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Review of Trade Day 2020

“Looking forward”: Publishing Ireland 8th Trade Day by Domenico La Magna, FEP 

On Friday 13, FEP attended the 8th annual Trade Day of Publishing Ireland via Zoom.  This year’s trade day saw participation from both the publishing and the book-selling sectors and focused on the challenges that await us from now into the next decade.

During the opening remarks, Joanna Smyth, president of Publishing Ireland, marked the differences between the theme of this year, “Looking forward”, and of 2019, “Looking inward”. She stated that we must see beyond the obstacles that we faced this year and also consider the opportunities and the lessons that 2020 has taught us. She then introduced the panellists and gave the floor to Mr Jon Butler, Managing Director of Quercus Books

During his session, titled “How to Build a Publishing Strategy”, Mr Butler focused on how he turned Quercus into a dynamic publishing proposition. He first gave a glance to some of the books published that turned out as international bestsellers, such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Retrospectively, in 2015 Quercus published 300 titles a year, with a wide variety of genres non-connected between each other. The following year saw a revolution of their editorial line, with a drop of the books published (250) and an improved arrangement based majorly on fiction and non-fiction books.

Later on, he outlined Quercus’ core strategy, that sums up in publishing the best books from around the world. Indeed, 40% of Quercus’ authors come from outside the UK/US, building a solid international author base. He also added they aim to grow their international-facing non-fiction and a series of repeat fiction brands, to deliver strong long-term growth alongside fast sellers.

Finally, Mr Butler gave an overview of the activities in the publishing house. He outlined the importance of sharing the numbers of the company with the employees. Additionally, he underlined the importance of being international. With Butler’s words, the imperative is looking outside our backyard, a strategy that pays as much as commercialism. Moreover, choosing internationalism also means choosing diversity as a moral and commercial imperative and always try to reach all the audience of potential readers.

The second session saw an interview with Maria Dickenson, MD of Dubray Books, and James Daunt, MD of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, titled “The Future of Retail”.

Both the guests did not see monumental changes in the retail. Customers are still happy to talk with a bookseller. There are fewer people in the shops, but they tend to buy more when they come. Moreover, they both confirmed that bookshops are perceived as a safe environment by clients and, another positive fact, the lesson learnt during spring is helping throughout the second lockdown. Ms Dickenson also stated that Irish booksellers mobilized more quickly, and they implemented the click and collect shopping, a tool that helps to keep alive the relationship with the customers.

Focusing on the future reopening, both the panellists are sure that people will crave for physical and genuine relations also in the bookshops, despite the increasing importance of online sells. Mr Daunt added that booksellers have to improve their ability to bring their competences and professionalism online too. However, brick and mortar bookshops will remain fundamental. Renouncing to them could be a temptation for some big publishers. Nevertheless, bookshops have always been a place of engagement for authors and the audience, something that the online experience cannot completely substitute.

The third session constituted of a data dive into the Irish book market, given by Sandra Whelan, Publisher Account Manager at Nielsen. So far, the 2020 market is up 5% compared to the previous year, worth 110 million euros. The first quarter went better than in 2019. The second one, and especially April, saw not surprisingly a drop in selling due to the first lockdown. However, the situation improved in late spring and June and, during the second lockdown, the sales did not see a de-escalation, going better than 2019.

Despite the positive numbers, not all the genres benefited from the same growth. In the trade non-fiction (up nearly 9% in 2020), the sales growth also reflects the changing of habits due to the lockdown (Food & Drink +42%; Leisure and Lifestyle +38%; Sport + 32%; Vegetarian Cookery +57%.), with consistent growth of self-care books. Data also show an increasing interest in Politics books due to the approaching American elections, but, with the upcoming of the second lockdown, Religion books lifted as well as Poetry.

Finally, the fiction market is also up to 5%. All the categories are going well, especially in four areas: graphic novels (biggest growth); science fiction (42k more revenues); crime; general literary. The positive numbers from the fiction market also reflect in Child fiction’s books, up to 7%. The full presentation about the Irish book market is available.

On the last session of the event, Ms Joanna Prior, Managing Director at Penguin General, gave a talk on the learning we took for the next year and beyond. She invited everyone to be positive and confident about books, since publishing has suffered much tougher years than this one. This may also be an opportunity to attract new creative talents to write and work in the sector. Her second point focused on the need to invest our times in physical connections as soon as we can. At the same time, we shall imagine how to use the patterns we learnt this year. She also added that we need to manage our symbiotic relationship with the media, seen as complementary with publishing.

In the end, her last two points focused on strategies to connect and engage with the readers. Something everyone will have to do much directly next year will be using technology to develop more intimacy with readers and the authors. The opportunity to let authors travel digitally showed its value and, even when the time of live events will be back, we should keep those open, inclusive opportunities amplified by social media.

Finally, a core strategy for the future will be going back to what is selling. Publishers usually work on opportunities based on their publishing programs. Instead, Penguin General tried to look at those formats (audio, e-Book, print) which gave a sign of life and pushed those with organic media posts or digital advance. The goal will be to support fast-moving books and use all data available to interrogate sales, responding with real creativity and resources.


Facing the same unforeseen circumstances as many organisations planning events this year, Publishing Ireland rose to the challenge and provided an exciting, engaging and overall very positive virtual Trade Day for 2020. The conference asked its members and speakers to “look forward”, and the primary themes to emerge from discussions of publishing over the next ten years were positivity, agility and diversity. Members would have been delighted to hear that Irish published books are “in” for Christmas 2020, but were reminded of the importance of putting together strong lists for 2021, to boost sales in a period of uncertainty, rather than waiting for conditions to stabilise. Detailed breakdowns of sales over varying categories for 2020 provided much sought after clarity in buyer’s trends over the course of the pandemic and prompted discussions about projecting trends for 2021. Throughout the day, speakers came back to the idea of the publishing strategy that promotes inclusivity, and to commit to diversity in hiring professionals and commissioning authors from different backgrounds represent a wider reading audience.

While I would have loved to be able to meet everyone involved, as this was my first time attending the Trade Day, I felt like I still gained so much from attending. The talks gave me a lot to think about, and I really appreciated feeling connected to the industry again after several months of working from home.

Laura King, Gill Books


If three words had to describe the message of Trade Day 2020 they would be ‘skewed good news’. Nielsen’s data, presented by Sandra Whelan, showed a healthy Covid book trade yet the industry doesn’t quite see the same success in their bottom line. This begs the question, “what is skewing the numbers?” Overall, an interesting and uplifting presentation from Nielsen, the data showing that while book sales plummeted during the first Covid lockdown, the opposite is true of the second, in itself an anthropological conundrum worthy of a book.

Using examples of his own modus operandi, Jon Butler from Quercus suggested ways to steer the publishing ship and to change with trends: “Changing perceptions is hard,” he said, “like turning an oil tanker around.” He emphasised collaboration, communication and how vital is social media. Maria Dickenson (Dubray) and James Daunt (Barnes & Noble, Waterstones), talked about the effects of Covid on trade and on staff, and shared their optimism about reopening stores. They agreed it is the lived experience as much as the product itself that people enjoy when browsing in bookshops. Both said their online sales platform had, by necessity, been enhanced and they expect greater online sales after Covid than before. A takeaway sentence from their discussion is, “Booksellers want publishers to bring them their best game”, a welcome challenge to any publisher.

Joanna Prior from Penguin General covered a multitude, but it was her emphasis on diversity and ways to plan for diversity that diverged from the more usual topics around publishing. She itemised their five-year plan. With an increasingly diverse population in Ireland, this stuck me as something to put in our pipes and smoke. Then the big question: to work from home or not after Covid? Joanna believes a hybrid will work best: spending time in the office, while also working from home, the importance of in-person connection increasingly evident as the Covid pandemic continues to keep us apart.

Publishing Ireland Trade Day 2020 was, as always, inspiring and interesting. Thank you.

Paula Nolan, Art Director, Messenger Publications, @IrishPTNolan


As an international student from Mexico, I was thrilled to be able to be a part of Publishing Ireland Trade Day. The sessions allowed me to get a panoramic view of what the publishing world is focusing on right now and, thankfully, there is a lot of good news. Sandra Whelan and Joanna Prior both agreed on the fact that books are in the spotlight. We certainly want to keep them there, especially since most talks emphasised inclusivity, diversity and connectivity as core values in the industry. From Jon Butler’s “look outside your own back yard” acquisition approach to James Daunt and Maria Dickenson highlighting the importance of genuine and personalized interactions with readers, the industry as a whole seems to be focusing on bringing people together. This not only inspired me but also made me thankful to be a part of this community. The day left me energized and buzzing to ‘look forwards’ with all of you.

Natalia Huerta Guerrero, MA in Literature and Publishing Student





Friday 13th November 2020

The 8th annual Publishing Ireland Trade Day will be virtual this year, a first for us, and will offer sessions that we hope will be inspiring and energising as we ‘look forwards’ together.

We will begin with ‘How to Build a Publishing Strategy’ with Jon Butler, MD of Quercus, hearing all about how he has turned Quercus into a dynamic publishing proposition: streamlined, diverse, profitable and ready for the future

This will be followed by ‘The Future of Retail’ – an interview with Maria Dickenson, MD of Dubray Books, and James Daunt, MD of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble. From online shopping to ebooks and Covid-19, the high street has experienced one challenge after another. What does the future look like for the bookshop as we know it?

Next, we will do a data ‘deep dive’ with Sandra Whelan of Nielsen – a look at this very strange year in books and thoughts on future trends for next year and beyond.

And we are delighted to announce that our final speaker of the day is Joanna Prior, Managing Director, Penguin General, who will give an inspiring talk on the key challenges and opportunities that await us all as we move into a new decade of publishing.

Publishing Ireland would like to encourage as broad a range of staff as possible to attend to hear the speakers, meet your colleagues and share experiences in the world of book publishing.

Book Your Tickets Now



Joanna Prior, Managing Director, Penguin General





James Daunt, MD of Waterstones and Barnes and Noble





Maria Dickenson, MD of Dubray Books





Jon Butler, Quercus




Sandra Whelan


Sandra Whelan, Nielsen Books




09.00 – 09.10

Welcome from President of Publishing Ireland 

Joanna Smyth, Hachette Ireland


 09.10 – 10.00  

 Jon Butler, The Quercus Story:

How to Build a Publishing Strategy

Share his story about how he has turned Quercus into a dynamic publishing

proposition: streamlined, diverse, profitable and ready for the future



10.00 – 10.30


10.30 -11.20     

The Future of Retail

Maria Dickenson, MD of Dubray Books & James Daunt, MD of  Waterstones and Barnes & Noble

What does the future look like for the bookshop as we know it? From online shopping to ebooks and Covid-19,

the high street has experienced one challenge after another.



10.00 – 12.00

12.00 -1.00    

Nielsen Deep Dive with Sandra Whelan

Next, we will do a data ‘deep dive’ with Sandra Whelan of Nielsen –

a look at this very strange year in books and thoughts on future trends for next year and beyond.



1.00 – 2.30


2.30 – 3.20pm

Joanna Prior, Managing Director, Penguin General

Joanna will give an inspiring talk on the key challenges and opportunities that await us all as we move into a new decade of publishing.


Closing Remarks 

President of Publishing Ireland – Joanna Smyth, Hachette Ireland



Publishing Ireland hosts a number of events throughout the year, including the annual Trade Day, as part of the Dublin Book Festival.

These events are regularly featured in the national press, and you can find some of this coverage in the Irish Times, and

We also run various social evenings for publishers and authors, so to keep up to date on upcoming events, please feel free to subscribe to our mailing list or click here for a full listing. If you would like to advertise an event you are hosting, just send us an email.

For information about PI’s Training Courses, click here.