Real Business showcases small businesses that have exemplified innovation in 2020 on their outlook for the year ahead.
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The Folio Society
CEO, The Folio Society
Company overview: For over 70 years, The Folio Society has been publishing beautiful illustrated editions of the world’s greatest books. It believes that the literary content of a book should be matched by its physical form. With specially researched images or newly commissioned illustrations, many of its editions are further enhanced with introductions written by leading figures in their fields: novelists, journalists, academics, scientists and artists. Exceptional in content and craftsmanship, and maintaining the very highest standards of fine book production, Folio Society editions last for generations.
Company location: London
What have been key challenges for your sector in 2020?
- Challenge 1: For traditional publishers, the closure of bookshops and specialist book retailers due to the pandemic. Books have sold well during the pandemic but mainly through aggregate websites where the publisher pays a high charge and gets no access to the data. For Folio and e-commerce sellers of books, our greatest challenge was ensuring that books could be printed and delivered to the warehouse. We also faced the significant challenge of delivering to customers overseas.
- Challenge 2: Developing new titles whilst working remotely. The Folio team has been amazing and continues to produce stunning books, but ensuring that the creative input and sharing of ideas is possible, takes a huge amount of effort. Remote working across all the business has been challenging, although also resulted in some great news ideas!
What are the biggest lessons you have learned as a business this year?
- Lesson 1: We can all work effectively from home if required and, having seen the pandemic coming, Folio took active steps to ensure it was possible. But the office is still important, especially for creative businesses who need to be together to create the best. Working is now totally flexible with people switching between home and the office. The pandemic drove step change throughout the business for instance launching the Autumn Collection online only with no printed catalogue, but also taught us what was at the heart of our business, which has to be the people and the creativity across all aspects of our working.
- Lesson 2: That change is constant. There is no doubt that trading internationally will be more challenging going forward and we all need to be flexible, keep watching the outside world and react with speed, but also open-mindedness. There is huge opportunity but also risks at a level I haven’t seen in my entire career.
What key innovations have you seen in your sector in 2020?
- Innovation 1: Step change in the move to online and digital buying. This has been increasing for the last 5 years, but the pandemic drove everybody online, even those who previously were unsure, and now well over 90% of all orders come via the website, digital and social. Omni-channel marketing continues to be important printed catalogues and emails help in the decision process but when it comes to buying, customers are going online. Providing customer service across channels remains important.
- Innovation 2: The continuing trend of growth in hardback books. This is part of the vintage revolution; vinyl, beautiful old clothes, books that look gorgeous, and the longevity of books demonstrates the crucial place they have in many people’s lives.
What are your predictions for your sector in 2021 and beyond
- Prediction 1: The move to digital and direct sales will continue. I would encourage publishers to build their own websites to know who is buying their books and what their preferences are. This will allow publishers to deliver more books that readers want whilst helping move into a new genre. It is an alien world to many publishers where retail has been overwhelming for so long. Whilst many bookshops will thrive there is a need to have effective, simple and responsive direct selling.
- Prediction 2: Alongside the continuing growth of audio books, expect a resurgence of the quality printed hardback book. Folio books are objects of beauty in their own right to be appreciated by readers who want a special edition of a favourite book, by lovers of traditional book making craft, or just by homeworkers wanting a better backdrop for their Zoom calls; this is a strong example of the appeal of the physical in an ever more virtual world.
What are your new year’s resolutions?
- As a business, over 80% of our books come through the EU and we have customers in every country in the world so resolution No 1 — To continue trading successfully across the globe after leaving the EU
- Acquire more new customers whilst keeping our existing customers fulfilled, happy and buying
- Launch the next big, breakthrough title/series
- Continue to build on our great team