Is the Future Tense?

Two years on from the beginning of a global pandemic, we have seen an enormous change across the world. Having experienced such a time of turmoil and uncertainty, it’s hard not to wonder, what next? In this panel a talented group of publishing professionals gave their take on that exact question. Distribution professional Emma Walton, Content editor Meghan McCormack, freelancer, and co-founder of independent publisher 404 Ink Heather McDaid, and our chair, Publishing Assistant Andrew Lindsay all brave the topics making many in the industry tense.

We begin with the only word we have heard more frequently than ‘unprecedented’, Brexit. The panellists discussed the different ways that leaving the EU has impacted them and what they are doing to make sense of this new challenge. This change has caused tax issues, made shipping to the EU all but impossible for small presses. It is taking a lot more work to find ways around the new laws and restrictions. Even larger publishers like the big five are struggling to find ways to get books to customers without high customs taxes being handed to their customers. It has been a steep learning curve for all publishers as the usual way of doing things has been completely turned upside down. One possible positive suggested by Emma Walton was that the change has forced people to improve their knowledge of how shipping process and distribution works, staying on top of every shipment.

We then moved on to the issue of sustainability. People have become more aware of unnecessary waste like single use plastics. No one claims to be perfect or doing everything correctly, but it is clear that everyone is being far more conscious of the materials they use and how they source it. Meghan McCormack went into fascination detail on how her educational magazine company has been finding different ways to use recycled paper and get rid of plastic without losing the toys that come with their magazines. She emphasises the importance of play for children and how it is important to keep providing opportunities for it. The issue of sustainability is a complex one and the panellists expertly discuss the nuances of trying to do the right thing and how complicated it can be.

Another change that has been a huge focus for the publishing industry is working from home. Changing the way we work opened up many opportunities for people, improving accessibility, providing more freedom for workers, and showing that we can still connect and engage through technology. As well as this, companies can hire people from anywhere, widening the pool of talent to be drawn from. Overall, the positives definitely seem to outweigh the negatives of remote and hybrid working. Time is saved by removing the need to commute and people have more room and energy to decompress and be creative. Heather McDaid also brought up the four-day work week discussion, something that could go a long way in the future to provide a more even work – life balance. The creativity and open mindedness needed to adapt to remote working was also discussed as a positive outcome of a difficult time.

When opening up the conversation to questions from the audience we gained great insights into even more issues faced within the industry, from mental health to the world of freelancers. Mental health supports have seen an increase of attention, with resources being needed more than ever while staff juggled work and personal life through a difficult two years. Emphasis was put on checking in with co-workers and friends as well as employers needing to ensure that all of their employees are aware of the support systems in place. Freelancers were noted as often being a vital part of small publishers.

I was a fascinating discussion which shed light on difficulties and drew attention to positives and hope without shying away from difficulties that are likely going to be prevalent for some time to come. So the future does seem hopefully, even if, for a while, it may be quite tense.

Thank you to our chair and all our panellists for appearing on Is the Future Tense? panel, the recording will be available to view online until 31st May to all ticketholders.

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