We just returned from San Diego, CA where we attended the IBPA Conference 2023, known as Publishing University or PubU, an annual event of Independent Book Publishing Association, a member organization of indie publishers, authors and other publishing industry professionals. We had an amazing time and want to share everything we learned with you. Be sure to catch our podcast episode which goes into more detail on our takeaways. (And we just launched season two of our podcast, and we’ve renamed it as well. Learn all about it by listening here!)
“The Future of Publishing is Independent”
We heard this powerful and resonant phrase during a keynote speech on the first day of the conference. In fact it was the title of the opening keynote: “The Future is Independent: How Indie Publishers are Transforming the Industry.” As hybrid publishers, it was gratifying to hear this. This is where we have been going in our business, and this is where the publishing industry is going. There is a strong demand for innovation and creativity in publishing models that depart from the traditional model we see in the “Big Five” publishing houses. An independent publisher or independent author has significant skin in the game and more claim to creative control than they otherwise would. As an independent publisher or an author who is publishing your own books, therefore an independent publisher, you’re running a business, which leads us into our second takeaway from the conference.
Independent Publishers and Authors Are Running a Business
One of the other things that we delved into during the IBPA Conference was learning what it takes to run a successful business as an independent publisher. This session was applicable whether you’re an author with one book, an author with a series of books, or a hybrid publisher like us with many, many authors and many books. We’re all running businesses, small and not-so-small businesses. As publishers, it was validating to realize that others in our indie space face the same challenges. Publishing is a very low margin business, which means most of us in the space are not here driven by a profit motive, but a passion motive. We have a passion for what we’re doing, and this passion is leading and driving our business. We talked about a mission statement and a vision for the business, which in our business we have crafted as a purpose statement and a set of core values. Our purpose is breathing life into ideas, which is a purpose that feeds directly into our passion. We have a section on our website that outlines both our purpose and a neat video on our website all about this! Another business consideration is investment in marketing, which brings us to takeaway number three.
The Role of the Publisher in Book Marketing
Another interesting idea that we heard was that historically, reaching readers has never been the domain of the publisher.
Let me repeat that: historically, reaching readers has never been the domain of the publisher.
In our conversations with authors, as we explore whether their submission is going to be right for us and whether we’re going to be right for their book, a question that comes up a lot is, “Do you do any marketing?” We actually do a lot of marketing around the author and their book. But other very successful hybrid publishers do not do author or book marketing. They focus exclusively on marketing their own brand and their company. The books and their authors still have visibility, but it’s a very different approach to marketing. We have invested a lot of time and money into supporting authors and helping authors with that marketing piece, and in the process, neglected our own brand somewhat. As we continue to develop our three- to five-year business plan, we are taking a sharper eye to how we approach marketing. This underlines the importance of the author being involved, engaged, engaged in every aspect of the book production and marketing but especially in the marketing.
AI, DEI and Film & TV Licensing
Finally, we heard a lot of discussion during the conference about the future of AI (artificial intelligence), DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) as well as Film & TV licensing. We plan to go deeper into each of these topics during season two of our newly-renamed Ingenium Books podcast.
With ChatGPT, AI seems to have exploded onto the scene in nearly every industry. The key takeaway for us is that despite any fear about the repercussions, AI is here to stay. The question is: how will we use it? How will it shape our industry? We will learn by doing, as we all did with every new technology that made its way into the industry. We’ll keep what works, and discard what doesn’t.
The conversations we heard around DEI at the conference were the kick in the pants we needed to figure out what DEI means in our business and how we will formalize the process. We’ve always valued diversity and inclusion but we haven’t articulated exactly what that looks like.
Recently, we announced our Film & TV licensing division, so the sessions on film and tv licensing were especially exciting for us. We learned a lot about pitching to executives, and what it means to adapt a book for the screen, big or small. People are hungry for content, and looking for compelling stories. Many of our titles fit that bill, and we are thrilled to be heading in that direction!
There was a lot more that went on at the IBPA conference, but we are only two people and could only attend so many sessions. We plan to be back next year!
Did you attend the conference this year? What were your takeaways and favourite sessions? Leave a comment below!