The IPG Spring Conference 2021

Sales & Marketing Manager Jonathan White attended the IPG Spring Conference, which this year was a digital event. Here he reports back on how it all went.

Troubador is part of the Independent Publisher’s Guild (IPG) which we find hugely beneficial as a way of keeping up with all that is happening in the publishing world. Twice a year the IPG holds conferences for its members. Since the start of the Pandemic, these have had to move to be online events, but they have still happened and are still a great way to hear about important subjects and issues facing our industry. This has been especially useful with one that has recently taken place, just at a time when bookshops are finally starting to be able to re-open again. With sessions with the likes of James Daunt and Nicole Vandebuilt, the UK head of, this has been an invaluable way to keep in touch with some of the major people, organisations, and issues in our industry.

The Conference was a two-day event. Each of the days is an excellent mix of quite specialist breakout sessions, on such subjects as E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, combined with much broader presentations by independent publishers and authors. On the first day of this conference three of the better-known independent Publishers, Faber & Faber, Kogan Page and Sage, reflected on how the publishing world has changed both during the Covid Pandemic, but also more generally as it faced some of the other big issues of today. These included the need for great diversity and inclusivity as well as the ever-increasing need for digital change and innovation. These kinds of issues, linked with the speed of technological advances, appeared in many of the talks and discussions that took place during the conference. Publishing remains, in many ways, a very traditional industry. It is the way that we can maintain the best parts of it, taken from our long past, while at the same time embracing all the changes that are now possible which made up much of this discussion. These publishers are operating in very different subject matters though, so it was interesting to see how, in the business world in which they operate, Kogan Page is now seeing 40% of their sales coming from digital products and this will be even more so for Sage in their academic market.  In a completely different subject area, Faber is still seeing the importance of the physical book for their market. Faber pointed out how well their luxury editions are now doing as an expensive gift item. It was good to hear from other publishers how they were dealing with some of the Covid issues, as well as some of the good news that is happening in these difficult times.

Monique Roffey is a ‘Costa Book of the Year’ award-winning author. She was in a fascinating discussion about being an award-winning author who has worked with both the big mainstream Publishers as well as the smallest of independent ones. It is with the latter she is working with now, so despite her great success, she has still had to do much of her own marketing and publicising of her books. The need to be able to do this, no matter how successful you might become, is an important message for authors whether mainstream published or self-published. She has also seen great varieties in sales success for her different books but has always kept going despite some of them not really being successful at all.

Technology, digital products, and the use of social media were subjects that again and again were discussed during the conference. It is great that these kinds of subjects can be looked at both in a wider context as well as in very specific and practical ways, as well as some of the products that are now available to publishers and authors. The British Library is in many ways the most traditional of publishers given the kind of books they are re-publishing, but they were discussing the use of digital resources and technology they now use in the sales of their books. New businesses like social reading apps were also able to demonstrate their whole new way of distributing information about books.

One of the sessions at the conference was on the whole future of E-Commerce for books. Amazon may dominate this market, but much of this talk was about the growth of non-Amazon ways of doing e-commerce. Some of the interesting facts that were given during this discussion showed how strongly physical book sales remain in the marketplace. In the US paperbacks still makeup 45% of book sales and hardbacks are also still responsible for 27% of sales.  E-books, despite their early rapid growth, are still only 22% of the market. E-commerce does now account for 42% of the marketplace but bookshops are still holding on to 21% of this market. Interestingly personal recommendations are still the most important way people find out about new books. Another key point made was the importance of reviews for making books successful in this marketplace. Many customers are looking for new and independent retailers and e-commerce stores even in this Amazon-dominated world.

The second day of the conference began with some of the big book retailers talking about life during and after the Pandemic.  James Daunt talked about how Waterstones has coped during this period. Current sales for the chain are actually slightly up on the same period two years ago, pre-Pandemic, but they have had a very tough time while their stores had to close. Nicole Vandebuilt is the UK head of and they have gone from a standing start to a huge success in this same ‘Covid’ period. Eight months after opening in the UK they have now achieved £8,000,000 of sales. Andy Rossiter is an independent bookshop owner, and he was able to give a small bookshop view of these recent events. All were agreeing that the high street is going to remain a very challenging place as we come out of the Pandemic. The main cities are struggling badly as workers remain at home, but other high streets are recovering better. Waterstones has even opened a new shop in Leicester during the Pandemic. Backlist sales have become more and more important for all these booksellers during the last year. The discussion ranged across many of the areas facing booksellers now, including such things as how events programs could be started back up again and how all book retailers have seen a resurgence on backlist sales during the time of Covid. It was fascinating to see how these very different retailers had all faced the last twelve months and get some of their thoughts about what the future might hold. Sadly it really is too early to know what the latter might be, but at least there does seem to be some light ahead.

I have written about the IPG conferences in previous Blogs and they are always an excellent event for anyone involved in publishing and bookselling. Sadly an online event does show how much more rewarding they could be if you also can actually meet up with others who are working within our industry. That is not yet possible, but at least with an online version, the tradition of these events can be maintained until we are able to do the real thing again. They do also remain extremely practical and helpful in addressing many of the main issues and concerns of our industry, especially at this current time. So the latest IPG conference was a great couple of days, and we are even more looking forward to the next one which might even be a proper one of the old school.