I’ve been asked a few times this year – Kogan Page’s 50th year – what the secret is to the company’s longevity.
In publishing, a sector that has undergone extraordinary change in recent years, maintaining a legacy business while still being able to remain relevant has required some serious soul-searching and positive action.
As one of the few independent publishers to have reached 50 years, the last thing we wanted to do was to throw away our hard-won heritage. The global sales networks, which enable our titles to be sold into 90 different territories, and the relationships with international publishers, which mean our books are published in 50 different languages, have been built up over many years.
Our fantastic authors, with whom we have developed close and trusting relationships, and our publishing lists, serving professionals and students, have all received painstaking care and attention since 1967.
However, within the last decade it’s become apparent that we couldn’t simply stand still. In a sector that has seen the digitisation of product and channels to market, changing reader habits and the diminution of the retail trade, we knew we had to change or risk serious decline.
First, we looked at our core values and reaffirmed our purpose. It boiled down to two basic tenets: we acquired fantastic content and we developed channels to market for it. Simple, eh? Well, it certainly became easier once we cleared away the clutter and began to build on the principles that had served us well for 50 years.
The difference was that we now had the benefits of digital development that had created new formats in which to serve the content (print, digital, audio or video) and new tools with which to connect with communities of readers to make our content discoverable – social media and metadata being just two of a new range of tools. Rather than feel threatened, we began to feel exhilarated and saw significant opportunities opening up to us.
However, it was clear that we needed new skills in the business to ensure that we could truly optimise the opportunities. We needed marketers who understood data analytics. We needed technical skills to allow us to benefit from efficiencies provided by seemingly complex digital supply chains. And we needed the entire company to think about how we could connect with changed customer and author expectations.
We’ve been through a four-year transition period where mistakes have been made. Personally, I had to learn to communicate in a different way – with more transparency and collaborative working in teams.
Once I had a clear idea of what we needed to do, things began to fall into place. In particular, we have developed content tools – such as our digital collections platform and our online training courses – that have enabled us to work closely with our partners to support specialist, vocational communities.
None of this has been easy. However, doing nothing simply wasn’t an option. In the end our ‘mid-life crisis’ served us well by forcing us to identify what is important to us and to reaffirm our core purpose. It helped point the way as to how we can both be proud of our 50-year heritage but also best benefit from the opportunities brought about by digital disruption.