Publishing: A uniquely valuable industry

Annie Callanan, President of the Publishers Association and Chief Executive of Taylor & Francis.

This speech was delivered by Annie Callanan at the Publishers Association’s Annual General Meeting which was held virtually on Thursday 14 May.

Good evening!

It is an absolute privilege to step into this role as President of the Publishers Association and to share some thoughts with everyone here today.

I would first like to express my gratitude to Peter Phillips for his kind words—and for his calm, purposeful and considered guidance during his distinguished time as President.

And, of course, I would like to thank Stephen Lotinga for his continued support.

We are living through something extraordinary and unprecedented. Our society faces the collective challenge of COVID19; and of course, as publishers we are faced with perhaps the biggest test of our generation.  

Ensconced in a home office in NJ is not the ideal backdrop for the inaugural PA kickoff I had imagined – and I certainly did not anticipate a virtual address – but this year takes on even greater significance as I know the Association will play a vital role in supporting our industry’s return to full health.

It is true to say that sometimes we are at our best when we are flat out put to the test.

I am inspired by the resilient actions already undertaken by publishers here today and I believe your response to this crisis has already demonstrated to a forgetful world one overwhelming and important truth about publishing. Simply put: we are an industry uniquely skilled to curate and express original and previously unimagined thoughts, learnings and evidence-based assertions from the most creative, insightful and innovative minds—and to bring those ideas to life. I firmly believe it is a societal value worthy of sustaining, celebrating and protecting.

In my first address, I would like to speak about my three priorities for the coming year. My presidency will aim to bring all representatives of our industry together as we face many of the same underlying challenges and opportunities.

My first focus will be to help guide us all through this immediate crisis. My second priority will be to demonstrate our positive impact to a world that still does not yet understand our unique value in a modern context. And my third goal will be to try and ensure that the process of Brexit concludes with affirmation and support for copyright rather any outcome that undermines it.

I want to assure you that I will be working with our outstanding team at the Publishers Association to ensure that throughout this pandemic we are securing from government the support we need and providing the helpful guidance and assistance that all our members require.

We will continue to work with our partners across the creative industries, across academia, education and beyond, to find solutions to the challenges we face.

Looking at all we have contributed, in the past few months alone, makes me even more confident about the importance of our collective publishing output. We owe it to ourselves and to our creative partners to ensure that this value—this inherent right of ideated expression—is understood and cherished for the impactful, forward thinking and innovative sector that it is. Publishing is a continuous and life-affirming business –the pursuit of an idea, a story or a fact never stops. The more the world reads, learns and discovers, the more curious – but also comforted — we become.

The Financial Times recently released a survey that revealed around 40% of adults were reading as a ‘way to cope’ with the lockdown. The Reading Agency also published polling as part of ‘World Book Night’ that showed the extent to which people have been turning to books.

We should be proud to be the industry that is a vital source of comfort during such difficult circumstances. In time, our published stories, ideas, insights and scientific breakthroughs will help society progress, by better understanding and coming to terms with what has happened.  

Beyond this, we are supporting countless families who are suddenly being asked to educate their children at home. We have collaborated, and we have been flexible and proactive about making resources accessible in a very short time frame.

And of course, we have been providing free access to vital research and prioritising the rapid publication of COVID-19 materials—actions which will bring us closer to halting this virus, developing treatments, and ending the pandemic—faster than ever before.

For all these reasons – and many more – we should be incredibly proud to work in publishing, and intent on demonstrating competency in expressing the cultural, scientific and economic value we bring.

Finally, I’m going to touch very briefly on Brexit. Of course, the world’s attention has rightly turned to the most urgent and immediate challenge facing us. But the moment of Brexit and its aftermath brings challenges of a different nature. The Government insists that the transition period will end as planned on 31 December.

I want to reassure you that the Publishers Association has already done an excellent job of underlining the importance of publishing to the UK and underscoring how vital copyright protection is to our success.

That work must continue during my Presidency so that when future trade deals are signed, they not only reinforce intellectual property rights as we know them in the UK today, but that others are brought up to a similar level.

Thank you all for joining us today. It’s been a privilege to have the opportunity to speak to you all about my priorities as President.

I want to end by saying that I am a firm believer in the resilience and societal value of publishing. We will spend this year turning challenges into opportunities. Publishing is a creative and dynamic industry highly proficient at ideation and expression. As we leverage both attributes and work collaboratively, we will find a way to come out of this stronger. Thank you.