful look at what we may expect over the next 12 months, Dharshini included some cautious optimism about where we find ourselves today.

Bloomsbury: the independent publisher case study

Managing director of the non-consumer division at Bloomsbury Publishing, Jenny Ridout, gave a really insightful talk on how Bloomsbury has managed to ride the digital wave to their advantage. Lots of great takeaways for any publishers keen to embrace digital, including:

  • Digital wins happen through iterative innovation, so start experimenting…
  • Centre the work and the subject knowledge experts: content is still the beating heart, tech is a facilitator
  • Communicate on change, and keep communicating as things evolve
  • Invest in people and infrastructure
  • Show authors the impact digital can have on their work
  • Digital success = commitment & investment to take you from a startup to a scale-up.

I also loved Jenny’s mention of AI in the legal sector and her emphasis on how digital needs to be a long-term and authentic commitment in order for it to really work.

Teacher perspectives on edtech

Eela Devani from the Copyright Licensing Agency shared some really interesting research on edtech teacher feedback.

Some key takeaways:

  • For anyone publishing in this niche, you need to embrace the teacher perspective. Try to find teacher champions
  • Accessibility is another key consideration
  • School budgets are tight, so be transparent on costs

Eela had some great points on seeing tech as a facilitator, reminding us all that sometimes pen and paper is best! It was also important to acknowledge the lockdown as a key watershed moment for how people were using edtech.

As Eela said, digital books are here to stay, and we need to put simple user design and accessibility at the heart of all our products.

Ireland’s educational publishing ecosystem

Ruth Gill, a 6th generation Gill working for Gill Books, gave us some fascinating insights into how the Irish school book market works. For Gill, adaptability has been a core business value that has allowed them to grow and innovate.

The school publishing market is very competitive in Ireland, and there are some key changes on the horizon. Digital needs a more central role and Ruth explains how being sustainable should never be done in a token way, as the market values authenticity.

The ChatGPT question

Keynote from Wired’s David Rowan was pretty mind-blowing! Going right back to Gutenberg, David was keen to take us on a tour of how generative AI is changing things.

In fact, ChatPGT did a pretty good job of writing his presentation:

With lots of food for thought, David looked at things such as decentralisation, AI ethics, and knowledge sharing.

Joys of independence

Nigel Newton, Bloomsbury Founder, gave a spirited talk on the joys of independence.

I especially liked his emphasis on values such as camaraderie and accountability, and his sense that the industry is collaborative and porous.

And though independence is not always easy, it does allow publishers to make the choices they want to make, and publish what they want to. This leads to potentially innovative and diverse authors finding a market.

Publishing trends from around the world

Bunmi Ingram from Ingram Content Group shared some really interesting data on what is happening in the industry right now.

A really thought-provoking piece of research that focused on regional differences in a compelling way.

Noodle Juice publishing startup story

Sarah Walden really took us on a journey with her story on founding Noodle Juice.

It was really great to hear about how to grow a successful publishing business and the commercial strategy that goes into it.

Global trendspotting with IPG

Richard Fisher from IPG led an interesting discussion on current publishing trends, delving into everything from staffing to investment trends.

Summing it all up

At the end of the day, we had some more interesting talks on the economy and what can be expected next from Professor Anand Menon, and a summing up from IPG Chair Phil Turner.

It was a really inspirational and welcoming day, and it was brilliant to see the industry being so adaptable and resilient in the face of numerous challenges.

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