Last Friday, we were at “Reaching Readers 2.0: Where are we headed?”, a trade event organised by Publishing Ireland as part of the Dublin Book Festival. Many interesting themes were discussed on where the industry is now and where it might be going in the future. These are some of the highlights.
Growth for Irish publishers
Sara Mulryan, Retail Account Manager at Nielsen Book Research, gave an overview of different stats on both the Irish and UK consumer markets, showing where the publishing industry is now. Consumer confidence in Ireland has increased steadily and the Irish book market is on the rise. Adult fiction (included audiobooks) is also on the rise again, with consumers generally paying more for print books since 2012.
Gender as an ongoing conversation
Lian Bell, Set Designer, Arts Manager and former Campaign Director of #WakingTheFeminists, a successful campaign for equality for women working in Irish theatre, and Ruth Gill, Commercial Director at Gill Books, discussed the role of women in publishing and the Arts. What emerged is that research and statistics are essential to help decision-makers reevaluate wrong assumptions, develop a deeper awareness of the issue and eventually implement gender diversity policies within cultural institutions and publishing organisations. Having specific guidelines promoting equality may not be not enough, though. As Lian Bell concluded, gender has to become an ongoing conversation if we want to bring real change.
Never mind the data
Niamh Murray, Marketing Director for Serpent’s Tail and Profile books, gave an interesting talk about how her team launched some of the UK publishing industry’s most creative and successful campaigns in recent years, and she shared a series of recommendations on Book Marketing for small independent publishers based on her own experience. “Readers are smarter then we tend to give them credit for,” she said. “If we trust them and our content is good enough, they’ll do the work for us. User-generated content gives evidence of it.” Talking about data-driven marketing, she encouraged marketers to adopt a critical approach towards data-driven metrics drilled down to microlevels, as they can overlook the human factor and result in dull marketing with no creative spark. Programmatic advertising is also removing the human element from ad buying, and retargeting doesn’t seem to work well with books. Our tastes, especially in literature, are very eclectic and complicated, and if we buy a specific genre, this doesn’t mean we will always be interested in that same type of reading. Considering the highly sophisticated visual culture we live in, she invited publishers to invest much more in visuals, from cover design to the format and quality of the images published online, on websites and social media. As regards the relationships among publishers and booksellers, they are crucial. Providing point of sales materials, asking shops to share pictures of their displays on Instagram or Twitter, and tagging shops on social media and encouraging readers to buy there are some of the ways through which these rapports can develop. Reaching readers offline is also important. Even if we live in an overly connected world, we all crave real experiences, and literary festivals, book clubs and events that allow readers to meet their favourite authors still have a great following. Niamh Murray concluded by encouraging publishers to go wherever the readers are, online and off, captivate them with beautiful books, nudge them, enable them to find each other and trust their ability to take in our message and pass it on.
Commissioning and the unpredictable market of book publishing
Deidre Nolan, Commissioning Editor at Gill Books, explained how in recent years commissioning has changed a lot within the organisation. Besides traditional commissioning, which occurs through submissions by authors and agents, active commissioning is now playing an essential role. Being able to check traditional media and social media has become increasingly important for noticing which topics are being talked about and who are the people of high interest. Ciara Doorley, Editorial Director at Hachette Books then talked about the differences in commissioning between fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, where books are generally submitted by agents, the main aspects to consider are a passion for the story, a vision for it (being able to imagine where the book would fit in the market) and, at a later stage, one’s relationship with the author (trust between the editor and the author is fundamental). In nonfiction, on the other hand, where books come through agents, from reading newspaper articles or monitoring social media, it’s all about being aware of what people are interested in and then finding someone suitable to write a book on that topic. Michael McLoughlin, Managing Director of Penguin Ireland, provided several examples to show the difficulties of commissioning, especially in fiction. Book publishing is a highly unpredictable market, and you never know what’s going to happen!
Rights and the art of building relationships
John Mooney, one of Ireland’s leading journalists and Publisher with Maverick House, Kunak McGann, Rights Director at O’Brien Press and Dominic Perrem, founder of the Rights Bureau, discussed the complex business of rights, which includes territorial and foreign language licensing, licensing for educational purposes and film production, all important additional income streams that can lead to international recognition and help build momentum for a book. What emerged from their talk is that it is essential to have a vision of what you can sell, be able to build up relationships and get the right people involved. In the area of territorial and translation rights, cultivating relationships with foreign editors and having agents with local knowledge on the ground is fundamental, as is attending fairs like the London Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair and Bologna Book Fair (if you are a children’s books publisher).
Bookselling in the 21st century
James Daunt, Managing Director at Waterstones and founder of the independent bookshop Daunt Books, shared his views on how libraries can survive and thrive in the 21st century. He believes that, even if booksellers cannot compete with a behemoth like Amazon in terms of prices and efficiency, they can offer a credible alternative to customers by returning to their old-fashioned values and attributes. Bookshops need to become places that readers want to be in, places where they can find the books they want to buy and talk to a passionate bookseller able to serve them well. His belief is that if booksellers and, generally speaking, publishers stick to the true nature of what they do, which is bringing good books to the right readers, there’s a very good future ahead.