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Review of the Publishing Ireland Conference – Trade Day 2023 by Ella Sloane

On Friday 10th of November, publishing professionals and hopefuls alike congregated at Dublin Castle to consider important developments happening in the Irish book industry. Following some heartening opening remarks from the President of Publishing Ireland, Ivan O’Brien, Trade Day 2023 commenced.

Ivan O Brien

Ireland’s leading career psychologist, Sinéad Brady, set the tone for the day, speaking at length to the audience about the premise of her new book “Total Reset: Quit Living to Work and Start Working to Live”. Brady challenged the harmful, yet commonly-held, idea that one’s career should take precedence over all else. Her book sheds light on career myths surrounding age, gender bias and the unrealistic pressure that exists to maintain a linear career, without gaps in employment. Ruth Hegarty, Managing Editor of the Royal Irish Academy, then gave a brief insight into the world of academic publishing and open access, which was followed by an insightful Q&A session.

Dr Andreas Guadamuz

After a brief caffeinated intermission, Sara Mulryan from Nielsen Bookdata presented a roundup of last year’s sales performance – with 2022 bringing the highest value figure on record for the Irish Consumer Market. Unsurprisingly, the bestseller list for the Republic of Ireland was dominated by BookTok favourites, with Colleen Hoover’s global phenomenon “It Ends with Us” taking the cake, coming in at number one. Fiction has noticeably grown in popularity, as evidenced by the 2022 charts, whereas Non-Fiction took a hit, decreasing in both value and volume. There were also notable Irish literary talents such as Claire Keegan and Marian Keyes ranking high in the charts; impressively, as of 2023, Ireland claims the most Booker-nominated authors per population size – a glimmer of more positive things to come for the Irish book market.

Samantha Holman (ICLA)

Amidst the rapidly expanding development of artificial intelligence, Publishing Ireland welcomed Dr. Andres Guadamuz to the floor to share his expertise on the potential risks and rewards of these new technologies for the world of publishing. Guadamuz’s extensive background in Intellectual Property Law allowed him to confidently offer some illuminating insights to the publishing industry professionals in the room, among whom many were surely anxious about the dangers posed by AI. He highlighted copyright infringement as the biggest up-and-coming challenge for publishers, whereby authors and other right holders could face their works being used as training data for machine learning systems. For those in the EU, Guadamuz told us that laws have recently been implemented which allow a way to opt out of this, something he suggested we take advantage of sooner rather than later. The topic of AI’s impact on job insecurity was also broached, with Guadamuz noting that areas such as translation and copyediting have already taken a hit. Following a break for lunch, Samantha Holman, CEO of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency, expanded on Guadamuz’s points in her brief overview of legislative developments in relation to copyright.

The final speaker of the day, publishing legend Richard Charkin, traced the trajectory of his unique journey as recorded in his new book, “My Back Pages: An Undeniably Personal History of Publishing 1972-2022”. Through a series of witty anecdotes, Charkin tackled the highs and lows of his prolific career which included serving as President of the UK Publishers Association and working with top publishers such as Oxford University Press, Bloomsbury and Macmillan. From his humble beginnings as a science editor for George G. Harrap & Co. to his current personal project, Mensch Publishing, Charkin’s story was truly inspirational. What struck me the most was the following comment Charkin made on how much the publishing landscape has altered since he first got his foot in the door:“I think…the biggest single change in the 50 years I have been involved has not been technology, it has been the role of women.” Gesturing around the auditorium, he added that “Women have transformed this business for the better.” 

Richard Charkin

The conference concluded with an exciting pitching session in collaboration with the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland. This offered Publishing Ireland members the unique opportunity to present their titles to a panel of film industry professionals, in the hopes that they might be adapted to the big screen in future. Each publishing representative was strictly given five minutes to market their books, with O’Brien Press, Gill Books, Little Island Books and literary agent Kate Nash amongst those to take to the floor. It was inspiring to see the diversity of titles being currently produced at the various companies who presented themselves, from intriguing works of speculative fiction to beautifully illustrated children’s books tackling identity, ethnicity and race. 

Trade Day 2023 ended on a high note as attendees enjoyed a spirited exchange of ideas and reflected on the action-packed day over a complimentary drink or two before heading home. In case the excitement of November 10th has worn off, Publishing Ireland has since announced another event to add your calendar! Next year’s Irish Book Trade Conference is just around the corner, due to take place in February 2024. 


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