Podcasts and live author talks are just two of the ways a Collingwood book business is courting an online crowd.
It’s been a stop-start kind of year for Collingwood’s Uro Publications, a publisher and retailer of architecture, design and art titles, established in 2009 by Andrew Mackenzie and Mat Ward, ex-magazine editors of Architectural Review Australia and (Inside) Interior Design Review.
Yet despite the rough trot these publishing guns have had of late, they’re still big believers in the transformative power of books.
“We see professional publishing as a vital means of testing, refining and disseminating ideas, and a bookshop too can be a place for the exchange of ideas,” says Uro co-director and publisher, Mat Ward.
“Our hope was always that the bookshop would be a home for regular events, exhibitions and discussion; particularly in the architecture, design and urbanism space. Because of the pandemic, that can’t happen in the way we’d originally envisioned, but there’s still a great energy being tied into the arts and cultural precinct that is Collingwood Yards.”
Mat isn’t underplaying how tough it has been.
After launching their physical bookshop in June at Collingwood Yards – a Creative Victoria-supported new space that’s home for artists and independent arts organisations over 6500sqm at the former Collingwood Technical School campus – Uro Publications had to temporarily lock up.
“Unfortunately, with the onset of the second wave of COVID-19, we had to close the physical bookshop to the public after just four weeks,” says Mat.
But the business is still ticking along, albeit in the online space for now, with help from a Business Support Fund grant, which was established by the Victorian Government to support businesses impacted by the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
“E-commerce has been essential to keeping our business afloat under the COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne,” Mat explains. “The web presence for our publishing and book retailing arms is currently grouped together under the one website but the grant has allowed us to begin development of dedicated web identities for each side of the business.
“We're hoping to launch these new sites soon and believe they’ll help us provide a better e-commerce platform for our bookshop customers, while also helping us better market our publishing business and back catalogue to both local and overseas clients and buyers, primarily for architecture books sent to Europe, the UK and North America.”
As well, the grant has enabled Uro Publications to invest in audio equipment for live digital author talks for their books and those of others, and podcast productions for clients.
“We’ve begun a monthly podcast series for the not-for-profit Naomi Milgrom Foundation, established in 2014 to bring design to the lives of Australians,” says Mat. “The podcast’s an offshoot of the Living Cities Forum annual event in Sydney and Melbourne, which explores the role of design, planning and architecture in shaping our society. The Forum couldn’t happen this year due to the pandemic, so the podcast is one way of keeping that important conversation going.”
The first episode of the Living Cities podcast explores colonial urban legacy. “We've been able to quickly build a bigger digital audience for our products and services: an audience which during healthier times we might otherwise have worked to engage through physical events,” elaborates Mat.
As any small business – no matter how creative – in Victoria can attest, to get through the pandemic is no easy endeavour, but Mat’s top tip from his experience seems pretty spot on: “Have faith in the patience and loyalty of customers and staff, and don't be afraid to ask for help.”
The third round of the Business Support Fund is now open for grant applications. More information is available at business.vic.gov.au/bsf3. Victorian business owners can also learn new skills to adapt their business to current conditions through free online courses at upskill.business.vic.gov.au.