General, Students, Trends in Publishing

Is the British education system racially prejudiced?

This is a delicate topic, but as it’s so much in the news at the moment, we thought we ought not to ignore it.

There is, of course, a mountain of statistics to support the assertion that our education system is stacked against people from BAME communities, but also other evidence to illustrate that black and Asian students often go on to be spectacular achievers if they succeed in being admitted to tertiary education. Usually, but not always, these students encounter less prejudice at university – probably because many universities exercise a different kind of prejudice: they are meritocracies. This may be accompanied by the strong feeling in some of the older generation of academics that all that has to be overcome is the same kind of prejudice as that of working-class undergraduates that they themselves triumphed against in the 1970s and 1980s. To muddy the waters even further, white working-class boys emerged some time ago as the group least likely to succeed academically.

It is an unquestionable fact that to get to university you have to succeed at school. If there is racial prejudice, therefore, it seems likely that this is where the problem may lie. Is racial prejudice institutionalised, perhaps covertly, in our schools?

We interviewed a senior teacher who has worked for many years in one of the UK’s largest and most successful comprehensive schools. For obvious reasons, he wishes to remain anonymous, but he spoke to us with passion about this issue.

The school in question was created by the amalgamation of two grammar schools in the 1970s, after which the combined institution became comprehensive. Although the two schools had always educated pupils of different nationalities and creeds, they had been mainly white and predominantly European, as well as academically able in the conventional sense. The school immediately at that point began to enrol pupils from BAME (though this collective term had not been coined then) backgrounds as well, until eventually the school’s population represented over thirty-five different home languages.

There were many difficulties at first which, although the school recognised them, were difficult to resolve. Some teachers were undoubtedly racially prejudiced or old-fashioned meritocrats who were suspicious of or impatient with people from different cultures. As time went on and these older teachers retired, the school was able to develop robust recruitment techniques which ensured that all the staff – including a growing army of non-teaching and support staff, from caretakers to teaching assistants to specialists in the education of children with identified needs to attendance and home liaison officers – were much more representative of the school’s population make-up, shared the same values and agreed on how they would work with students from all backgrounds to provide each child with the support and personal resources to progress well educationally. The school considered it vital to have transparency and clarity through policies carefully constructed by consultation that embraced governors, staff, parents, children and other relevant stakeholders.  

Cultural stereotyping was a more subtle problem. Well-meaning teachers and external influencers might, for example, think it a good idea to set up a steel band for black students and in fact the school experimented with this, but discovered that such a move immediately set participating pupils apart and formed them into a kind of elite. To be properly egalitarian and truly non-racist, the school needed, perhaps by deliberately accommodating particular cultural needs, to encourage BAME students to feel able, by choice, to participate in any school activity. Celebration of individual achievement became central to the approach.

Addressing behavioural issues was another important factor and the students themselves had to understand that, when they were being asked to modify their behaviour, this wasn’t a reflection on their culture, but simply a request to act with courtesy and consideration for others. “At any one time, black students never formed more than five per cent of the school’s total numbers – there were many more Asians – but the black students seemed to be everywhere. The lads in particular were strapping and noisily extrovert. If someone slipped and fell in the corridor, they would find it hilarious and laugh and shout and point. They had to learn to be more aware of the effect they were having on others. It was vital to develop in all pupils the capacity for empathy, rather than simply applying behavioural sanctions.”

Some of these same black pupils proved to be very academically capable indeed once they understood they were valued for themselves and settled down to work. However, over time the school’s own attitude towards what constituted success changed dramatically. Its roots were in the traditional grammar school system of hothousing high academic achievers and rewarding academic success, but by the 1990s its guiding principle was that every student was of equal importance and that each could achieve things which all could celebrate. Mutual kindness and mutual appreciation of talents of all kinds became its mantra. The emphasis was firmly on individual and personal needs and how those should best be met, whether they be educational, medical, cultural, religious, gender-related, social or even financial. It was clear that the school’s internal communication of pupil-specific information must be first-rate, confidential and effectively applied.

Both BAME and ‘Caucasian’ students who attended this school are now doctors, teachers, scientists, academics, members of the police or armed forces and politicians. Some are actors, artists and singers. Others are plumbers, bricklayers, secretaries and hairdressers. Across all walks of life, many have kept in touch with each other. Some return to the school to encourage those studying there today, when the students come from even more diverse backgrounds than previously. The school is now one of the most successful comprehensive schools in the country.  It is, however, the painful truth that not all UK schools have taken a similar approach. Schools with less mixed populations perhaps have not developed the expertise or felt the need to pay so much attention to the preparation of their pupils for the multi-cultural world they will enter as employees; such institutions may not have the resources, both human and material, to reflect the rich mixture of British society. Yet they have a duty to prepare their pupils not just with academic skills, but with the social capability that comes from knowledge and understanding of others and with values that will prevent any inclination to stereotype those who may seem different. As I was writing this, the announcement was made that this year’s British Bookseller Awards were dominated by black female authors. Candace Carty-Williams won overall book of the year with her debut novel Queenie; Oyinkan Braithwaite won crime and thriller book of the year with My Sister the Serial Killer; and Bernardine Evaristo, joint Booker winner for Girl, Woman, Other was named Author of the Year.

[Written by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Academic Publishing, Digital Publishing, Open Access, Trends in Publishing

From Open Access to Open Research: a summary of developments

As the OA movement picked up momentum, there were some watershed moments in the UK: the publication of the Finch Report (2012), which – to the surprise of many – chose the Gold “author pays” model (in which the author or his or her institution pays an APC, or Article Processing Charge) over the Green free-to-view-after-an-embargo-period model; the ruling by the major funding bodies, including RCUK and Wellcome, that outputs of the research they fund (journal articles and underpinning data) must be published OA and the content made available for re-use; and the requirement of REF 21 that authors’ final peer-reviewed and accepted article manuscript submissions must be placed in an Open Access repository.  The last of these supports the Green OA model, but without the embargo element. 

Developments in Europe were soon to surpass the UK in ambition. The principal research funder in the Netherlands, the VSNU, began to mandate a transition to full OA via “transformative agreements” with major publishers in 2016. In 2017, the Swedish government issued its Government Appropriation Directive to the National Library of Sweden (leading member of the BIBSAM consortium that co-ordinates library spending across the country) that “all scientific publications resulting from research financed with public funds shall be published immediately open access”, with a deadline of 2026 for “transitions” with all publishers to be fully realised; also in 2017, Projekt DEAL, a German consortium of libraries and research institutes, set a target of revising licence agreements with major publishers to “bring about significant changes in content access and pricing” of e-journals.  Denmark, meanwhile, remains committed to Green Open Access, as do some countries around the world, including the United States until recently (though without consistent policy or a mandate).

Despite all this activity, some major research funders across Europe and the UK believed that progress towards attaining full and complete Open Access to their funded outputs was moving too slowly. Concerns over “double-dipping” and the lack of take-up of initiatives such as membership schemes and the “block grants” from UK HEIs, compounded a view that publishers were profiteering from taxpayer-funded research that ought to be open for all. There is much general recognition that publishers do add value, but the margins and perceived behaviours of some have become polarising elements in negotiations with their stakeholders. The hard reality of adverse macroeconomic factors for higher education has fused with the ideal of democratisation of knowledge (propounded by groups like Unpaywall) to challenge the industry to change – although without concomitant change to the academic incentives that drive ever-increasing research publishing in the first place.

In 2018, the EU Commission created cOAlition S and launched Plan S, which set out ten main principles intended to achieve full and immediate Open Access by 2021: “…all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.” Key tenets of Plan S are that research must be available via free online access immediately upon publication; be free for sharing and re-use under (ideally) the CC-BY copyright licence; and that publication in hybrid journals is not acceptable unless covered by a transformative agreement.

UK Research & Innovation, allied with cOAlition S, is consulting on its own very similar recommendations at present, with a 2022 compliance target. Separately, the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) of the President of the United States appears to be preparing a similar position. Some academic publishers felt that Plan S merely formalised the goal to which they were already working, although bringing forward the deadline; others, including the largest, have resisted the mandate, which has led to disputes and ongoing battles that these publishers probably can’t win.

A benefit of the pressure being applied by funders is that the most enterprising publishers are considering real openness throughout the research cycle – often of more actual value to researchers than the formal published output – and trying to add value in supporting academic dialogue, early findings, failed experiments, supporting datasets and more.

Open Access for books has also been experimented with, at first either by small publishers – often new university presses set up for this specific purpose – or via open funding platforms such as Knowledge Unlatched; later by the larger academic publishers themselves. In the UK, the 2027 REF requirements have mandated Green open deposit of accepted book manuscripts; UKRI considers them “in scope” from 2024; and the National Endowment for the Humanities is approaching both authors and their publishers with offers of grant funding to turn monographs OA retrospectively. Nevertheless, a viable OA business model for books does not yet exist.

The conundrum that academic publishers have had to address is how to fulfil the requirements of the mandates, treat their librarian customers fairly, and develop a sustainable business model to ensure their own survival.  The “transitional model” developed – which has many variants –  is commonly called “Read and Publish”. It involves signing an agreement with an individual library or consortium that monies formerly supplied to the publisher for subscriptions and/or APCs should be combined in a single payment that allows readers access to the publisher’s content and pays for new articles to be published at the same time.  Ideally, no new money will be introduced into the system, though if a per-article APC model predominates, both cost and complexity will inevitably increase. Some publishers allow unlimited new articles to be published within this payment scheme; others put a cap on the number the payment will cover.

The model is simple in principle but needs much work by both publishers and libraries to make it work, and will only be successful if a) it really effects transformation and b) if the author experience is at least as smooth as it was in the old world of subscription funding.  There are plenty of issues besides this to address: transitional agreements are not intended to last forever – basing payment on historic spending will not work in the long term; funding streams across institutions are not centralised; big research libraries may not be able to publish all accepted articles if there is a cap on the “publish” element of the deal – and if this happens, who will decide which articles to publish?; metadata capture and workflows are still painfully inadequate; crucially, many academics are still unaware, or shaky on the detail, of what it means to publish Open Access and need a great deal of support from librarians and publishers in the form of workshops, online tutorials, etc.; and some confuse OA publishing by reputable mainstream publishers with the “cowboy” publications that proliferated after APCs were accepted as a form of payment, and are therefore hostile to the concept.

Above all, the model must be adopted globally in order to succeed. There may be enough money in the system overall, but its distribution will differ radically under R&P, which has implications for the whole ecosystem. China and the USA lead the world in the quantity of their research output.  Neither has a national OA mandate yet – though some American institutions have now signed Read and Publish deals.  The consumer nations, which publish less than they read, should end up paying less – but how will publishers support research outputs from the developing world? In the long term, publishers can’t run with two major business models – i.e., subscriptions + APCs and Read and Publish.  They need the whole world to get behind the Read and Publish model.  Will this happen?

[Written by Linda Bennett]
This article was first published by Bookbrunch on 13th May 2020.

Academic Publishing, Audiobooks, Digital Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Audiobooks in Academic Publishing – Princeton University Press

In September we published a short blog post on audiobooks in order to offer a short overview of this topic.

We have since had the opportunity to speak to Kim Williams, Digital and Audio Publisher at Princeton University Press, who kindly gave us an interesting insight into the world of audiobooks in academic publishing.

When Princeton University Press announced its new audiobook programme in 2018 it was the first University Press to do so.  Kim Williams told us that they had been licensing rights for audiobooks for several years – first primarily to Audible, later also to others, including Recorded Books, which is the largest independent producer of audiobooks in the world.

However, interest in audiobooks had evolved into something of a trend, with the US market seeing its 7th consecutive year of double-digit growth in sales. Taking this on board together with the increased interest in audiobook licences, Princeton University Press saw an opportunity to enter the market and not only license, but also produce, audiobooks for their readers. After a lot of investigation and costing, a business case was made and in July 2018, Princeton University Press announced the launch of PUP Audio – an audiobook programme aiming initially to publish 24 titles each year. Princeton chose Sound Understanding as its production partner. It is an audio production company that specialises in non-fiction. A great deal of care needs to be taken with the choice of titles to be converted into audiobooks, as Kim Williams explains:

“When choosing the titles for PUP Audio, we first of all have to think about the potential listenership for the book – will an audiobook increase the audience for the title? I then read the book to check if I can ‘hear’ the text; we also have to make sure that charts and diagrams can either be omitted or explained in a simple way without a visual prompt. And then we have to check that the length of a book is right for audio – we don’t want the audiobook to be either too short or too long – and we have to bear the intended readership in mind. In our portfolio, economics books, biographies and big histories tend to work quite well, but we are excited about the potential for our trade science list.”

PUP decided still to maintain its business relationship with Recorded Books; and last month  announced an exclusive partnership with Recorded’s mother company, RBmedia, for the audiobook licensing of further titles (approx. 40 per year).

Kim Williams believes that there is a need for academic audiobooks as well as the various print formats. Audiobooks can support different learning styles, especially now that accessibility of learning content plays an ever more important role at universities. People for whom English is not their native language can find audiobooks a helpful complement to the print book, and of course listening to a book can be time-saving, as it can be done whilst driving a car, exercising or doing other activities that allow you to listen. She thinks that, like e-books, there is a time and place for audio and that having the choice of multiple formats – including audio – ensure a “frictionless reading experience”.

The distribution of audiobooks has not caused difficulties, as they are treated in a similar way to e-books and all big e-book wholesalers will also include audiobooks in their distribution channels. Princeton’s current wholesaler also has good distribution agreements with large audiobooks platforms like Audible, audiobooks.com, Kobo and many independent platforms.

Princeton University Press is not the only academic publisher who publishes audiobooks, but it was certainly one of the first – and the first University Press to do so. Since the publication of their first titles 13 months ago, many others have taken the leap, including Cambridge University Press and Kogan Page.  

So, who are the readers, or should we say listeners, of audiobooks?
“Students of course, but also lecturers who commute, policymakers, the interested public – anyone who wants to save time or who prefers the spoken word over the written one. That stresses the importance of a good narrator: it is crucial to get the right person, someone who is an authority on the topic; they need to show confidence in what they read and therefore must understand the subject, and at the same time have a likeable and clear voice.  Many of our authors have considerable experience in public speaking, but not always the vocal stamina to read a whole book over five or more days. Several of our authors have narrated their own audiobooks, but we have had wonderful readings from professional narrators, too,” says Kim Williams.

Only one year after launching an audiobook programme of its own, Princeton feels that there are many aspects to success as an audiobook publisher.  The production costs of audiobooks are not inconsiderable – on top of hiring studios and the associated costs of this, the narrator puts considerable time and energy into the preparation of an audiobook and deserves fair compensation; and as a publisher that takes pride in the quality of its content PUP (with Sound Understanding) appoints proof listeners for all audiobooks to ensure that the quality control is as rigorous as it is for its print publications. But even though the revenue may not yet exceed the production costs, Princeton University Press has gained many positives from this first year beyond the obvious marketing advantages, as Kim Williams explains: “It certainly has given us a new lens and has opened ways to reach new readerships. One of our missions as a University Press is to reach diverse people across the world, and the audiobooks initiative lets us frame books in new ways and helps us in achieving this goal. Part of our role is to educate people, not only through the content we publish, but also in the way this content is being accessed. Audiobooks are still an evolving model, but we want to be part of shaping this as part of our effort to educate. We have had great feedback from readers and authors alike; and, after all, they are the ones we are here for.”

Academic Publishing, Case Studies, Trends in Publishing

Grown out of dispute: how collaboration removed frustration – and DRM!

Last month, De Gruyter announced the launch of a new initiative, called University Press Library. From early 2020, De Gruyter’s re-launched e-book platform will provide access to the digital book content of 10 American University Presses – with some of whom De Gruyter has long had distribution agreements; others have newly signed with the Germany-based publisher for this project. So far, so good.

What is so special about this project is its background. It all started as a pilot project back in 2014 (very imaginatively, called “the pilot” within De Gruyter!) to get University Presses and their readers to collaborate. At the time, De Gruyter had digital distribution arrangements for America with some of the participating Presses and was therefore aware that one University Press had decided to implement a strict DRM policy for its e-book content. As a direct result of this, 65 subscribing American libraries cancelled their subscriptions and caused a lot of disruption and frustration on both sides of the distribution chain.

At this stage, University Presses were very concerned about piracy and the cannibalisation of print sales. It was for this reason that many had implemented strict DRM rules for e-books, which in turn for the subscribing libraries was difficult to manage and administer. Particularly difficult to deal with was the fact that the Presses implemented different DRM rules on different platforms and for different formats (sometimes even introducing variations on a title-by-title basis).  This caused headaches for the librarians. One knotty issue that emerged was that the duplication of content purchased became unavoidable. For their part, the University Presses had to cope with receipt of inconsistent revenue streams from e-books whilst trying to sustain the publication of scholarly monographs.  (Despite being of high quality, the latter often only generate low usage.)

De Gruyter embraced this situation by turning it into an opportunity; by collaborating with all stakeholders, it developed a solution that worked for everyone: the University Presses, the University Libraries and the consortia.

To tackle the problems, three University Presses – Princeton, Harvard and Columbia – agreed to work with De Gruyter, the consortium LYRASIS and a group of 10 selected US university libraries to start “the pilot”.

In the pilot, all front list e-book content published in 2014 or later, whether user rights had been restricted at title level or not, was made available to the 10 university libraries without DRM. It was agreed with all stakeholders that the pilot would only last as long as it would take to collect enough data to measure the implications of going DRM-free and to evaluate the success of the pilot itself. Eventually it took 5 years to gather enough data, but the outcome was overwhelmingly positive. It turned out that there was no evidence that providing unlimited access to e-books would cannibalise the print sales. User behaviour amongst the 10 participating libraries was very consistent and showed that usage and adoption rates were not dependent on DRM.

This collaborative approach has now led to the development of a product which serves the needs of University Presses as well as consortia and university libraries; all the stakeholders have agreed to a solution that works for them. Even more, it is promising to be so successful that another 7 University Presses have already signed up to become part of the initiative. Each will have its own microsite to keep its branding and profile distinct, but will enjoy the benefits of being part of a larger platform.

When the programme is rolled out globally, it will be interesting to see how many university libraries within and outside of the USA will be interested in participating.  It will allow front-list e-books access (and in some cases also back-list access) on a DRM-free platform.

This blog post is based on an interview with Steve Fallon, Vice President Americas and Strategic Partnerships at De Gruyter.

More information on the Pilot Project and the University Press Library can be found on the De Gruyter website.
University Press Library: https://www.degruyter.com/dg/page/2001
Pilot Project: https://www.degruyter.com/dg/page/2003

Academic Publishing, Audiobooks, Digital Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Audiobooks – more than just a trend?

Audiobooks have been the fastest growing area in consumer publishing, but also in academic publishing they are becoming more and more popular.

Undoubtedly the market leader is Amazon’s “Audible” but other audio services like Spotify, Audiobooks.com and various eBook vendors also offer audiobook programmes and some publishers distribute audiobooks on their own ebook platforms or websites.

Of course, audiobooks are not new – their origins date back to the 1930s when audiobooks were being sold on vinyl records, primarily for educational purposes. However, since they have become digital, their market reach has grown exponentially and with modern devices (for example smart watches or speakers), they can be played in all sorts of environments and have also become more interesting for the academic market. Their potential to bring in new types of content is interesting to the academic market and non-fiction “trade” publishing was  the first to take advantage of this, for example in Bloomsbury’s “33 1/3” series with a focus on exploring popular music (this project is a co-operation between Bloomsbury Publishing and Spotify).

In academic publishing, Princeton and Cambridge University Presses were the first publishers to announce their audiobook programmes: whilst PUP launched theirs in 2018 , which now comprises 12 titles, Cambridge launched their pilot with 4 titles at the 2019 London Book Fair (and a fifth title will be available in October). They have benefited from some authors who have been happy to read their work, for instance the topical “There Is No Planet B” by Mike Berners-Lee. Both university presses collaborate with the UK-based production company Sound Understanding. In November 2018, Wiley announced a collaboration with RBmedia to produce over 650 audiobooks over the next three years, though the focus will be on business and finance as well as the popular Dummies brand, more than on traditional academic publishing.

No doubt, with audiobooks being one of the buzzwords of the industry, there will be more to follow, and readers ought to keep an eye on our blog, where we will talk more about this trend as it evolves with some industry stakeholders.

Academic Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Finding the truth: Fake News and Academic Publishing

“Fake News” was the “word of the year” in 2017 (according to Collins Dictionaries).  It was a buzz-phrase that sprang up the information sector in 2016, when the US presidential election acted as a catalyst.  Its importance is increasing in a world where the extent of democracy and true freedom of speech varies hugely across the globe. The Collins definition says that it is “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting”. While this phenomenon has existed since the earliest broadsheets were published, it has had a much bigger impact on the psychology of today’s society than those of the past. Now Social Media is a major source of information for many, Fake News can be disseminated and spread much more quickly and widely; moreover, today’s Social Media consumer tends to be less and less worried about the sources and accuracy of the “information” s/he reads. Paradoxically, those who read news no longer trust the media – a recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report said that 49% of readers don’t trust the news sources they use, even though they have chosen these sources themselves! – but this seems to make no difference to their popularity.

You may feel that popular journalism has always been a shade scurrilous, but ask how may affect Academic Publishing. In 2016, The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published an infographic on How to spot fake news; a closer look reveals that all eight fact-checking points are very relevant to Academic Publishing.

Fake News presents some fundamental challenges to Academic Publishing, an industry that relies on accuracy and integrity of information as the central justification for its existence. Academic Publishing needs to be robust, transparent and meticulously well-researched, because it drives innovation, public policy, and the entire academic discourse. However, Fake News has a big impact on the sector and the opinions held within academia, since misinterpretations of research results can quickly be spread as “facts”. One very prominent example of this was the measles outbreak in Brooklyn, New York in April this year which caused a local public health emergency, because it had been preceded by widespread misinformation about a (non-existing) link of childhood vaccination to autism, with the result that fewer children had been vaccinated. This “information” was based on a study which was already been proved a fake, withdrawn and the author sanctioned, but was still being spread widely on Social Media.

Again, this is  not new – tabloid newspapers have long based their business models on selling biased research data or exaggerated interpretations to the public – but the power of rapid dissemination and concomitant general lack of interest in sources exhibited by the public at large has allowed Fake News to spread more rapidly, even within academic circles. Publishing is the central route to academic preferment.  Unfortunately, therefore, Academic Publishing sometimes lends itself to fraud practised for unscrupulous personal gain.

The world of Academic Publishing relies heavily on Peer Review as its main mechanism of preventing Fake News; there have been frequent examples of publishers having to retract journal articles because of fraudulent peer reviews, as an examination of the blog Retraction Watch, which tracks scientific integrity, can demonstrate.

In response to such malpractice, fact-checking sites like snopes.com and factcheck.org have been established, to help readers to verify the integrity of academic content. Hypothes.is is a fact-checking site dedicated to Academic Publishing which uses annotations in a very effective way and also allows plugs into blogs and news sites.

The switch to Open Science provides another opportunity to prevent Fake News from contaminating Academic Publishing, because the whole OS publication process is open and transparent, meaning that fraud can be detected at an earlier stage.

There is a demonstrable need not only to educate students, but also the wider public, in information literacy and critical thinking. Websites like NimblyWise are attempting this, but take-up is not wide-spread and their reach to the wider public is limited.

Academic Publishing is therefore not immune from Fake News.  Society’s trust in published work without questioning its authenticity holds far-reaching implications. Clearly there is an urgent need for an improved system that can de-incentivise (and possibly prevent) the production of Fake News, provide education in information literacy; and offer a trusted forum to enable Scientists and Academic Publishers to stay in an active dialogue with the public.

Digital Publishing, London Book Fair, Trends in Publishing

Vibes from the London Book Fair 2019

This year’s London Book Fair occurred earlier in the year than usual and was once again held at Olympia – an old favourite for those of us who remember Olympia as the venue for pre-Earl’s Court LBFs. Members of Gold Leaf attended on Tuesday and Thursday.

We were very impressed by the overall attendance, especially on Tuesday: there was a real buzz to the fair, with lots of ancillary activities going on right from the start. We applauded the decision of the fair organisers to ban wheeled laptop cases and suitcases from the aisles this year: it made moving around much less hazardous and increased the feasibility of working to the tight schedules that most of us have to cope with.

So what were this year’s big themes? For academic publishers, Plan S in particular and Open Access publishing more generally probably overshadowed everything except Brexit. (Comments on that, especially from European publishers, were fairly uniform: horrified, puzzled, dismayed by the events unfolding in Parliament while the fair was running.) ALPSP ran a seminar on Plan S and Open publishing on the Wednesday morning, at which David Sweeney, Executive Chair Designate of Research England, was the keynote speaker. Elsewhere at the fair, prominent themes included Fake News – or, rather, how to combat it; freedom of speech; and, on a less abstract level, the rise and rise of talking books (please follow this blog to read more about this in the next couple of weeks).

The PEN stand was mobbed by young authors demanding freedom of speech for all – which until recently would have been a laughable exhibition of preaching to the converted, particularly in such an environment; but recent events in both Europe and the USA, as well as further afield in the world, have now demonstrated very strongly the importance of not taking freedom of speech – not to say the accurate representation of the truth – for granted.

The importance of supporting creativity and allowing authors and other creative artists by maintaining copyright law was also the theme of this year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture, delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School, which was entitled Copyright, Books and Progress. Professor Gervais’ central premise was that copyright should be fiercely defenced to incentivise the “right things” – i.e., matters central to the progress of human civilisation. He said that it was clear that in order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. His message was that rules should be created and observed to maximise access to content, while providing authors with sustainable livelihoods. You will be able to read more details about the lecture on this blog soon.

Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, also spoke of the need to preserve the essential values of civilisation in one of the opening speeches of the fair. Like Professor Gervais, he depicted publishing and the laws and norms that underpin it as central to the development of civilised society. “We need to have the courage to fight for our values we believe in: free speech, respect for ideas and intellectual life, for copyright, and for the right of an artist to make a living; and for our local markets.”

The Author Centre was frantically busy, as usual; and several new amenities were provided for authors, including Author HQ, organised by Midas, which gave pre-chosen authors the chance to pitch to agents in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ kind of way.

Indonesia was the guest country of the book fair this year and some of the Indonesia publications were both exotic and wonderful. However, China seemed to have an even greater representation, and Indian publishers also enjoyed a much higher profile than in the past.

All in all, the atmosphere was joyful, celebratory and can-do. Although – as indicated in this summary – some of the underlying reasons for preoccupations aired at the fair were deadly serious, the end result was the display of an industry perhaps more united than usual about what it stands for.