Strength in numbers: Why bringing independent publishers together works

I once worked for a start-up in which, with the grand total of four years under my belt, I was the person with the most publishing experience. Like many others in publishing, I found the challenges of growing a company to be immensely satisfying—but also, at times, a little scary.

Joining the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) helped immensely. I attended its Annual Spring Conference and exhibited on its collective stands at the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs. I met and learned from some experienced publishers, both formally and informally, and our business improved in many different ways.

Caring and sharing

Fast forward some ten years and I now head up the IPG. Our Conferences, stands and membership have grown much bigger; we now have more than 600 members, and our recent Harbottle & Lewis Independent Publishing Report estimated their combined turnover at £1.1bn. But the IPG’s spirit remains the same today as it was all those years ago: friendly, collaborative and generous. Our new members are always struck by the camaraderie of independent publishers and their willingness to share experiences and help one another.

They really value the sense of togetherness. As children’s publisher Big Sunshine Books told us recently, “it’s wonderful to feel part of something bigger.” It is easy to feel isolated as a small publisher, so it is heartening to know that others are grappling with the same issues as you. I left my first IPG Conference armed with a wealth of practical information and a list of people I could turn to for advice. Many of them are good friends today.

Larger publishers can gain just as much as smaller ones from connections, conversations and the chance to look outside their own businesses. Getting together can be especially valuable and reassuring amid challenge and change—as when we organised a meeting a week after last June’s Brexit Referendum to identify the issues arising. And learning from one another can be done virtually as well as face to face. Through the new IPG Skills Hub, we are giving members access to free online training in many areas of publishing, provided by fellow IPG members.

Telling it like it is

One of the best things of all about bringing independent publishers together is the honesty that results. IPG members will talk not just about what has worked well for them, but just as importantly, what has not. It was seen to hilarious effect when a panel of experienced publishers owned up to some of their biggest mistakes at an impromptu session at our 2016 Annual Spring Conference. Setting fire to tables, printers’ sabotages and an unfortunate misspelling of a title called Let’s Count were among the entertaining anecdotes. Just as anyone who organises awards ceremonies will have drawn lessons from this year’s Oscars shambles, so we can all learn from the failures of others, as well as the successes.

Bridget Shine is chief executive of the IPG.

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