You initiated the idea of introducing the SIPA Conference in Continental Europe. What was your intention?
Helmut Graf: The Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft AG is not only active in many German associations and committees but also internationally. For over 20 years we have been in close contact with American publishers and SIPA, the Specialized Information Publishers Association. These contacts regularly
enable us follow developments and trends in the USA and adapt them for the European market. In the same way, American publishers could also benefit from developments in Europe. SIPA MUNICH is therefore a great venue for bringing European and American publishing houses together. Last year’s conference, the first of its kind, attracted 81 attendees from 14 countries and 30 publishing houses, plus 14 speakers from 6 nations. Some of the participating European publishing houses had never attended an international conference before. Furthermore, the conference offers many interactive sessions, information on best practices, and networking opportunities. As a result, the participating publishers can take new ideas straight back to their desks and implement them in their companies.
At the SIPA annual meeting in Washington in 2009 you were honored by being admitted to the SIPA Association’s Hall of Fame. Had you expected this honor in advance?
Helmut Graf: Absolutely not. This tribute came as a complete surprise. And I feel extremely grateful and honored to be listed among the 27 ‚giants of the industry‘ as the first European member to receive this accolade.
We know that technology and digital media are transforming the traditional publishing business. How does SIPA face these changes?
Helmut Graf: It is a fact that things change. And the industry has been doing so continuously. Back in 1983, the Publisher’s Association bore the name Newsletter Publishers Association. 16 years later it appeared as the Newsletters & Electronic Publishers Association. In the meantime, the association is called the Specialized Information Publishers Association. The reason for this change lies in the additional activities of its members. Nowadays, publishers provide not only newsletters and loose-leaf services, but also reference books, online publications, databases and even software and services.
What impact is this transformation having on your own publishing house?
Helmut Graf: We, too, are concerned about the rapid transition in the media landscape from the traditional print products to online media. And we see that the development of online products has great potential for the future, even though the route to paid content is not yet clear. Initial small successes are visible. But in the current, difficult economic environment it’s important to maintain the printed products on the one hand and to simultaneously invest in the digital market on the other. We are pursuing both channels in order to find the right niche. Back in 2006, 15 percent of our sales were already generated outside of traditional print products. Electronic media, conferences and congresses were becoming increasingly important in our product portfolio at that time. SIPA is not only about talking media diversity; we are also practicing it and learning from each other.
The Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft is active in eight countries. What activities are you involved in? How can SIPA MUNICH support international activities within the publishing industry?
Helmut Graf: We have activities in France, Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Romania, Russia and South Africa. This year, we do not want to split our efforts too much, and will concentrate on our current businesses and collaborations. The majority of these countries are 50% partnerships. As a medium-sized company, we focus our energies on the German market. In foreign markets we prefer to cooperate with local partners who know their national markets and clients best.
In this sense, SIPA MUNICH offers a great chance to gain first-hand country insights from local national publishers: What works where? What is different? Which business model should be adapted in which way? Which is the best marking channel? What is the status quo in each country? What impact is the transformation really having? You can learn the answers to these questions from the people who are actually running the business.
Helmut Graf is speaker at SIPA Munich 2010.
See the full program of SIPA Munich 2010.