IPG Virtual Spring Conference: change and connection

Bridget Shine
Opinion - Publishing Monday, 1st June 2020

Bridget Shine introduces this week's online conference - an event emphasising the importance of solidarity in publishing

This Tuesday and Wednesday (2 and 3 June), the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) will host our first ever Virtual Spring Conference. While we're sorry not to be able to meet face to face, as hundreds of our members do every spring, we're very excited to be running what I know will be a memorable event.

It's clearly struck a chord, because by last week more than 650 people had registered to attend. This tells us that the special exchange of advice and spirit of mutual support that have always been so evident within the IPG are needed now more than ever. In times of change and uncertainty, it's hugely important for publishers to stay connected, and at the IPG we're proud play a part in that.

"Independents have been adapting in very innovative ways"

Many of the 40-plus speakers will be talking about their responses to the coronavirus crisis - which have been as creative and robust as we've come to expect from independent publishers. It's been an immensely difficult time for everyone within the IPG community, not least those who have encountered disruption to their cashflows and supply chains. But independents have also been adapting in very innovative ways, like switching to direct to consumer sales, turning physical events into virtual ones, and getting support from loyal readers to sustain themselves. They've also responded very well to the challenges of working from home.

Many of our members have been taking advantage of the government's loan and furloughing schemes, and we continue to press the case for financial support to continue well into the future. We're pleased to have a welcome to our conference tomorrow from Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness and parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for International Trade, who has responsibility for export policy and promotion. Himself a former publisher - albeit with a magazine rather than books business - he sees the huge value of the industry to UK exports, which are worth about £3.4bn a year. "Publishing is such a dynamic sector and UK publishers have been at the forefront of that." He's also telling us about the government's new export strategy, due out in the autumn, and asking for publishers' views to help shape it.

As Graham Stuart says in his introduction: "This Virtual Conference provides a great platform for companies of all sizes to learn what's happening in the sector - and to use that knowledge to help their business as we emerge from lockdown."

At an extremely difficult time for all of us, it's been wonderful to see the readiness of our conference speakers to share advice with their fellow publishers, and heartening to receive sponsorship support for our event from so many publishing suppliers and service providers, enabling us to make it available for free to every IPG member. No one really knows what the coming months have in store for publishing, but what's certain is that we will be stronger by facing the future together.

Bridget Shine is chief executive of the Independent Publishers Guild.