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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.

IPG

It pays to work in independent publishing

Ahead of BookMachine’s event on pay and working conditions in publishing, the Independent Publishers Guild’s chief executive Bridget Shine looks at working life in the indie sector. 

In independent publishing, people really matter. At the IPG, we talk regularly to members about pay and conditions, and are often struck by just how much they value their staff.

That’s because in the relatively small teams of many IPG members, the contribution of every member is vital. When we undertook our biggest ever survey of members for our first Independent Publishing Report late last year, we found they employ an average of 9.3 staff—so each of them is valuable and valued. The report also showed the importance that our members place on training, and we have responded to that by increasing the learning opportunities that we offer as part of membership, including new online training packages and bursaries for those who want to improve specific skills.

We get more insights into conditions in independent publishing through our salary surveys, the most recent of which suggested that pay at all levels of publishing was increasing steadily if modestly, despite all the challenges and uncertainty in the market. It showed too how independent publishers make good use of perks and incentives to reward staff. Bonus schemes, linked to either company-wide or individual performances, and sometimes including share options, are becoming more popular. When small teams need to pull together and chip in to a multitude of tasks, these schemes can be excellent incentives.

Publishers supplement pay in lots more ways. Our salary survey found that four in five offer flexible working, for example—something that is really appreciated by staff who want to balance work and family life. Other perks include private health or life insurance, enhanced maternity pay, season ticket loans and study leave.

The IPG has a huge range of members, from big international operators down to tiny start-ups, and the scale of pay and benefits naturally varies enormously. But what companies have in common is the awareness that great staff are absolutely pivotal to their success, and an eagerness to recognize and reward good performance.

It is pleasing to note that this loyalty is reciprocated. Staff in independent publishing—and first or second jobbers in particular—tell us that their companies offer responsibilities and opportunities for progression that can be harder to come by at larger companies. “When you work in a small team you take on more responsibility to cover the workload, so you develop your skills and knowledge a lot faster,” Carcanet’s Katie Caunt said in our ‘Me and My Job’ series recently. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to see the whole machine… In a small independent you can really immerse yourself in every part,” said Salt’s Chris Hamilton-Emery. Working for conglomerates can be rewarding too, but IPG members offer some terrific and unique experiences and opportunities. They are great places to start and build careers.

5 tips for getting the most out of The London Book Fair

London Book Fair is the place for publishing people to be this April. If you are attending the fair, it is best to be prepared for your trip in order to make the most of your time at this huge, busy and buzzing event.

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5 Questions for Robin Wood [INTERVIEW]

robinRobin Wood is Chairman of Anova Books, one of the UK’s larger independent publishers, which he co-founded in 2005. He is also Chairman of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG). He is one of our top speakers at BookMachine Unplugged, so we thought we’d find out more:

 

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