Publishing Covid-19 innovations must continue, says Smart

Publishing Covid-19 innovations must continue, says Smart

Readers will expect publishing's innovations during the pandemic to continue after the current crisis has passed, DK publishing m.d. Rebecca Smart has said.

Speaking at the IPG virtual conference today (Tuesday 2nd June) with chair James Woollam, Smart said DK had been able to respond quickly to consumer demand by launching its Stay Home Hub with free content from a range of books featuring practical advice while also launching books to help adults and children through the crisis.

She said there had been a change in the past few weeks, from an initial position of putting off decisions until the situation returns to normal. “There aren't things that you can put on hold [for this long] waiting for this to be over,” she said.

“We're also thinking what does the future look like from a consumer perspective, and how do we make sure that we are stronger for that than we were before this all happened."

Smart continued: “Actually this has shown that we can move faster than we ever thought possible. How do we make sure that we continue doing that? How do we reach consumers even more through all of our marketing? How do we improve our books presence online? How do we make sure that we're using all of the levers currently available to us and getting better at those?

“I've heard lots of people say that what this has done is accelerate us into what would have been the future anyway. Who knows whether that's true but there's no question that what consumers have got used to in the past few weeks they probably will continue, and we need to make sure we are good at it.”

Smart said every DK employee across the world had been working from home, while the impact on revenues had varied globally. In China sales were still up on last year despite the initial effects of lockdowns, while Spanish consumers had not been able to get books at all owing to closed warehouses. In the UK, demand for children's workbooks went up by 600% in the first week of lockdown.

She said: “We were on a growth journey at DK, it had been a period of transformation for the business and then we were very much moving into a growth phase. So I think overall I'd say we're not quite where we had hoped to be at this point, certainly where we would have been before the virus. But at the same time I don't think it's as bad as we might have felt it would be when we first started seeing European countries get locked down, for example.”

Turning to opportunities that are out there at the moment, Smart said selling content direct to consumers was still “really hard” but sales of books could be important for indies with a very clear niche and an established audience.

“In this climate, consumers want to support small businesses and they want to support businesses who have a real purpose. So actually I think that, as an independent publisher particularly in a niche where you're known, you should be taking advantage of that. I do think, though, that you have to be very clear whether you are making books available direct to consumer or whether it's a growth strategy."