Industry News

The PPA Independent Publisher Conference: What we learnt

By Sorcha Mondon, Jungmin Seo, Amy Houghton, Ellie Calnan and Lucy O'Brien

1 Dec 2021

Didn't make it to the PPA's Independent Publisher Conference? Fear not, our staff writer and talented reporting team made up of student journalists covered the virtual sessions and in person event and wrote up a report of the key takeaways.

A wise person once said, “necessity is the mother of invention” and the themes of invention and innovation were recurring at the Independent Publisher Conference. This was also something the PPA put into practice in the organisation of the event. With the changing of variants, lockdowns and regulations, and having asked the audience what they wanted, the PPA tailored the event format and offered online presentations as part of the Independent Publisher Conference, before culminating in an in-person event at the end of the week.

To kick things off, polymath Adah Parris gave a keynote speech discussing the big picture and the future of publishing. Adah asked the audience, ‘What kind of ancestor do you want to be?’ drawing on the influence and power the magazine industry has upon conversation within special interest communities. It was a sentiment that stayed with the audience going forward into a week of talks from esteemed speakers. Day two saw a webinar from Peter Houston of Media Voices, and Lucy Donoughue from Happiful, discussing building an engaged audience, particularly within the podcasting space, an area that saw a huge amount of growth during the various lockdowns over the last two years. Many of these themes were drawn on day three, during Jackie Scully, Executive Director at Think talk about the building of a successful digital content strategy, again something many media brands have had to think about since the beginning of the pandemic. For our final virtual session, Paul Griffiths, Founder of Client Advocates, conducted a webinar on using research to generate growth, a theme explored at length on Conference day. Paul discussed how to ask for information from your readers in an effort to engage with them and to create rich data assets.

Before we knew it, it was Conference day and not even a tube strike, rain or the cold could stop the gathering of minds at the in-person event. As has been the case for every PPA event since the easing of lockdown, the energy and enthusiasm in the room was tangible. With the tone of adaptation and innovation fresh on everyone’s mind from the online sessions, Juan Señor began his keynote speech drawing from the Innovation in Media Report which he edited. Tactfully, many of the topics covered in Juan’s informative presentation, related to key themes addressed in the conference agenda – blended working, the future of subscriptions and the importance of trust in the Covid media landscape. The central themes addressed related to the importance of being able to adapt, because if the last couple of years have shown us anything, it’s that we can’t predict the future, and quality, trusted journalism needs to exist more than ever in times of crisis. With the room feeling sufficiently buzzy and inspired the collaborative workshops began.

Workshops

1. The Future of Events: Driving Growth with Donna Dia, Events Director, GLAMOUR, Condé Nast

The Future of Events: Driving Growth workshop led by Donna Dia, Director of Events at Conde Nast encouraged publishers to make the most of this new age of physical-digital hybridity. As the pandemic eases and the desire to return to physical events increases, the industry can expect to see an influx of consumers wanting to interact in person. But Donna stressed the imperative of still incorporating digitalisation into event strategies. We must, she concluded, commit to ‘hybrid’ models of engagement that will offer the exclusivity of physical events whilst maintaining the global reach that only digital events can sustain.

2. A New Era of the Subscription Model with Daisy Donald, Principle, FT Strategies

Daisy Donald, Principal Consultant at FT Strategies, sparked a discussion on the ‘New Era of the Subscription Model’, following a brief presentation outlining the Financial Times’ subscription journey and the history of the paywall. She emphasised the importance of securing a sustainable source of reader revenue during a period where people are showing an “increasing willingness to pay for content”. She encouraged participants to consider what subscription services like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify do well, and how bundling and smooth cancellation processes can be applied to the subscription offerings of independent publishers.

3. Diversity & Inclusion: Launching a Campaign for Your Industry with Dr. Joanna Abeyie MBE, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Blue Moon and Zosia Kmietowicz, News Editor, The BMJ

In a workshop vital for the future of magazines, Dr. Joanna Abeyie and Zosia Kmietowicz stressed the value of communication in building a diversity campaign. An overriding lesson was to be okay with errors. An open and humble approach to getting things wrong along the way will naturally create the authenticity that is being sought by an increasing number of consumers and that a growing number of corporations recognise as being in demand. Gather first-hand voices, considering race, gender, disability, neurodiversity, and sexuality and more importantly look at where these strands of identity intersect. Prepare well in advance- research, reflect, and research again.

4. Workplace and "Blended" Working with Carolyn Morgan, Founder, Speciall Media

Carolyn Morgan led an engaging workshop on the hotly contested debate of “blended” working as she led us through the three key elements of consideration - the physical space, teamwork and recruitment and retention. Morgan stressed the need for a renegotiation between staff and management where managers should be open to offering flexible working while also keeping those remote workers engaged and involved. Investing in scheduling tools and digital filing systems were also seen as essential for keeping “blended” working operating smoothly. Other highlights included optimising offices for meeting rooms and making use of expanded recruitment from outside of your city.

Top Tip Sessions

1. Subscriptions vs Membership with Carolyn Morgan, Founder, Speciall Media and Verity Travers, Head of Marketing and Production, Anthem Publishing

Carolyn Morgan stressed the value of how offering a membership, with a package of services and sense of community, can increase loyalty and prompt higher fees. She took us through a whistle-stop tour of membership proposition, with extensive research on audience and competition and offering access to archival content being just some of the tips she shared. An interview with Verity Travers, who has helped set up membership for Women’s Running, led to some interesting insights. This included the careful selection of partnerships and onboarding members with various emails and guides.

2. The Journey of Designing a New Data Product with Rupert Collins-White, Co-CEO, Burlington Media

Rupert Collins-White endured an arduous journey before finally creating a data product he could be proud of. Not wanting his mistakes to be repeated, he extended a few lessons he learned along the way.

Customers must invariably come first. No one will buy into a data product that doesn’t give them exactly what they need. Though this may be an obvious point, Rupert noted that his own company lost sight of it early on. As such, ongoing active listening is a crucial element of the process. A second crucial lesson: invest in people. Data people to be specific. At every stage remember that a data product is not media and alter your approach accordingly.

3. Nurturing E-Commerce for Specialist Audiences with Ben Ward, Commercial Director, Rouleur

Ben Ward, Commercial Director at British cycling magazine Rouleur, delivered nine top tips on ‘Nurturing E-Commerce for Specialist Audiences’. He emphasised that publishers are behind the curve on E-commerce. It demands greater recognition as a service that provides vast opportunities for publications to build new relationships with readers as well as creating additional sources of revenue. He gave practical advice to tackle potentially abstract questions of brand identity and audience familiarity. E-commerce is where physical merchandise meets editorial content, so make sure that the quality of these align, and that they boast the best that you can offer.

So, what can we take away from the PPA Independent Publisher Conference as a whole? Firstly, the independent publishing space relies upon communication and collaboration, as the collaborative sessions showed that lots of indie publishers were united by the same concerns, especially after all experiencing a tough couple of years due to the pandemic. Secondly innovating and adapting should be at the centre of every decision made by publishers. Times are changing, and as publishers have the great privilege of representing and informing their special interest communities, they should be changing with the times too. Thirdly, research, research, research! Be sure to base those changes on data from readers and experts. Finally, don’t be afraid to get things wrong and ask silly questions. It takes time to get things right, but always being open and willing to learn is a good place to start.

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