In this time I’ve learnt a tremendous amount, I’ve been challenged to keep evolving our business and all along have been constantly thrilled at the amount of potential there is for F+W Media and for the wider publishing & media industry.
How different is the business from what it was 5 years ago?
When I joined the company the Readers’ Union book clubs were still in operation. We closed those businesses and launched new consumer brands back in 2009. Both BCA and the Readers’ Digest mail order business are no longer in existence, having not made those changes. I remember meetings with BCA in late 2008 and their surprise at the extent of change we were making to our business at that time – the position today demonstrates how much that was the right decision.
Back then our consumer and publishing businesses operated very separately. The publishing business treated Readers Union as a customer and no more, we commissioned books into multiple categories – history & nostalgia, equestrian, art, fantasy art, photography, craft and more. Now our whole business is focused on creating amazing products in fewer and more focused categories, and marketing to our consumer.
When I became MD, Tom Tivnan of the bookseller wrote a piece about me, my background and the David & Charles business. I thought I’d reflect a bit on some of the areas he picked up in his article:
Craft focus: We’re totally focused on craft and creative arts categories in terms of new product. Our consumer brands are in these categories and it’s where we see our greatest forward potential. We do distribute books into other categories, both from our own F+W media imprints and 3rd party publishers, but our new content business is now all about craft. We are arguably more of a craft business than a publishing business.
Global media business: We’ve taken an ever more central role in international sales for our parent company, F+W Media. The bulk of international sales, whether English language, rights or co-edition business is now handled by our UK team. We lead our business in the most of the opportunities outside of North America and international growth is a key objective of the whole business, with us at the forefront.
Format agnostic: For a long time we’ve strived to publish ebooks simultaneously to print. We’re now at a point where this is an integrated process and we’ve learnt a lot about the ways to achieve this. In most cases, our ebooks are now live before the print title. Beyond this, we sell digital product in our consumer businesses Stitch Craft Create, run an online education brand at The Creative University and are about to launch into video subscription. We have multiple formats and routes to market.
Partners: Partnerships have played a key role in our growth. Of course, we partner with our authors but many of those relationships go well beyond the physical book. We publish books by Scandinavian designer Tilda, and sell Tilda product, we publish bag making books by Lisa Lam, and sell bag making products and other content products from Lisa’s U-Handbag business, we work with a leading Craft product wholesaler, Craftime, to reach the independent craft trade. We run an Ecommerce business with The Artist and Leisure Painter magazine, we work with Coats Craft, Janome and others on products that appear in our content and that we sell. All are examples of partnerships we’ve created to benefit our business and enable our growth.
Online focus: We’re focused on the online opportunity for new revenue potential and in our marketing. Online skills are integrated into our business, we review book proposals with keyword analysis, plan marketing campaigns based on a clear SEO plan, work with authors that have an online profile and more. I posted here about our approach to marketing.
Testing, trying and learning: Speed is a strategy in our business. We learn each day and have greatly improved how we operate over the past 5 years. We are always trying new things and are not afraid to change what isn’t working. We make changes to our team structures and reporting lines and change our focus areas. We evolve and learn, measure, budget, learn, budget again and evolve some more. Each year we take a myriad of new ideas from our company innovation events. We watch, learn and implement ideas we see our colleagues having success with. Our testing culture is alive and well!
Tom’s article talked about the change I made personally moving from my role at Saatchi & Saatchi in London to life in Devon. It’s easy to think this could have been about slowing down in some way but the last 5 years have been as challenging, exciting, rewarding, hard work and fast as anything I was involved in before.
What our business needs to be has become much clearer. We want to be a market leading media business with a digital focus, active in community verticals with a consumer focus and relentless appetite for change and improvement. Above all we need to own ‘how-to’ for crafters and creatives. If we deliver that, the rest will follow.
Finally, I’m truly fortunate to work with a fantastic team – the talent, commitment, application and ideas that I see in our staff inspires me every day. I look forward to the next 5 years and working with them and all in our wider business to keep realising the potential that’s out there.