Ten things we learned at the IPG’s 2021 Autumn Conference


Here are just some of our many takeaways from our hybrid in-person and online event on 3 November. We’d love to hear yours!


1. It’s time to act on sustainability…

In the week of COP26, the Conference started with a suitably urgent keynote from carbon footprint expert Mike Berners-Lee. “We are smashing the planet up at high speed… if we don’t make the sustainable transition now, it’s clear the consequences will hit humanity very hard indeed,” he warned. But his session was hopeful and constructive too, pointing out that while everyone needs to cut their environmental impacts, publishers are part of the solution. “Your carbon footprint matters because it sends out a message… but if books can help change attitudes and behaviours, they will have been worth it.”

2. … And independent publishers can lead change

Mike Berners-Lee’s session was followed by findings from IPG-led research into greenhouse gas emissions and wastage in book journeys through the supply chain. IPG chair Amanda Ridout then set out five firm targets for improvement—including the ultimate goal for all companies in the book industry to reach carbon-zero status by 2040. Georgia Amson-Bradshaw shared a case study of Quarto’s planet-friendly Ivy Kids list, admitting that publishing sustainably is more expensive than models so far—but essential. In the months ahead, the IPG will be developing a toolkit to support members’ efforts to follow Ivy Kids’ lead and reach the goals we have set ourselves.

3. ‘What independent publishers do is very special’

In a lively and well-received keynote, Profile Books founder Andrew Franklin celebrated the strengths and value of independent publishers. They are different, diverse, energetic, nimble, courageous, full of personality, close to authors and punch way above their weight, he said. “What independent publishers do is very special… That’s why the conglomerates want to buy us. It’s sad every time that happens, but I know that the next generation of brilliant independent publishers is always bubbling up.”

4. Covid has changed HR in publishing

Kate Wilson, founder of 2021 IPG Independent Publisher of the Year Nosy Crow, shared the results of a survey of her team that revealed the effects of the pandemic on publishers’ working styles and habits. The switch to remote working has left Nosy Crow staff feeling more autonomous, motivated and cared for, but it’s also diminished the sense of community that is so important in any workplace. The conclusion is that “one size doesn’t fit all,” she said—instead, publishers need to understand the very different personalities, motivations and strengths that make up a publishing team, and adjust management and recruitment strategies accordingly. 

5. Supply chain pressures are mounting

A ‘Keeping the supply chain turning’ session with Ingram’s David Taylor and Gardners’ Simon Morley looked at pressing concerns in book production and distribution at the moment, including paper shortages, shipping delays and the potential for heavy returns in January after a rush of early Christmas ordering. Supply chain issues are creating cost pressures that are going to squeeze margins, and consumers may have to get used to paying more for books. “The spectre of inflation is looming… we’re going to see an increase in book prices because publishers won’t have any choice,” Taylor said.

6. We need collaboration on diversity and inclusion

A keynote from Emerald’s Vicky Williams echoed Andrew Franklin’s view of independent publishers: “There’s a real freedom that comes with independence, and a chance to be brave, responsive and innovative.” The same spirit can help independents achieve genuine change on equality, diversity and inclusion issues, she added. “We have to break the cycle across the industry… now is the time for us to learn from each other and make a difference.”

7. The audio market is changing fast

A Conference session on the audio market for publishers looked at three of the many innovations in the sector. Zebralution’s Carla Herbertson discussed the huge potential reach of Spotify—“there are people there who won’t engage with audiobooks anywhere else”—while DeepZen’s Marzia Ghiselli showed how Artificial Intelligence can help to produce audio content, and Bookwire’s Eric Bartoletti explored the use of Non Fungible Tokens (NFT). 

8. We need to keep an eye on copyright

PLS’ Sarah Faulder gave the Conference a short update on copyright issues, and suggested keeping an eye on developments around the issue of exhaustion in particular. Publishers need to ensure their concerns are listened to, she added. “We’ll be hearing lots more about copyright in the years ahead, and it’ll be important to join in consultations, as they’ll impact your business.”

9. ‘Attitude is more important than intelligence’

Performance psychologist Jamil Qureshi rounded off the Conference with a session on making teams as productive as possible. “People who are performing at their best are motivated by what they’re seeking to achieve rather than avoid,” he said. “Attitude is more important than intelligence or facts—it’s not what you know, but how you think about what you know.” He also encouraged ‘rogue monkey thinking’, suggesting that everyone can become better at what they do simply by looking at themselves differently.

10. It’s good to be back together!

It was 778 days since the last real-world IPG Conference in September 2019, and we know that many people at the Shaw Theatre had pleasant reminders of the value of meeting face-to-face. Remote access to events has been one of the few upsides of the pandemic, and it’s great to be able to welcome people to IPG conferences who can’t make it in person for travel or safety reasons. While that will undoubtedly continue, it was a great thrill to be able to gather together again.

The IPG’s Hybrid Conference was supported by gold sponsors Ingram Content Group and Publishers’ Licensing Services; bronze sponsors Bookwire, Edelweiss+, Ingenta, Newgen Publishing UK and ProQuest; bespoke sponsors Gardners, DeepZen and Zebralution; and exhibitors Booklaunch, Clays, Nielsen Book, Printondemand-worldwide and Westchester Publishing Services. We are hugely grateful to all our sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and delegates. 

There are extensive reports on the Autumn Conference from our media partners, The Bookseller and BookBrunch.

For more views from the Conference and its range of break-out sessions, take a look at the #ipgac hashtag on Twitter.