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Taking the temperature of indie publishing...

Getting out of the office and speaking to other publishers and authors is always important, and certainly the (Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) conference this week that I attended with our Sales and Marketing Manager, Jonathan White, threw up some pertinent talks and discussions.

It’s always interesting to take the temperature of the book retail trade at such events – and a conference panel made up of representatives from Waterstones, Blackwells and indie children’s bookshop Tale on Moon Lane made some interesting points. For the bigger retailers, a large part of their custom is now also online – figures were mooted for up to a 1/3 of sales. So when buying books online is so easy, what makes people go into a bookshop? The feeling is that bookshops offer an experience, not a product. Bookshops let you get close to your favourite author through events, help you to be guided in your book selection by an experience book seller who is passionate about their product and, importantly, give you human interaction so that you can and gain more from a bookshop visit, than simply ‘adding to basket’ online. Interestingly in a talk titled ‘Be More Pirate’, about his book of the same name (published by Penguin Random House), author Sam Conniff Allende was all about ripping up the rule book. One of his ideas for engaging readers directly was to open his own online store – selling only his book – and to wrap each book in skull and cross bones paper and include a handwritten note from him, as the author, for each customer. This was a big hit on social media – people shared the notes and loved the personal experience engaging with the him. The end result – more people choose to buy the book for him direct meaning he could engage and strengthen his brand with his customers. Perfect for when his second book is published!

Bookshops acknowledge that their stores are a ‘happy space for a subset of society’ – but not everyone feels comfortable or even goes into a bookshop… in that case, where do you find your readers? The strong takeaway was that publishers and authors need to have a strong sense of who their customers / readers are and how to reach them right from the very conception of the book. We’ve been saying this for a long time, so it’s great to hear it being more widely discussed…

Another interesting point that came up again in discussions during the day was: Bookshops want the best books. These are not always the newest, shiniest, most famous, instead these are the best books for their customers. When shelve space in stores is so tight, I think that is an interesting thought to take forward.

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