Our new address is:
Pynes Hill Court
We were all saddened to hear the news that David St John Thomas, founder of David & Charles, has passed away.
David was in every sense an entrepreneur. As a pioneer of illustrated non-fiction books, he was amongst the first to sell to non traditional book retailers and forged international business at a time when export trade was more challenging than it is today. David understood the importance of having a direct relationship with the end customers that bought his books. This led him to acquire the Readers’ Union book club business and attach it to David & Charles publishing with tremendous success. Although we have now rebranded as F+W Media International, we continue to publish books under the imprint David & Charles.
Most importantly, his spirit of innovation and culture of ideas very much lives on in the business today.
I did not have the pleasure of working under David, but I was fortunate to meet him on two occasions. He remained interested in our business and had many stories to tell of the company history. From the days of the premises being above the ticket office at Newton Abbot railway station, to the various challenges of shipping books by rail and road across the UK and further afield.
We will strive to continue to create the great books that carry his name.
Here at F+W, we are a ‘how-to’ company. Our focus is on instruction – the tips, techniques, projects and guidance for you to make and create. As a result, perhaps one of the most important digital changes for us has been the growth of video and how our customers are changing from being readers to getting the instruction they need through film.
This makes us ask the question ‘How can we become a how-to company in video?’
We need to move our business from print to video. In a world where YouTube is the second largest search engine, and where our content lends itself so well to motion pictures, working this out will be a big part of our future. Our colleagues in the US are already a long way down this road, with cable TV and video subscription businesses running across the organisation.
Here in the UK we’re excited to be launching a new initiative later this year. From Monday 6th October, we will be live on Sky 192 and Freesat 402 with Craft Daily. The UKs first dedicated craft instructional TV channel.
Each one hour show will be a magazine style journey through skills and techniques in knitting, crochet, quilting and sewing. Video comes from some of the world’s leading craft tutors and we’re tremendously excited to be leading this forward.
The project has been conceived in partnership with information TV, who are experts in niche TV and who we’re delighted to be working with. We’d be delighted if you could join us at Craft Daily, you can keep up to speed with our programming and news about the channel at craftdaily.co.uk.
Chris delivers a strong message and perhaps unsurprisingly there has been some debate on twitter around his view. I agree with his opinion and I think that our business at F+W has responded to some of the challenges that he outlines. By no means do we get everything right, but we have changed our business and approach to marketing significantly, a 5 year change I talked about here.
Something I do find curious, which I have seen before and heard again in this context, is the suggestion that the F+W business as a case study may not be relevant as we are not a ‘traditional publisher’. I’m not sure what that really means but for the avoidance of any doubt, until 5 years ago F+W Publications (as we were globally) and David & Charles (as we were in the UK) were print based magazine and book publishers in what I assume to be a very traditional sense. Sure, we were always in non-fiction categories but it was books, books and more books.
So, how has that changed? Well you can read some of our story in posts on this blog, but here are the key pillars of that evolution:
Consumer & Community Focus
Without a doubt the single greatest change in our business was to shift to being consumer focused. While we do sell to consumers (more of that below) this shift is a much greater cultural change than just a successful ecommerce businesses. We determined that having our own consumer reach, audience, email lists and websites was the only way to forward protect our future. I discussed this topic in this post on understanding consumers and touched on it here on the Digital Book World blog.
We could not and cannot rely on external (and volatile) trade partners. Even in the context of that volatile trade, we felt we had to have a consumer relationship. It has transformed F+W, and that transformation starts with our approach to new product.
Fewer books, more digital business
We have made difficult decisions in relation to our publishing. Our frontlist now is smaller than it was 5 years ago, we no longer publish books on railways (for years a cornerstone category for David & Charles), equestrian, gardening, history and nostalgia and many other categories. Instead we focus on craft and the creative arts, and actively seek ways to publish fewer, better books. A mantra in our business. The UK craft industry has a market size of over £1.5bn, so we feel there is plenty of room for growth in this ‘niche’.
We made an early commitment to publish ebooks, but beyond that the big steps have been in wider emedia. Digital projects and patterns, online courses, video subscription and more form part of the F+W group emedia business. We’ve gone way beyond the print book in our product mix.
Use consumer data to inform product
It took us some time to get here, but consumer data is now integral to content we commission. It starts with search trends, keywords and trending behaviour, but we build on that with our own data. Data on the content performing on our websites, audience figures by category, consumer sales of similar products. We crowdsource opinions, content and review jacket designs with our community. We actively focus on creating the product for the audience we have and are building. If we’re not sure we test, we might make a blog post live or a trial project and see how it is received. I talked about some of the data sets we use here.
Sell direct to consumer: Make higher margins
In the first quarter of this year, compared with UK trade customers, our own ecommerce business ranked third highest in terms of revenue generated from book sales. Our emedia and ecommerce revenues have grown significantly from being less than 5% of total in 2010 to close to 20% this year in the UK (a much higher percentage elsewhere in the group), and we’re seeing great year on year growth in 2014. Our ecommerce brands are not based on our publishing imprint but are category brands in their own right (Stitch Craft Create, I Love Cross Stitch, BurdaStyle). We sell fabric, threads, sewing machines, sewing patterns, cross stitch kits alongside books but more importantly ebooks and digital products and exclusive product bundles.
When we commission new content, we commission for this business. I blogged here about a great recent example in knitting.
Which brings us to marketing. Our marketing is almost entirely consumer focused. We know we can reach a large audience in our niche and when we promote to them, they buy from us directly and they buy our products elsewhere. When the product itself was conceived with insights from this audience, we know what we have to sell them is relevant to them and they will be keen to buy. We can offer them exclusives in our brands (ebook bundling for example) but equally know some are happier shopping elsewhere.
Behind this is a focus on SEO, spreadsheets (as Chris highlights) and a company wide understanding of this. Everyone in our business has had SEO training at some level. Titles & descriptions are determined through this process and content assets created in the product process to support marketing. We have no publicity department in the UK, but we do have people in online marketing and audience development. Our goal is to rank highly for relevant searches and promote strong and relevant product to an engaged audience.
We test, learn and test again, collect data and are only scratching the surface of what we can do with this. We try new things to see how they work, such as google hangouts with authors, or more dynamic timing planning
Fail forward and change
Our business has changed significantly and we are no longer a ‘traditional’ publisher, but we were and we have made that change happen. We might be viewed as progressive in those terms, but I believe we are barely at the start line of what we can achieve and our opportunities. We learn every day, have so much to test and so much opportunity to build on the business we have that our most difficult decisions are always where to start and what to prioritise.
It’s a surprise to me that more publishers haven’t taken a more consumer focused path. Perhaps with the likes of Chris speaking to the industry, they will start to do so.
It was announced today that Future Publishing will sell its portfolio of craft magazines to Immediate Media. You can read the release here.
The sale also includes sport titles and comes on the back of changing times at Future. A new CEO in April, a (£30m+) loss in the first half year and widespread headcount reductions across the business – clearly a time of significant transition.
This represents somewhere in the region of 20-25% of Future’s revenues which is a significant chunk. The PR materials explain this shift as part of focus on ‘the growing consumer technology market’. That’s certainly an area of strength, with T3, TechRadar and Gizmodo amongst its technology brands, alongside many other computing and photography magazines and sites.
Recent history at Future makes for an interesting case study on digital disruption. They have been digital pioneers. They were very early onto the digital newsstand and quick to invest in the technologies and platforms to enable digital reach. They have been digitally savvy when it comes to marketing. The craft title Mollie Makes is a great case study of how to launch a magazine or community through social media and building online followership.
Despite this innovation, it’s clear the numbers are not stacking up. At the heart of this is the unfortunate truth that revenues from the digital newstand and digital advertising are not offsetting the decline of print business. At least, not yet,.
It’s clear that ad revenues are a big part of the master plan. Quoted in this article on The Guardian site, CEO Zillah Byng-Maddick says:
Our expert, trusted content enables us to attract large communities of highly engaged customers who want to buy things, and that’s exceptionally appealing to our clients.
The article goes on to make this claim:
Everybody knows the future is going to be ad-funded.
That’s something I totally disagree with. The future for media businesses does not have to be ad funded at all, something we’ve proven at F+W with the huge growth of our consumer ecommerce and emedia businesses. We use our expert, trusted content to attract large communities….and then we sell them more content, and the things that they want. We don’t need to rely on clients for that revenue.
It’s for this reason that I think Future may just have chosen the wrong path here. I do applaud the objective of focusing the business and brand portfolio, but is this choice the right one? The great thing about the craft category is that consumers need a combination of instruction and materials. That instructional need gives you the ability to create valuable content that you can sell. You can use it to pair with product, and sell that too. It’s also a great demographic, in general with a high disposable income and growing all the time. It’s a category that is exciting a new and younger audience and where craft/fashion/handmade meet is an area of great opportunity. The TV success of the Great British Sewing Bee is evidence of all this.
Certainly this is a bold move and I hope for them it is the right one. In the meantime, we will look forward to seeing how Immediate Media develops its new craft portfolio alongside its existing brands.
We today ran our first live Google Hangout featuring the brilliant ideas from My Crochet Doll, one of our bestselling titles this year. It’s a book and ebook you can buy at our Stitch Craft Create site (bundled, all elements individually) where you can also buy the yarn and materials you need to make the projects.
The hangout was hosted by Ame Verso and Cyn Yeoh in our team and was based on an interview with Anna Fazakerly, by day a designer at F+W and by night a crochet star.
There are so many great things about this and what it represents for our business. Content in multiple forms, direct to consumer revenue (it’s one of our bestselling products), pushing the boundaries of new technology in terms of marketing and reaching directly to our consumers in this way.
We ran the hangout for a number of reasons:
Marketing to support the content products
Increase the direct engagement with our customers
A step to more live and recorded video in our marketing mix
To gauge demand and get some feedback as we review how we might turn this into a paid model.
Within the F+W business, paid webinars and video are already a significant revenue driver. We’ve matched some of this success in the UK, but are also still learning. Today was another step in that learning process.
The confident running of the Hangout and the great skills and tips provided were big successes. That we were able to do this with the people in our business is a credit to them and to how flexible we’ve become – we really don’t have print people, we have content people. This will be the beginning of much more of this activity and it’s exciting to think about where this will take us.
It’s this kind of change in approach in our business, and the opportunities it provides, that has led us to a rebrand of the presentation of F+W to better define us as the content and eCommerce company we are today.
My colleague Ame Verso and I are going head to head in a lunchtime debate next Friday 9th May.
The resolution is:
Our best opportunities will be to use free content to build audience to which we can then sell other products and services.
Ame will be arguing for, I will be arguing against. 5 minutes each, 5 minutes to respond followed by a vote by the audience of staff members.
This will be a fun 20 minute session to kick start a lunchtime conversation open to all staff to join the discussion. Of course we already have a blend of free and paid content in our business, but have to constantly make decisions over where our best opportunities liein this value chain. From content marketing and freemium in customer acquisition through to the content we sell in our consumer brands such as Stitch Craft Create.
Any thoughts in the build up to this great debate, please share below!
Image Courtesy of StockMonkeys.com
You don’t have to go back very far to a time when the optimum timings for marketing new non-fiction books were all based on providing materials for forward magazine print schedules.
That timeframe has now shifted. At F+W Media International we don’t spend much time chasing after magazine editorial coverage, I’ve seen very little proof that it really drives revenue. Where we do focus is on raising the online interest in our products as much as we can and I’ve previously posted on our approach to book marketing.
The optimum timing for new book marketing is interesting to consider. You want immediacy online, and so marketing too far in advance of publication is a waste of time. That said you do want to build excitement as a title is publishing and the stronger you can go out with your message and drive discovery, the better.
At the IPG conference earlier in the year, I took away some notes from a presentation on the music industry on an approach called dynamic announcements and this is something we have been working on. The aim is to coordinate your marketing and reach so that you have a very focused time to build interest and really kick start your new title launch.
We’ve settled on the first week of the month prior to publication date. Typically we start to release the book on the last week of the month prior, so it gives us a couple of weeks of build up to availability. At the same time we would expect to the ebook available for sale on our ecommerce consumer sites – so if you desire is really that immediate then you can shop with us and access the content straight away in ebook form. Often we tie this in with a bundle – get the book now and we will ship the print edition when it’s available.
In this dynamic announcement window, we want to bring to bear all our global marketing guns. Reaching our Stitch Craft Create audience in the UK, using our community to share content to a wider group, reaching our consumer in the US through our Interweave ecommerce store and community brands and the authors’ own platform and marketing efforts.
This focus has overcome a challenge and debate we were having as to the optimum timing for marketing activity. I believe it will be an effective one.
Shiny Happy People might be my soundtrack to the 2014 London Book Fair. There are some great people in publishing and I was reminded of this in abundance last week at the Digital Minds Conference on Monday and throughout the book fair week.
There was a real sense of camaraderie at the Ddgital conference. As so often can be the case, many of the highlights from the day came from conversations and meetings over coffee breaks and lunch. From the program itself, the strongest session of the day was the very last, with leading industry figures debating key issues and taking questions from the floor. Also of note was the Penguin Random House announcement of the launch of My Independent Bookshop, an initiative to watch with interest.
As to the fair itself, the mood was upbeat and the fair felt busy and full of energy, certainly that was the case on our stand. Once again our international sales team had all the hard work to do with a packed calendar from 8am-6pm everyday. The amount of value they get out of 3 days in London is always impressive and my thanks go to all for the hard work.
For my part, meetings split into two types. There were the standard 30 minute slots with partners, suppliers, customers and peers to catch-up and briefly discuss the issues of the day. Perhaps the most interesting meets were those where we discussed new distribution models. There was a lot of discussion on print on demand this year and I really do think that this is now accelerating as an option for a more agile supply solution in colour illustrated books globally.
There is always a strong international flavour to the fair. Part of our remit at F+W Media International is to expand our global interests. We took meetings with existing partners in our print businesses and began to expand our conversations into digital business opportunities. Perhaps the London Book Fair of the future will be as much about licensing video content as it will be books, something that might need a change of name on top of the relocation to Olympia in 2015.
Linked In reminded me last week of a minor work milestone – 4 years as MD at F+W Media International.
If Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule applies, I am closing in on mastery. I suspect that I probably need to combine 10,000 hours in publishing and the craft industry and ecommerce and digital content and international business. After 50,000 hours no doubt I will have it nailed – so that’ll be April 2030. Except I won’t, because there is so much change in front of us all I can hope to do is keep learning and trying to spot at least some of the best opportunities for our business and for me personally.
In that regard I seem to agree with Tim Waterstone, quoted recently as saying “Anyone who tells you they know the future is telling you the most grotesque lie, because none of us do.” Except this was in the same interview where he also stated that “The traditional, physical book is hanging on. I’m absolutely sure we will be here in 40 years’ time.” Ooops Tim, that sounds a little like someone who believes they do know the future to me?
Waterstone was quoted in the context of the suggestion that ebooks have had their day, a passing fad and that is all. There seem to have been some weird and wonderful conclusions reached on the growth, decline or otherwise of ebooks recently, with various people grabbing at statistics left, right and centre to draw conclusion a, b, or c. Oddly, as Chris McVeigh eloquently puts it in this post, it’s as if some believe there is a war – print versus ebook, high street versus online that needs to be won by some side or other. Perhaps that implied conflict just makes for good headlines and blog subjects, but it’s not reflective of the world I see.
For me there is simply rapid change. Change of reading habits, shopping habits, information gathering habits, searching habits, interaction habits, relationship habits – change of pretty much everything to be honest. All that change means our business has to change at least as rapidly (to keep up) or faster (to stay ahead). That’s why we have our ecommerce consumer business, why we convert all our content to ebooks, make ebook shorts, make video, sell digital products or don’t worry ourselves about DRM so we can be more nimble. Yet even with all this we need to be doing more. Only this week we’ve been discussing how we can sell more of our content products to consumers and so are testing new things in the coming weeks – bundles and kits, live video through Google Hangout, virtual events, new approaches to marketing. We have to change faster.
With all that in mind, I will turn up next week at the London Book Fair as I have done for the past few years and look forward to meeting partners, customers, suppliers and peers. I hope that all will be alive to change, to improvement, disruption and seeking new ways of doing things. I think it was Tim O’Reilly at Digital Book World in January who said we could expect today to be ‘the slowest pace of change we will see, and that change will only accelerate’.
Our stand at the fair is H235, I’ll be at the Digital Minds conference on Monday and the main fair Tuesday to Thursday lunchtime. Hope to see you there.