Key takeaways from the NEC Annual Publishing Conference 2022

In October, we were very excited to be able to attend the NEC Annual Publishing Conference at Woburn House and hear from some of the top publishing tech experts about new trends and innovations in the publishing industry. Here are the top 5 topics of discussion on the day:


  1. The undisputed star of the conference was by far Artificial Intelligence – many of the speakers touched on it, but David Smith from the IET really dove into the subject during his opening talk, and walked us through the latest achievements in AI content creation. After comparing different large language models already on the market, David showed some mind-blowing examples of AI-created art, medical imaging and even full research papers written entirely by an AI! He also touched on some of the risks of feeding large data sets (like the Internet) to an AI, such as the AI inheriting human biases and discriminatory language, or even running into ethical issues and infringements for not being able to copyright content that is not created by a human…


  1. We also heard about ongoing efforts to improve content Discovery and Access – MD of Technology at SAGE Matthew Hayes gave a very interesting overview of the current discovery journey. One big change they have observed in more recent years is that students and researchers now begin their discovery overwhelmingly outside of the library, relying mainly on platforms like Google and Google Scholar. The decline in library users is also due to the pandemic-driven shift to off-campus learning, but starting your research on Google Scholar can also bring some big accessibility issues, with an average of 12 clicks and 3.5 minutes to get to the desired article, and with many researchers simply giving up half way through. They have also found that both librarians and patrons are increasingly asking for guided discovery, but in a way that is embedded in their existing workflow.


  1. Diversification of content and formats was another big topic of discussion, with Product Director at PlaceTech Kirsty Butcher providing a very useful summary of different strategies B2B publishers could implement to diversify their offering. She talked about podcasts, alternative data points, hybrid events and interactive virtual networking, branded videos and additional video services, and even showed us an exciting 3D map they created for their virtual magazine (a B2B publication aimed at real estate clients). She advised publishers to be brave and experiment with different formats, move quickly to get ahead of their competitors, “get their eggs in different baskets” and consider bi-products alternatives, look at different partners and vendors that might support them on the IT side, but also to be aware that not all these experiments are going to pay off and to know when to quit and stop wasting time and energy on pet projects. “The best time to diversify your portfolio is many years ago. The second best time is Today.”


  1. With all the talk around new technologies and trends, one of the speakers also urged us to not steer away from all the work that’s been done in Diversity in Publishing: Director of Academic and Professional Publishing at Bloomsbury Pooja Aggarwal gave a brilliant talk on the current state of affairs for DEI in the industry. Although a lot of progress has been made to open publishing to more people from diverse backgrounds, there are still some big barriers we’re facing when trying to increase diversity in publishing, such as low visibility, industry attractiveness (also due to lower salaries than other industries), and tricky recruitment processes. In the UK, only 13% of publishing staff is from a black or minority ethnic background, and in the US it’s less than 20%.


  1. There was also an interesting contribution by BMJ CTO Ian Mulvaney, who talked about the importance of understanding one’s Audience and Company Mission. Although publishers are by their nature drawn to innovation and trying new routes, Ian also reminded us of the importance of keeping in mind who your audience is, and to go back to your company’s initial mission, which will allow publishers to stay relevant through change and new models.  Understanding your audience and gathering clear data on it will allow publishers to maximise their audience’s value. Reflecting about your mission will highlight the landscape your company is playing in, identify your competitors and possible partners, and mirror what your staff will be motivated by.


It was a day of discovery, networking and learning, and we’ve come out feeling even more excited about working in this amazing sector! If you are looking to move into or grow your career in publishing then do get in touch or visit our jobs page to view all the latest career opportunities.