The IPG’s Autumn Conference at London’s Shaw Theatre in early November was a happy reminder that publishing is first and foremost a people business. It marked the IPG’s first in-person Conference for more than two years – through remote access was available too – and hosted a reunion of friends and colleagues who had not been together in the physical world since the start of the pandemic.
Addressing the climate crisis
After so long away there was plenty to talk about, and a packed programme of nearly 20 sessions tackled some of the biggest opportunities and challenges facing independent publishers as we near the end of 2021. In the week of COP26 it was appropriate that the Conference opened with an urgent call for action on the climate crisis from sustainability expert Mike Berners-Lee, who said the planet was on a self-destructive course. While publishers need to address their own environmental impacts, they can also inspire responses to the emergency, he added. “If books can help change attitudes and behaviours, they will have been worth it [the carbon footprint].”
Berners-Lee was followed by a session on how the book industry can improve its sustainability practices. It set out the IPG’s recent research into greenhouse gas emissions and waste in books’ post-production journeys from printers to distributors to retailers to customers, and set out five targets for improvement, including more efficient transportation, greener logistics, reusable packaging, more local printing and the ultimate goal for all companies to reach net-zero status by 2040.
The latest challenges
The Autumn Conference also featured keynotes from a trio of leaders in independent publishing: Profile Books’ Andrew Franklin, Nosy Crow’s Kate Wilson and Emerald Publishing’s Vicky Williams. All agreed on the special strengths of independent publishers, and their entrepreneurialism and agility in particular. “Independents publish with more personality – every book we publish matters… what we do is very special,” said Franklin. “There’s a real freedom that comes with independence,” Williams agreed.
But these and other speakers at the Conference acknowledged the many challenges facing independents as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic. They include several people-related issues, like the need for better work on equality, diversity and inclusion issues: “We have to break the cycle [of exclusion] across the industry… now is the time for us to learn from each other and make a difference,” said Vicky Williams. Kate Wilson meanwhile discussed the challenge of keeping staff well and motivated while working remotely, and the need to replace the sense of community that is lost when people don’t share an office.
There was also a look at the major challenges facing publishers in the supply chain at the moment, including shortages of paper in Europe, delays in shipping from Asia and rising costs in areas like production, distribution, wages and energy bills. Ingram’s David Taylor said, “we’re in for a period of inflation,” and suggested that while some costs can be absorbed, book prices might well have to increase up in 2022.
Some hot topics
Other Conference sessions explored specific aspects of publishing including audio, where technology like streaming platforms, AI-driven narration and Non Fungible Tokens (NFT) is transforming the way content is produced and distributed; and copyright, on which PLS’ Sarah Faulder said publishers need to be vigilant in the months ahead to ensure protection isn’t weakened. Speakers at break-outs dedicated to academic publishing meanwhile included historian Peter Mandler on the role of the humanities, and Michael Zeoli on the state of play in the important north American library market.
Highlighting the successes
The Conference had its usual range of case studies celebrating independent publishers’ successes, like the critical acclaim that translated fiction specialist Europa Editions has achieved, and the high-profile publicity generated by the crowdfunding model of Unbound. The event closed with a lively session from performance psychologist Jamil Qureshi, who highlighted the need for positive mindsets in work. “Attitude is more important than intelligence or facts… people can become better just by seeing themselves differently,” he said. It was an upbeat note on which to end an event that celebrated the unique role of independent publishers—and above all the people who make it such a vibrant part of the industry.
The IPG provides a wide range of events, resources and services to help independent publishers do better business, and has around 600 members with combined turnover of more than £1 billion. For more about its work, visit its website.
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