BookUp 2021 in review

A photograph: A neon sign of the BookUp logo stands between piles of books atop a white bookcase. The logo is 'BookUp' in white sans serif font and three vertical lines in purple, pink, and orange, stylised as books leaning against the 'B'. The bookcase shelves are packed with Australian books, as well as three posters, for Australia Reads, Books Create Australia, and Think Australian 2017. More than 200 people attended the Australian Publishing Association’s BookUp conference on 27 April – the first conference for the industry in recent history. Representatives from over 45 publishers attended, from large multinationals to independent houses across the country.

Expert interviewer Michaela Kalowski hosted the day, and facilitated the panel discussions with energy and agility across the various topics and themes.

The conference, which had been postponed a number of times since receiving funding from the Copyright Agency in 2017, was held at the International Convention Centre in Sydney with access also made available online.

The one day event included the following sessions:

  • Storytelling and the Languages of the Land — Anita Heiss
  • Generational Change: Future trends for Australia — Claire Madden
  • The Future of Publishing Workplaces — David Shelley
  • What's the story? The changing nature of content consumption panel
  • The Future for Bookshops panel
  • Cancel Culture & Freedom to Publish panel
  • Implementing Inclusivity in Publishing panel
  • Future Growth in Publishing — Kate Wilson
  • Publishing Future Forum and Q&A

BookUp’s mission was to identify and tackle the key concerns for the publishing industry’s future, and initial feedback has hit on what constitutes good leadership, representation and book industry collaboration.

General Manager of Echo Publishing Benny Agius said the program was, 'Informative, thought provoking and entertaining' and added that 'The event has certainly put our focus well on diversity issues, and the importance change and creative leadership will make to our industry. The other focus for me highlighted just how important listening to Booksellers is for us publishers. We do really need to collaborate more with this most important arm of our industry.'

Marketing Manager at Thames & Hudson Jackie Money shared that the opening address from Anita Heiss was a beautiful and beneficial way to open the conference. Money said, 'It is so vital for us to remember and celebrate how First Nations people are the oldest storytellers in the world.' Heiss’s provocation to attendees was 'What legacy will your work leave for First Nations languages and culture?'

A photograph of Anita Heiss delivering the opening address for the 2021 BookUp conference via video link. She is projected onto two screens above a stage with an empty podium. In the front of the frame, the physical BookUp audience sits in rows of chairs.
Anita Heiss delivered the opening address for the 2021 BookUp conference.

The first keynote speaker was Gen Z expert Claire Madden who provided an overview on post-millennials and how to engage them as staff and audiences. Following qualitative research, Madden highlighted that this generation showed constant, convenient, concurrent, continuous, and collaborative media consumption behaviours.

A photograph of two men and a woman, sitting in chairs on the BookUp stage. Projected onto the wall behind them is a slide which reads 'The Future for Bookshops' above headshots of the speakers.
Robbie Egan, Jay Lansdown and Anna Low formed the Future of Bookshops panel.
Hachette UK’s CEO David Shelley spoke on the Future of Publishing Workplaces and pointed to the need for staff teams to be representative of the whole world in order to serve readers everywhere, with remote working offers opportunities for broader representation across countries.

The first panel session explored ideas of content consumption in the post-COVID age. Representatives from Acast, Sydney Opera House and Audible discussed trends in audio-visual content and how these are changing their programming. Stuart Buchanan, Head of Digital Programming at Sydney Opera House, shared how the iconic venue shifted to online casting of shows, and has opened up new options for 'at home viewing' to their live in-house tickets. Of particular note to publishers, Karen Yates from Audible shared the observation that listeners are especially keen for the novella and shorter audio titles.

The Future of Bookshops panel raised questions around possible over publishing and merchandising. There was also a call for greater collaborations between publishers and bookshops, particularly with the need for more data infrastructure to support connections between publishers, booksellers and buyers. Jay Lansdown suggested publishers invest in their sales reps who are 'the most important members of the team.'

With a journalist, two publicists and a lawyer discussing Cancel Culture and Freedom to Publish, Jackie Money found the panel discussion to be 'exceptional', saying: 'The panellists were knowledgeable and respectful about the subject, answering quite a few difficult questions with clear knowledge and experience.'

A photograph of four women and a man, sitting in chairs on the BookUp stage. Projected twice onto the wall behind them is a slide reading 'Cancel Culture and Freedom to Publish' above headshots of the speakers.
Michaela Kalowski, Melanie Kembrey, Anyez Lindop, Ian McDonald, and Peri Wilson made up the Cancel Culture and Freedom to Publish panel.

The session on Implementing Inclusivity in Publishing heard from UK representatives of Bonnier and Faber & Faber on what their companies are doing to address this key issue. Stephen Page summed up Faber and Faber’s good intentions of being more open to writers and staff from the BIPOC community, but very poignantly described how their efforts fell well short of what was needed. Page said, 'We thought we were being welcoming, but we were simply inviting people into our house, not shifting the ground.'

Kate Wilson from the rapidly growing UK children’s publishing house Nosy Crow shared her thoughts on Future Growth in Publishing. Two key points she raised were on the power of metadata, noting the pandemic highlighted how publishers must take the opportunity to advance their discoverability online; while she highlighted that brands will become increasingly important in the future.

In the final session Kalowski guided a panel to reflect on the full day’s content; turning thoughts to threats and opportunities for the future of the industry. The panel included Meredith Curnow from Penguin Random House, Robert Gorman from Allen and Unwin, Dan Watts from Thames and Hudson, Rebecca Herrmann from Bolinda.

There was a review of their companies’ approaches to diversity in their teams, and discussion around the benefits and challenges of creating a team culture with disparate staff now partially working from home. Other topics included what Australian publishers can do better, such as creating more courageous Australian stories; the meaningful trends since COVID; author wages; subscription models; environmental matters; and supply chain changes including print demand and the cost of books. It was a fittingly packed end to a day full of rich provocations, challenges and conversations.

A screenshot of the BookUp Online streaming page. The page is made up of a large video player, which is currently playing the Cancel Culture and Freedom to Publish panel. There is a comment section to the right of the player.
Recordings of BookUp 2021 sessions are available on the event website.
Two supplementary online sessions on 29 April extended the conference, and delved into the use of data for publishers. Ruth Pickering of Yewno highlighted The Power of AI for Publishers, explaining how it can be used to better understand their content and better showcase it to consumers. BookNet Canada’s CEO Noah Genner explored Data Driven Decision Making in Publishing and the wealth of data available to Canadian publishers, which tied in with a number of the themes around the importance of data from the main conference day and BookUp Online 2020. 

If you missed any sessions, or would like to revisit anything, members can browse and view the recordings in our BookUp archive.

Conversations about the future of the sector will continue in further BookUp sessions across the year. Ideas on topics and speakers can be submitted to [email protected]