At Publishing University 2024, held in Denver, the Independent Book Publishers Association announced that the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, which honor titles in 57 categories, will be renamed the IBPA Book Awards and celebrate books across seven additional, identity-inclusive categories. IBPA also established a new Jan Nathan Lifetime Achievement Award, in memory of the late Publishers Marketing Association/IBPA founder, to recognize contributions to independent publishing by individuals and companies. IBPA CEO Andrea Fleck-Nisbet informed members of these updates on April 27, and a town hall will be held May 9 to discuss the rebranding.

Because the IBPA decided to change the Franklin award name last August, when awards committee work was well underway and details were being finalized for PubU, this year’s awards went on as previously planned under the Franklin aegis. This year’s winners will be able to put the new branding on the awarded books, and IBPA COO Terry Nathan will provide IBPA Book Award branding materials including stickers “in the coming months,” Fleck-Nisbet said. She added: “We still honor everything that came before and would be proud to have the recent winners continue with the Ben Franklin branding if they choose.”

IBPA has awarded its book prizes for 36 years, so determining how and when to change the name proved challenging. “The timing is always tricky, especially with an award that has built up so much brand equity,” Fleck-Nisbet said. “I asked the board to set aside special resources to making the rollout professional and in keeping with the spirit of independent publishing.”

The updates proceeded over several years, as the IBPA board, staff, and DEI committee “discussed the need to develop categories that recognize the contributions of underrepresented communities” and to remember executive director Nathan, said Fleck-Nisbet. IBPA leadership wanted the annual award to represent diversity across indie publishing, and identified seven new categories honoring works from the Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black/African American, disabled, First Nations/Indigenous, Latina/o/e, LGBTQIA2+, and neurodivergent communities. “To be considered for an award in these categories, at least one key member (author, editor, publisher or book designer) of the publishing team must be part of the respective community,” the organization wrote in a statement.

“By increasing the award categories, we create an environment where every independent publisher has an equal chance for their outstanding work to be recognized,” said Karen Pavlicin, current IBPA board chair and publisher of Elva Resa Publishing.

Yet, in the process of adding categories, Fleck-Nisbet said, IBPA observed that the Franklin “branding was outdated” and could not ignore the fact that the historical Franklin “participated, inadvertently or otherwise,” in human enslavement. “It felt incongruous to add categories representing marginalized groups and maintain the name.” One gold and two silver winners will be chosen across the 57 previous and seven new IBPA Book Award categories, and will be announced at the 37th annual PubU in 2025.

Fleck-Nisbet noted that while she was “confident there will be naysayers and those who are unhappy with the change,” the decision marks IBPA’s “commitment to creating a more inclusive industry,” according to its strategic plan. “When I announced the change at PubU on Saturday morning, there were cheers and a standing ovation,” she added. “So I think that’s a good indicator that we are on the right track."