Publishing Matters: Fresh Perspectives, New Directions was the title of the PANZ International Conference and the programme posed some big questions about the state of the industry in 2018.
Questions that were answered with thoughtfulness, clarity and innovative thinking by a diverse range of keynote speakers, all of whom left attendees with valuable insight to take back to their everyday roles. Hugo Setzer, Vice President of the International Publishers Association, gave himself no small task when he set out to address Why Publishing Matters in the opening keynote. Citing a whole range of reasons the industry is crucial, he then asked if we need to get “more Californian” in how we sell ourselves, giving the example of the big tech companies and the emotional connection they offer consumers. Hugo also gave a really clear overview of the work the International Publishers Association does, highlighting the two key issues they are currently focusing on – copyright and the freedom to publish.
Nerrilee Weir, Senior Wrights Manager, Penguin Random House Australia then gave an incredibly insightful overview of the current state of play in the world of rights sales in Global Markets : Finding Your New Zealand Fit. She shared lots of interesting anecdotes and was very candid with details of her own personal approach and insightful about the challenges faced by Antipodean publishers. Promisingly, she believes there’s never been a better time to be selling rights from ANZ authors.
Diversity in publishing is a hot topic, both locally and internationally, so the panel of the same name garnered a lot of interest from the crowd. Gita Jayaram (consultant, Diversity Works), Eboni Waitere (executive director, Huia Publishing), Anton Blank (director, Oranui) and Josie Dobrin (CEO of Creative Access) collaborated on a wide-ranging discussion of the issues and opportunities a more diverse publishing workforce brings.
Denise Cripps might have had the slot before lunch, but her fascinating insight into The Transformative Power of Education kept people’s minds off their rumbling stomachs. Her address was just as interesting for those in trade publishing and there were lots of discussions over lunch around the implications of what she spoke about concerning language development in young children.
The afternoon saw the group split for two workshops. Children Interacting With The Page looked at the current state of play in children’s publishing with a panel made up of Jenny Hellen (publisher, Allen & Unwin), Matt Comeskey (publishing manager, Lift Education), Lynette Evans (publishing manager Scholastic NZ) and Catherine O’Loughlin (publishers children’s, Penguin Random House NZ) discussing what’s working and where things are headed. Augmented reality, sing-a-long stories and beautifully illustrated books with longevity emerged as key trends.
The group then came back together for Louise Sherwin-Stark, CEO of Hachette Australia, who gave a workshop entitled Does Amazon Keep You Awake at Night?. Louise posited that maybe it should, but not for the reasons you think. She assured the audience that Amazon wasn’t something to worry about and then elaborated on the opportunities it brings. As well as offering insight into Amazon and some of their processes, Louise’s presentation was an incredibly practical guide to nailing online sales and there was lots of frantic scribbling as attendees jotted down her wisdom.
The last session of the day saw Joan Mackenzie in conversation with Juliet Rogers, CEO of Murdoch Books and current CEO of the Australian Society of Authors, to deliver Lessons from the Bookshop Floor. Joan talked about her long career in the industry and her passion for what she does, stating she “loves getting books into people’s hands”. As someone who reads about 8 books a week, she believes good book buying is a mixture of art and science. She offered helpful insight into what makes the perfect book for Whitcoulls and emphasised the importance of stock being available when marketing and publicity hits.
The evening’s dinner provided a more relaxed opportunity for conference delegates to socialise, with feedback from many that it was a great opportunity to get to know others in the industry and develop and strengthen those crucial networks.
Martin Green of Pantera Press brought incredible energy and passion to his address Behind the Curtain: Finding and Lifting Your Publishing Ambition, which started off detailing what a horrible world we live in. He talked about Pantera’s desire to create an innovative new model of publishing and their belief in being a social purpose business. He outlined all the ways they affect change and support organisations working in literacy and education. Martin urged those present to set their goals ridiculously high, stating that way if you fail, you’re still above everyone else. Further emphasising this, he told the room that if think you’re too small to be effective you’ve never been in the dark with a mosquito. Martin’s conclusion? “The world sucks and it’s not fair and we can make a difference.” Read Martin’s full speech here.
The conference closed with a very fitting final keynote. Josie Dobrin addressed Inclusivity and Diversity in Publishing: Why We Should All Care. As well as detailing the incredible work Creative Access has been doing in the UK, she also left publishers with a series of practical steps they can take to better encourage diversity within their company. Josie really emphasised the point that it’s not enough to just hire people from the diverse backgrounds, you also need to make sure the office environment is welcoming – “Don’t just open the door. Invite people in”.
In his summing up, PANZ president Peter Dowling said that he hoped people would take a chance to digest all they’d learnt before they got stuck back into their day jobs. This was a concept supported by Martin of Pantera Press, who had commented that they like to give their staff space to imagine and strategise and urge them to take a day at home just to think. Getting away from the office and having space to absorb new ideas is the biggest advantage of attending a conference like this, with many attendees making comments to this effect.
Between all the buzz, noise, debate, encounters and networking that took place over the two days of the conference there was definitely plenty of proof that publishing matters.