What did you discover at our Autumn Conference? Here are some of our own top takeaways from a packed day
1 Independent publishers should break rules
Keynote speaker Sam Conniff Allende kickstarted the Conference by saying businesses shouldn’t be afraid to disrupt the status quo—and independent publishers are better placed than any to try bold new things. “We should use our creativity to rewrite the rules,” he said. ‘If we’re not doing anything that scares us, we could be accused of laziness… of treading water.”
2 Radical ideas can work
The activist theme of the Conference continued with a popular session from Ben Stewart, co-founder of the Led by Donkeys collective that has run guerrilla-style publicity campaigns against Brexit. He said there were lessons in what Led By Donkeys has done that all businesses could learn from—not least “about going back to the ideas that you have down the pub that excite you, but that you move on from."
3 It’s time to act on the climate crisis
A third Conference guest from beyond publishing, Extinction Rebellion co-founder Clare Farrell, sounded an urgent call for action on what she called the “extinction event” of climate change. She told businesses to collaborate on ways to reduce both general and publishing-specific environmental impacts like paper sourcing. She set out a bleak picture, but sounded a note of hope too. “Things seem impossible until they are done… we haven’t yet tried to imagine the possibility of solving this crisis we are in.”
4 Publishers need a purpose
A Conference session with three top leaders—Faber’s Stephen Page, Usborne’s Nicola Usborne and Cambridge University Press’ Chris Bennett—showed how even the most revered and longstanding publishers need to keep themselves fresh. But one of the best ways to do that is to keep in mind the mission and values that made a business great in the first place, said Stephen Page. “We realised success would only come from being ourselves… We want to feel like we do things that affect society around us rather than just make money for someone.”
5 Booksellers like independents
Two parallel break-outs on bookselling—one with trade retailers and one with academic specialists—heard that bookshops are very receptive to independent publishers. “Small publishers are doing some amazing work at the moment,” said Waterstones’ Peter Saxton. He joined Blackwell’s Phil Henderson and Tales on Moon Lane’s Tamara Macfarlane in encouraging publishers to master data feeds, group together on sales presentations and work out the best ways to reach buyers. “The real skill is matching the book to the reader and finding the right channel to reach them,” said Henderson.
6 Audio is still booming
A break-out dedicated to audio showed that it remains the fastest growing area of consumer publishing. Sales rose more than 40% in 2018, said Bookwire’s Videl Bar-Kar, adding: “There’s a renaissance of audio storytelling that is very powerful.” Publishers don’t need big budget narrators or producers to get started in audio, added USound’s James Faktor, while Zebralution’s Carla Herberston said there were particularly big opportunities in streaming—so long as consumers can get content easily. “Content is king, but distribution is queen.”
7 Academic publishers have opportunities as well as challenges
Academic publishing had its own stream of sessions at the Conference, discussing major changes and challenges around Open Access, library sales and much more. As Sarah Caro of Princeton University Press put it: “We’re in a process of perpetual change.” Anthony Cond of Liverpool University Press pointed out that moves by big academic publishers were creating new opportunities for independent presses. “It creates more light on the forest floor for small publishers to start up and publish diverse and interesting work,” agreed Gurdeep Mattu of Rowman & Littlefield International.
8 There’s much more to do on diversity
Two Conference sessions tackled the urgent issue of diversity. BookTrust’s Jill Coleman set out work to improve diversity in children’s books, while Creative Access’ Josie Dobrin and Zed Books’ Rik Ubhi discussed ways to increase representation of BAME people, as both book buyers and publishing leaders. Looking well beyond the industry when recruiting new talent and reducing risk of unconscious bias are two good ways to start, they suggested.
9 IPG members change lives…
The Conference hosted the presentation of the IPG Patrons’ Lifetime Achievement Award to Chris Jolly of Jolly Learning—a good example of how the work of independent publishers can change people’s lives, in this case by supporting literacy around the world. As he put it while picking up the award: “We’re custodians of knowledge, skills and culture and we punch way above our weight in what we do.”
10 … And they can sing!
The Autumn Conference ended with the amazing sight and sound of 300+ delegates singing Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher and Higher’, thanks to the expert tuition of vocal leader James Sills
. And where else in publishing could you find that?!
The IPG Autumn Conference was supported by gold sponsors Ingram Content Group and PLS and bronze sponsors Bookwire, Bradbury Phillips, Browns Books for Students, Gardners, USound and Zebralution, and charity partner The Book Trade Charity