The IPG 2022 Spring Conference

The Independent Publishers Guild Spring Conference took place in Nottingham on the 8th and 9th June. Sales & Marketing Manager Jonathan White and Digital Manager Megan Lockwood-Jones attended the conference for Troubador. Here Jonathan shares his thoughts about this year's conference.

The IPG 2022 Spring Conference took place in Nottingham this year. This was the first time the conference was able to take place as a ‘live’ event since the pandemic, but it was also possible for delegates to attend virtually for those who were not ready or able to take part in person. For us the location could not have been better, and it is always a great chance to network with all the other publishers attending, so Megan Lockwood-Jones, our Digital Manager, and myself were very happy to be able to represent Troubador at the event.

The IPG is an association set up to support the needs of independent firms in the publishing industry in the UK and their conferences are always a great mixture of high-profile speakers giving a more general view of publishing and the UK and world book business, and much more specific examinations of some of the particular issues facing the publishing industry. This year’s conference did not disappoint in either area. Some of the subjects the speakers were discussing did not give us much joyous news, but these were all issues that need to be addressed for our business to improve, and hopefully thrive. The current difficulties about paper stocks, issues with the printing industry and many problems with transportation and trade around the world were constantly raised and made pretty grim listening, but it was very important we did hear about these things and from the printers and publishers trying to work in these areas. The great thing about the IPG conference is the quality of speakers they get to discuss these issues and the willingness of the publishing industry to share information about these kinds of problems. It was a fascinating and enlightening couple of days as a result.

Among the high-profile guest speakers, the conference was addressed by Lord Bilimoria, the President of the CBI; Ben Keane, an entrepreneur and founder of the Rebel Book Club; and Jim Waterson, the Guardian Media Editor. The latter speaker was looking at some of the possible futures for the media, and the way digital information will be transmitted to its audience. This presentation was very much about the way publishing will need to adapt and move forward if we are not to be left behind in the age of Tik-Tok, new social media and other technological changes. We may pride ourselves on the fact that the appetite for books seems to be as strong as ever, but we need to know about these changes in other areas of the media and certainly some of these trends could be an issue for books and publishing in the future. And given the speed of some of these technological changes, this future is potentially not very far away at all. Some ‘social media’ is already almost considered out-of-date and past-it before many in the publishing world have even fully embraced this new and now maybe most important part of the media.

Among the other presentations at the conference, we heard about special sales channels for books, some of the most important recent publicity campaigns by publishers, new developments in audiobooks and changes to the North American book market. We always come away from the conference with some very practical new ideas about our possible markets or better ways we could be operating as publisher. Megan and I have already been feeding this information back to our colleagues at Troubador who work in the areas that were being discussed. As a direct result of the conference, we will be looking at some of the ways we operate both internally and with some of our main customers, such as Amazon, and suppliers.

The conference was well attended with delegates from publishers, wholesalers, printers and many others who work in different areas of the book industry. It was a shame that there seemed to be less book retailers there than in previous years. It is an event very much for the publishing side, rather than book retailing side of our business, but at past conferences we did have more speakers from the retailers giving us their views on what was working, or not, in the book business.

Despite some of the issues facing us, the latest IPG conference was a very positive experience. The general feeling was that many of the changes that our industry has undergone in the last few years, both because of the pandemic and other factors, are not going to change back to way they were before. Some of the problems the industry has been facing lately are very much here to stay, but there seemed to be very much the attitude that publishing can adapt to these changes and needs to for many reasons. Environmental issues are now as important to us as many of the other traditional ones. Culture, the media and our audiences are all going to continue to change, and this change is becoming more and more rapid, but books do remain as popular as they ever have. Digital books may not be seeing the same rate of growth as they have in the past, but on the other hand the current growth in audiobooks is huge. The pandemic time saw one of the biggest recent growths in books, and on top of that books will normally become more popular rather than less so in tough economic times. So, the market for books remains as strong as ever. We just need to make sure we are publishing the right books for this market and in the right way in today’s economic and environmental climate. Thank you to the IPG for hosting another in their excellent series of publishing conferences. And we all came away with a very useful IPG water bottle as well.