Highlights from the IPG Autumn Conference 2023
By Georgia Appleyard
The Independent Publishers Guild held its annual Autumn Conference on 20 September 2023, bringing together industry experts to discuss pressing issues and trends that are shaping the industry. This year’s focus was on technology, specifically AI, and several sessions throughout the day explored both the opportunities and implications of AI in publishing.
The day began with an engaging keynote from Frank Gardner, OBE, a renowned BBC journalist and novelist. Gardner touched upon urgent geopolitical themes, such as the Ukraine-Russia war and China's influence on the world stage, and their practical implications for UK businesses. This set the stage for Dianne Broccardo, co-founder of Swift Press, who delved into the practical impact of these issues on Swift Press. Rising postal service costs, escalating paper prices, and inflationary pressures on salaries were among the challenges she highlighted. Broccardo's talk called into question the ethical questions publishers are facing, such as the dilemma of whether to accept funds from companies like Shell and BP. The call to action was clear: publishers should uphold liberal democracy and publish books that challenge the status quo. As Broccardo says, "the books we publish can change the world for the better."
The central theme of the conference, AI, was introduced by George Walkley, a renowned expert in publishing technology. His talk on AI in Action highlighted the rapid adoption of generative AI, which has become an integral part of many industries, such that "almost no area of publishing is unaffected." Walkley urged caution, describing AI as “enormously exciting,” but also “a very flawed tool,” which often produces factually incorrect or misleading information. The resounding message was that human judgement remains crucial, and Walkley emphasised the importance of a proper understanding of risks when integrating AI into publishing workflows. Throughout the day, Walkley also led a workshop that gave a taster of the IPG’s AI training workshops set to take place in October.
Continuing the discussion, Shimmr, an AI company specialising in book marketing, demonstrated the practical applications of AI with a case study from David & Charles. The audience heard how Shimmr’s AI technology automated advertising for David & Charles’ backlist titles, cutting out repetitive tasks and capturing new audiences. Helen Kogan of KoganPage offered a more cautious approach to AI, explaining the preventative measures taken by KoganPage to prevent accepting AI-generated manuscripts. Kogan emphasized the importance of author credibility to readers, which was a key motivation for KoganPage readers when deciding to purchase a book.
Another highlight of the conference was a practical session on boosting Amazon sales from Cam Lennon, a retail and Amazon expert. Lennon emphasised the importance of a well-crafted Amazon listing and positive reader reviews to optimise conversion. Other key advice included encouraging publishers to niche down on keywords and to “experiment” to find the most successful strategies for their books. Next, a session on Female Leadership in Publishing saw Suzy Astbury of Inspired Selection, the leading publishing recruitment agency, and Cassie Rocks of The FLIP address issues from low self-confidence and imposter syndrome, to juggling motherhood and a publishing career. Whilst the session highlighted the improvements yet to be made in the publishing industry, the outlook was positive, and Astbury advised her female peers to be ambitious when planning their career trajectory.
The day’s sessions closed with a keynote from consumer behaviour and strategy expert, Will Higham, who reflected on the shifting habits of Gen Y and Gen Z, who have the potential to shape the future of publishing. The potential for positive change in the industry was a running theme throughout the day, with speakers encouraging publishers to think long-term and have a clear purpose and vision.
The IPG will return with its Spring Conference in 2024, which will be another great opportunity for publishers to network and discuss the industry's pressing issues. The IPG Conference is a great opportunity for publishing hopefuls or those who are at early stages in their career to gain invaluable insights and to meet with industry experts to get a better feel of what working in publishing is really like.