Since forever, publishers have been criticised.
It's all part of the job. Publishers are ripping off authors. Publishers are maltreating booksellers. Publishers publish tosh. Publishers don't take enough risks. Publishers spend too little on marketing. Publishers don't understand their market. Publishers are Luddites. In short, publishers are incompetent. What's more, they make obscenely large profits.
In addition, publishing is being attacked at the very core of its business. Governments attempting to control the expression of unfavourable opinion. Technology giants dismissing copyright as an obstacle to progress (or to their commercial interests). Bureaucracies tinkering in order to make intellectual property law more attuned to the digital age. Threats to academic publishing from commercial entities purporting to be charities and purloining publishers' and authors' content for their own purposes. Threats to educational publishing through new interpretations of fair use in libraries and schools and the desire of education ministers to control textbooks. Threats to general book publishers from monopolistic distributors. I could go on, but I will spare you.
The world of international publishing is gathering in London from the 9th-12th April to debate these and many other issues at the International Publishers Congress, (sponsored by the Sharjah Book Authority, Nielsen, and CPI) organised by the PA, the London Book Fair and the IPA itself, and running into LBF. The list of speakers is formidable, including: Philip Pullman; Alaa Al Aswany; Arnaud Nourry; Elif Shafak; James Daunt; Richard Malka, lawyer at Charlie Hebdo; Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation; John Whittingdale, secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport; and many more.
Not only is this an opportunity for publishers to sharpen up their understanding of the current state of play in our industry, it is crucially an opportunity for us to show that we are not what some people think we are. This is a stage to advertise that we are a flexible, forward-looking, author-supporting, investing, tax-paying, global industry.
This is the first time the Congress has been held in London since 1988. Back then in parallel with the Congress Ernest Hecht (now OBE) produced a wonderful catalogue of events celebrating independent publishing with many great articles by the likes of Alan Bennett, Michael Foot and Donald Sinden. Much has changed since then but I couldn’t help feeling that this ode to the joy of independent publishing by the inimitable Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus and Giroux still resonates:
Imagine not having to have power breakfasts,
Not having to have lunches with MBAs,
Not having to have planning conferences on a secluded island
Not having to fake the balance sheet,
Not having to fire a literary editor who hasn’t produced this season –
These are some of the joys.
I know that everyone's time and money is precious but please don't miss this opportunity to show solidarity with our industry. We have delegates from all round the world. We should shout as loud as we can for British publishing as well as for our international colleagues. The more UK publishers that sign up at www.ipacongress.com, the louder our voice is, the better we can welcome our guests, the more effective we are. The sooner you register, the better we can plan and the more we can offer.
I look forward to seeing you all including authors, librarians, booksellers, printers, literary agents, software developers, collecting societies, wholesalers and e-tailers. Everyone in our industry is welcome but, for once, let's hear it for the publishers!