The theme of this year’s Publishing Ireland Trade Day was Reconnecting, provoking many questions about how we as a publishing industry can forge deeper, more authentic connections with those we serve. How can the publisher connect to new readers? How can publishers connect with their authors? How can the publisher reassess their existing relationship between page and market, and reconnect the two?
The event kicked off with an introduction from Publishing Ireland’s president, Ruth Hallinan of The Lilliput Press. There was double the number of organisations joining in virtually than at the last in-person trade day. Hallinan emphasized the need to not only connect with our audiences and authors, but with each other within the industry also, how this year’s theme can also mean making new connections, friendships and relationships within the industry at home and abroad.
The day began with a talk entitled ‘Connecting to the Listener & Understanding the Audiobook Market’ given by Fionnuala Barrett of Harper Collins Audio. The audiobook market has been growing for the last decade, but the last few years alone have seen an exponential increase in new listeners, growing by 12% in the UK and US in 2020. This could possibly be a result of lockdown, and the public’s need to connect with a voice, a tangible other beyond the confines of their own home. Barrett stressed the benefits of audiobooks as it is a non-competitive market that is easily accessible, enabling readers with the privacy to enjoy their new book. Through audiobook publishing, publishers can reach new audiences and connect new readers with already existing writers.
Matthew Parkinson Bennett of Little Island moderated the next event, ‘Challenges of the International Publishing Supply Chain’ between Louisa Cameron, the Owner of Raven Books, John Manning, the Distribution Director of Gill, and Simon Rosenheim, the Managing Director of Imago. Between paper shortages, Covid-19, Brexit and a possible new Amazon supply centre coming to Ireland, there are concerns about the supply chain in the immediate future. There could be light at the end of the tunnel, though. In the last year, workers have had to completely rewrite the script, needing to adapt and overcome a host of challenges. It is still a steep learning curve with ongoing, unforeseen knock-on effects, but working together as a team holds it all together. Those in the supply chain have proven their adaptability and found new ways to work as a team, collectively rebuilding the supply chain. Another positive to note from the last year is that customers have made a greater effort to support local businesses, and a lot of independent bookstores have expanded their business to online selling, allowing them to reach new customers and connect with readers across the island.
Oliver Beldham gave a Nielsen Data Deep Dive of the Irish Book Market, reinforcing the encouraging message that Irish publishing is performing increasingly well. There has been good growth across the board, and it is heartening to see poetry and art climbing the ranks too. 2021 has been a great year for YA and Irish bookselling may see a record-breaking Christmas for the children’s market this year.
Lyndsey Fineran gave a brief overview of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the world’s oldest literary festival, taking place every October for a period of 10 days. Fineran has been developing new relationships and partnerships, connecting with authors and publishers overseas, bringing a global perspective of literature to audiences. The Huddle tent had an international focus this year and one of their regular features got an international twist as they updated their ‘Meet the Literary Editors’ event to ‘Meet the International Literary Editors’. Also, for the first time, Irish publishers The Lilliput Press and New Island took over The Huddle stage for a day and provided a unique showcase of Irish-published authors. They will continue building their offerings for younger audiences.
The day concluded with a talk given by the keynote speaker, Alex Bower of Faber & Faber. Bowler spoke of the responsibility of the publisher and the importance of connecting with the author, marking the value of authenticity and compassion. In a thought-provoking speech focusing on diversity and inclusion, Bowler asks the questions, how do we launch debut writers? How do we connect our writers to readers? With whom are we connecting as publishers and how are we nurturing this connection? Ending the talk on an inspiring note, Bowler said that it is the responsibility of the publisher to give the author freedom to extend their imaginations and to encourage them to explore all experiences. We need to break down boundaries, think outside of the box and refocus our connections.
This year’s Publishing Ireland Trade Day reinforced the values of communication and connection in a way that was missed in the last year as a result of many lockdowns. Allowing all corners of publishing the space to collaborate and think creatively offers hope to the future of publishing in Ireland—an industry that works and works again to foster connection and authenticity.