Q&A 

Publishing software: 5 minutes with… Patrick Lidstone

Software makes the publishing world go round. We grab five minutes with Patrick Lidstone, co-founder of The Engine Shed, to see how independent publishers can use software to grow their businesses.

By Patrick Lidstone

Publishing software: 5 minutes with… Patrick Lidstone
Photograph: John Schnobrich on Unsplash.

Q: How can independent publishers scale up their e-commerce operations?

A: There are two answers to this. One, the customer always comes first; so genuinely think about the best offers, links and discounts your readers would like to see. In a world with too much choice, independent publishers can be a genuine, trusted source of truth for products. Make it win / win / win; for your reader, you and the brand being sold. A virtuous sales cycle. And only sell what you would buy.

Then the second part is finding the right tech. Try not to do it all yourself but outsource to someone who can help with both fulfilment and payment. There may be a bit of trial and error here to find the right partner. A good e-commerce partner can make or break the initiative.

Q: In terms of publishing software functionality, what are publishers asking for at the moment?

A: The unique demands of the publishing industry, and the associated workflows to manage ad bookings, production, editorial and billing, naturally lead to a requirement for tailored software. For example, generic CRMs such as Act! or Salesforce are a poor fit.

The overlap between subscribers, advertisers and shoppers, which often also exists across multiple publications, drives the need for a single customer view.

Increasingly sophisticated ecommerce platforms are in demand, combining subscription sign-up, renewals management, and more conventional physical goods, and the cost of providing these capabilities has fallen massively. We are seeing demand for ecommerce fulfilment, including 3rd party supplier management, warehouse logistics and automated customer services capabilities to deal with, for example, returns.

Q: Typically, for independent publishers, where is the greatest potential for making productivity savings?

A: Systems integration is a silver bullet for small publishers. Automating the flow of data between disparate applications, and eliminating tedious rote tasks, allows staff to be redeployed to cash-generating activities. As a concrete example of the kind of savings possible, integration we provided between the master single customer view and Microsoft Power BI to one of our clients, has freed up two days a week through the automation of management reporting. This not only provides real time visibility of business health but also eliminates the time-consuming preparation of management reports by hand.

Tools such as Zapier, and the move to the cloud which often brings with it, API access mean that integrations no longer require consultancy services, and are financially within reach of even the smallest organisations.

With the prevalence of home-working, the requirement for effective staff intra-communication has become business critical. Software as a service providers can bridge the gaps in overcoming the risks and obstacles of decentralised working. A single source of truth additionally eliminates the issues often seen from file-sharing based approaches, for example multiple users simultaneously updating and corrupting spreadsheets.

Q: Some publishers manage their operations using standard commonly available office spreadsheet and database products, like Word, Access and Excel. What, if anything, is wrong with this approach?

A: It’s fine for very small organisations – up to 2,000 subscribers – but it becomes unwieldy and inefficient after that. Publishers will lose out to their competition if they do not have business management and process flows in place to automate standard business operations; eg invoicing, reminders, marketing messages, production workflows. Your staff should be building the business not administering it.

Q: Where, typically, do publishers fail to get the most out of dedicated publishing software platforms such as yours, and why?

A: Some struggle to find the time to optimise what we offer them. When we call to check in, we make a real effort to let them know about new product areas. Publishing is always a deadline game - we know that - and it’s hard to create time for learning and training so we aim to make it as intuitive as we can.

Q: How do you see the independent publisher sector evolving over the next few years?

A: There is a genuine opportunity for publishers in the independent sector to grow their businesses by leading on e-commerce, communications and branding for their titles and interests.

We anticipate further growth in the virtual conference sector, which will result in an increased volume for events but at a reduced revenue per event. We expect a rise in personalised content targeting individual subscribers to digital products, extending to fully customisable digital publications informed by previous client activity across the whole estate. There is an opportunity to work with advertisers to target specific demographics, resulting in higher impact advertising as the subscriber sees fewer and more relevant adverts.

This is probably the most exciting time in the last decade for publishers intrepid enough to explore new technology solutions.

Q: What’s in the pipeline at The Engine Shed?

A: At The Engine Shed, our aim is always to reflect the requirements of our customers. We recently ran a piece of research which we are using to develop our offer. But, in a nutshell, it’s about productivity, ease of use and simplicity.

About us

The Engine Shed provides small-to-medium publishers with quality, cost-effective, software customised to help them work more effectively and efficiently, without any of the complexity usually associated with IT – no servers, no complicated software installations, no fuss. Work securely from any location you please, at any time, using nothing more than an internet connection and web browser.

Web: web.theengineshed.com

Tel: 020 7183 0200

Email: patrick@theengineshed.com