Ten things we learned at the International Publishing Forum



Our first ever International Publishing Forum on 9 and 10 March 2021 was a great way for publishers to connect at a time when we can’t meet face to face. It also brought together some expert speakers at 16 interactive sessions. Here are just some of the messages we took away from the event. We’d love to hear yours!

1. Print sales have bounced back

In a round-up of international sales trends, Nielsen Book’s Hazel Kenyon said digital book and audio sales surged during last year’s Covid-19 lockdowns. By April 2020 ebooks accounted for 37% of the market, compared to 26% in April 2019, while print sales suffered from the closure of bookshops. But printed books were back in demand after lockdowns, and Nielsen BookScan estimates that the market grew by 5.5% over the year as a whole—a remarkable achievement in such a disrupted year. Elsewhere, some markets including Italy and Spain saw a dip in sales, but others including Australia and New Zealand help up well. 

2. Metadata and Thema boost discoverability

With more people browsing books online while shops are closed, publishers need to do everything they can to get them found. Graham Bell and Chris Saynor of EDItEUR gave the Forum some excellent workshops to show how accurate, rich and timely metadata and smart use of the Thema international subject categorisation scheme can improve the visibility of titles in book searches—and, as a result, sales. There is more practical support for metadata here, and a comprehensive guide to Thema here.

3. Authors need more support on marketing 

Sam Missingham of The Empowered Author shared the results of a survey of authors’ views on publishers, which showed general satisfaction in areas of publishing like editorial, and widespread loyalty to independents. But there is also a desire for more open and regular communications, and greater support on marketing and publicity. “You can never have too much communication,” Missingham said. You can read a short summary of the results here and read the full findings here.

4. Rights deals have held up well

Despite all the challenges of the pandemic, publishers have found ways to sustain rights trading, and the volume of deals has remained high, said scout Louise Allen-Jones in a session on market trends. “It feels as if it’s business as usual in terms of the consistency of rights deals… Our industry isn’t just surviving but in some cases thriving.” Lisanne Mathijssen of HarperCollins Holland and Sarah Rigaud of Les Escales in France said their rights markets had held up better than many people had expected too. 

5. Good management can unlock rights and permissions deals

Two Forum sessions showed publishers how to improve their practice on rights management and permissions. Consultants Lynette Owen and Joanna Everard and Kogan Page’s Amy Joyner emphasised the importance of good systems to stay on top of rights deals; of securing the full rights needed to exploit in the first place; and of researching potential partners as much as possible. They also agreed that the online rights trading of the last year would not be able to replace book fairs in the long run. “The energy you get from the environment, colleagues and people you meet at book fairs is really hard to replicate online,” said Amy Joyner. Details of PLS’ support on permissions is here, and useful resources and advice on rights management, copyright and much more are available on its Rights & Licensing Hub.

6. Brexit has slowed exports 

A Forum panel on Brexit-related trading issues answered a host of members’ questions on the difficulties that many companies have experienced at borders in early 2021, especially around paperwork and charges. Charles Hogg and Paul Gibbon of supply chain experts Unsworth and United Independent Distributors agreed there had been major disruption, but also suggested that challenges might be easing as importers and exports settle into new routines. 

7. There’s more room to grow in audio

The Forum explored the audiobook market across Europe with the help of Ingrid Hölzel of Leonine Studios in Germany, Lasse Korsemann Horne of Saga Egmont in Denmark and Esther Van Dijk of Singel Uitgeverijen in the Netherlands. They agreed the market was still in rapid growth, with subscriptions and streaming emerging as the most wanted ways to access content. But popularity has also increased competition, driven up the cost of audio rights and raised expectations around production standards, they added. 

8. ‘Books change minds and horizons’

The Forum had a couple of sessions focused on international academic publishing, with Richard Fisher in conversation with Christie Henry of Princeton University Press and Ben Ashcroft of De Gruyter. Both agreed that moves towards digital content and Open Access had accelerated in recent months. “There’s no way back from the p to e transition—Covid has been a major enabler,” Ashcroft said. Henry said Covid had also reminded publishers of their responsibility to their teams’ wellbeing, recommending the WorkLife podcast as a source of help; and shown everyone the value of academic content. “Books can change minds and horizons.”

9. Independents are quick and nimble

A Forum conversation between Boldwood Books’ Amanda Ridout and Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah discussed the many benefits of independence in publishing, including the ability to respond quickly to opportunities. “By our nature we’re nimble and great at adapting—we see an opportunity and go for it,” Ridout said. “We can take risks on authors that others won’t… and respond to the market very quickly.”

10. There’s no one right way into publishing

The Forum ended with an excellent discussion about careers in publishing in partnership with the Society of Young Publishers. Bloomsbury’s Amy Wong, Yale University Press’ Tanu Shelar and freelancer and The Selkie co-founder Huriyah Taliha Quadri agreed that while some people opted to pursue publishing qualifications, there is no set path into the industry, and that more work still needs to be done to attract people from under-represented backgrounds and other industries. They also advised newcomers to embrace social media to get to know the market and fellow aspiring publishers. 

All sessions from our International Publishing Forum are available to watch again until Friday 19 March in the Resource Centre of the event platform.

You can read more about the Conference in tweets from the day via the #ipf21 hashtag

Thank you to all the supporters of our International Publishing Forum, including our lead partner Publishers’ Licensing Services.