BookUp conference challenges perspectives


From the impact and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence and Design Thinking, through to the practicalities of metadata, and publishing First Nations voices, the BookUp 2023 conference challenged attendees' perspectives on a broad range of topics. 

Here are just some of the perspectives on the APA’s sold-out BookUp conference: 

‘BookUp was such a huge success. The program was topical and relevant with great speakers, industry experts, panel discussions and presentations. There was continuing chat about AI in particular in the networking drinks. An excellent learning and development opportunity for Hachette staff.’
Louise Stark – CEO, Hachette Australia 

‘My team thought the day really worthwhile and enjoyed taking the time to think about issues pertinent to their work. They also appreciated the networking opportunity.’
Andrew Stammer – Director, CSIRO Publishing 

‘Such a broad range of topics, but I took something useful away from each and every one.”
Sam van der Plank – Senior Publishing Officer, Monash University Publishing

Hosted by Esther Anatolitis at State Library Victoria in Melbourne on 16 August, the conference engaged over 300 professionals in-person and online in a day filled with publishing insights and professional development opportunities. 

Engaging with rapid economic changes, developments in artificial intelligence, metadata and Australia’s reading culture, this year’s program featured accomplished panellists from publishing and beyond who explored: 

  • Design Thinking: How to approach publishing’s biggest challenges
  • Insights from reading research
  • Publishing First Nations voices
  • Valuing our content
  • AI and the opportunities and challenges for publishing
  • Why metadata is everyone’s responsibility
  • Industry talent: The publishing industry’s Rising Stars

Design Thinking: How to approach publishing’s biggest challenges 

‘Design Thinking is a process you can trust, a process that has tools … it holds your thinking open long enough to get new and diverse ideas.’

Greg Harbidge, Director of consulting firm Think Different, challenged traditional conventions of working and thinking to help organisations innovate and grow. 

While 70% of our days are governed by habits and tradition, Design Thinking breaks these habits with processes to generate new ideas and encourage alternative approaches. Placing an emphasis on the needs of end users or customers, this approach is supported in the workplace by personal engagement, transparency and an inclusive culture.

Greg noted that one of the most powerful things you can do is invite people from different specialties across an organisation to share alternative perspectives and expertise in a project, and encouraged attendees to 'do one thing differently' in their approach to projects.

Greg has produced a Design Thinking primer for attendees to download.

What is the reading research telling us?

Australia Reads is on a mission to get people reading more books, more often, and Adele Walsh from La Trobe University Library and the APA’s Policy and Government Relations Manager Stuart Glover discussed the recent findings of Australia Reads’ inaugural Reading Research Review

Analysing around 3000 pages of academic research, across 22 countries from 314 different researchers, the Review provides a snapshot into the benefits of reading across our lifetime and where some of the current gaps in our knowledge lie. 

From early childhood development to overall health and wellbeing in older age, the key takeaways were the contemporary benefits of reading, and the importance of government programs and interventions at grassroots levels.

With reading behaviours and formats rapidly changing in Australia, the findings were resounded clearly: if you want people to enjoy reading, they need to be literate. To hear more on these topics, join the VOLUME symposium on 21 September.

Publishing First Nations voices

Stacie Piper’s poignant Welcome to Country set the tone for the BookUp conference and contemporary discussions on cultural competency and deeper cultural nuance in the publishing sector. 

Considering Australia’s long history of Indigenous storytelling, Sandra Phillips, Associate Professor of Indigenous Australian Studies and Publishing Studies at Western Sydney University, reminded the audience that:

‘The world came to this continent, and Indigenous peoples in different ways have learned to live with the world that came to this continent. Now it’s time for the world ... to learn to live with Indigenous peoples, which includes Indigenous stories and knowledge, and ways of telling stories.’

Melissa Kayser shared the origins of Indigenous storytelling at Hardie Grant Explore, while Magabala editor Arlie Alizzi investigated the importance of linguistics, sourcing and working with Indigenous talent, and standards of cultural education. 

Valuing our content

In an economic climate where the cost of living is steadily increasing, costs are also growing for publishers. Yet the average selling price of books in Australia hasn’t increased in 20 years, and this panel discussion featuring Bianca Whitely (Nielsen BookData Australia), Melanie Barton (Target Australia), Susannah Bowen (Campion Education), and Brooke Webb (Sydney Writers’ Festival), hosted by Mark Campbell (HarperCollins), illuminated the importance of valuing our content across the sector. 

In the past four years, analytics from Nielsen have revealed trends in book price points, levels of discounting and the resulting average price to the consumers in Australia. Particularly in discretionary and speciality retail, the impacts of cost of living were clear with a 27% decrease in spending according to recent ANZ data. 

In education, an emphasis on appropriate price points, embracing innovative technology and considering the diversity and inclusivity of resources were important considerations, while Brooke Webb shared her insights on ticket pricing and demographic concerns in business and event planning. 

AI and publishing

Director of the National AI Centre hosted by CSIRO, Stela Solar’s keenly awaited keynote illuminated the rise and future of artificial intelligence across industries. 

The importance of generative AI is clear, particularly to employees. Over 30% of professionals are using AI in the workplace according to Time, while recent Salesforce data revealed 97% of global workers believe businesses should prioritise AI skills development..

Looking more broadly than the efficiency and optimisation AI can bring to the publishing industry, Stela considered the power of technology to activate stories, knowledge and characters and create new interactive experiences, quoting publishing expert Thad McIlroy ‘AI is going to enable books to morph into additional revenue-producing mediums, in ways we’ve never seen before’. She also considered the ethical and social implications of this technology and the importance of creating trusted frameworks to ensure industry standards.

Why metadata is everyone’s responsibility

The importance and place of metadata across publishing companies was explored from different angles by a panel covering editorial, marketing and operations, but editors and metadata champions were highlighted as crucial to delivering quality, timely metadata. 

From exploring the value of metadata to sharing best practices, this wide-ranging discussion highlighted why there’s a need for everyone’s involvement in metadata and why it’s essential for publishers to upskill staff.

Meeting the Publishing industry’s Rising Stars

This year’s Rising Stars panel showcased five talented professionals who represent the next generation of publishing. Chaired by 2023 Open Book intern Keerthana Ravindra, the panel of shortlistees discussed their impressive careers, the future of the industry and implementing non-traditional technology and thinking. This year's Rising Star winner was announced as Tom Langshaw following the conference.

Watch the recordings

In-person and online attendees of BookUp can now replay a recording from the day on the APA website, while those who missed out can purchase access to the recording here.

BookUp is made possible thanks to the continued support of the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, along with Books+Publishing and Media Super.