Five things we learned at the IPG’s 2023 Spring Conference+


Here are some of our top takeaways from five stimulating sessions at the special online Spring Conference+ on Wednesday 24 May. We’d love to hear yours!

1. We can do some of our best work during tough times

The Spring Conference+ opened with a session from ‘productivity ninja’ Grace Marshall about reducing stress and staying productive through challenging times. Admitting to struggling with work can feel negative, but it shouldn’t. “We all struggle sometimes—it’s a universal experience… but it can feel like a taboo.” It’s much better to view a tough time as an opportunity, she said. We shouldn’t run away from a struggle, and it can help to write down feelings and explore the reasons behind it. “Instead of trying to see a light at the end of the tunnel, what would we see if we shone a light on the middle?”

The worst situations sometimes bring the best out of people and generate creative and unconventional thinking. “Struggle is not a sign of failure or a wrong turn… it’s not a battle to face down,” Marshall said. “It’s the wilderness in which we discover—the catalyst by which we stretch, strengthen and rise… and the birthplace of really good work.”

2. Publishers’ content needs to be accessible to everyone

An important session highlighted the need to make digital content accessible to everyone. Julie Willis of Westchester Publishing Services UK and Richard Orme of the Daisy Consortium said the European Accessibility Act—which introduces common standards for the availability of content from June 2025—is a spur for publishers to ensure everyone with a sight disability has equal access. “Accessibility has been a thing for a long time now… but the Act is bringing legislative structure to it,” Orme said. As well as the ethical imperative, there are sound commercial reasons for making content available to all, and some institutions are starting to demand it as a matter of course. 

Many publishers have already made great progress on this issue, and help is available for anyone who needs it—including Ace by Daisy, a free open-source tool that checks the accessibility of EPUB files. Orme said Artificial Intelligence has the potential to support too, especially with image descriptions. Many more resources to help publishers can be found on the Inclusive Publishing website. There is a useful Q&A about the European Accessibility Act here. Westchester Publishing Services UK is offering IPG members a special offer on conversion and certification (you will need to be logged into the website to view the offer). To learn more about the subject, listen to Julie Willis on the IPG Podcast.

3. Reuse of books can make publishing more sustainable

Sustainability is another big industry challenge at the moment, and the Spring Conference+ highlighted how increased reuse of books can be part of the solution. Hannah Clevett of book resale platform World of Books explained its circular economy model that has so far brought 16 million books back for resale, reducing the environmental impacts of pulping. Publishers and authors are sometimes sceptical about second-hand sales, especially as authors miss out on royalties, but Clevett explained how an AuthorSHARE scheme gives content creates a slice of the money generated. Any publisher interested in working with World of Books can contact Hannah direct.

Amanda Ridout of Boldwood Books and chair of the IPG’s Sustainability Action Group followed with an update on the Book Journeys Project, which has measured the carbon emissions generated by books’ transport to buyers and set targets for improvement. The second phase of work investigates the environmental impacts of the end-of-life treatment of books, including a calculation of the average returns rate followed by a target for reduction by 2024. There will also be a trial of alternative ways to return books, work to increase return load utilisation by 10% a year, and a project on making pulping more localised. Another strand is recycling, with a target of ensuring that 100% of returned non-reusable books and non-paper components can be recycled by 2024. Work is meanwhile continuing on the Localising Printing Project, which is looking for ways to bring printing closer to destination markets. Publishers seeking help can use the free Zero Carbon Toolkit on the IPG Skills Hub; all feedback and additions are very welcome, so please contact us if you have any suggestions. 

4. AI brings big issues for author contracts

Artificial Intelligence’s many impacts on publishing include implications for author contracts, and Mary Elliott of leading law firm Fox Williams talked the Spring Conference+ through an area of rapid change. She encouraged publishers to think about their approach to AI and contact creations, and to talk to authors about their expectations on the extent to which it is used in the content they create. Contracts should reflect these approaches, and publishers should ensure that authors understand all relevant clauses—especially related to any warranties that they won’t use AI-generate content if that is your preference. “Hammer home your stance on AI… it’ll save headaches further down the line,” said Elliott. 

The role of AI in content creation is full of grey areas. Contracts should ensure that its use doesn’t infringe other people’s Intellectual Property and meets any terms of use; for example, while ChatGPT gives users permission to use content for any purpose, including commercial, it requests that they should not claim output was human-generated when it was not. Authors should carefully log their use of AI, as there are sure to be more challenges to the copyright of AI-generated content in the future, like the one recently experienced by the Bradford Literary Festival. Publishers should also be vigilant about the reuse of their Intellectual Property through AI and ensure it’s not being misused. “Ultimately it’s another tool to use,” Elliott said. “There will be some horror stories along the way, but then there always have been.” Fox Williams can provide legal advice on AI-related issues.

5. There are ways to deal with challenging colleagues 

The Spring Conference+ closed with a session on working with people you find challenging. Amy Gallo, a workplace and leadership expert and author of Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People), said a recent survey found that 80% of employees think they have at least one ‘terrible’ co-worker, and dealing with them can take up a lot of energy. But these people fall into many different types, and it’s important to distinguish between behaviour that is simply annoying and actions that causes real issues. Gallo suggested pausing to think about what lies behind the challenges and how to constructively respond. “Think of a list of tactics you can try and experiment with them to see what shifts the relationship.” Focus on what you can and can’t control and try to see things from perspectives other than your own, she added. “You’re not going to get along with everyone in every workplace… you need to build inter-personal resilience so you feel confident in addressing a relationship.”

The IPG’s 2023 Spring Conference and Spring Conference+ were supported by gold sponsor Ingram Content Group; silver sponsors ProQuest, part of Clarivate, Publishers’ Licensing Services and The London Book Fair; and exhibitors BooksoniX, Clays, CPI, Edelweiss, Gardners, Hobbs, Inspired Search & Selection, Klopotek, New Vista Ventures, Nielsen BookData, The Bookseller and Westchester Publishing Services

Read our blog about the 2023 Spring Conference in London here.