By Bodour Al Qasimi, Founder and CEO, Kalimat
This summer I enrolled in the Yale Publishing Course, an intensive 5-day course for publishing professionals with five or more years in the publishing field.
I was one of 65 publishers from 18 countries who attended the course, and the eclectic mix of people -– more than half of us from outside the United States –- resulted in some very interesting conversations about the global publishing industry. The varied backgrounds of those attending the course also gave us the chance to examine and discuss issues facing various local publishing industries, and compare them to those faced by publishers from other countries or cultures.
We also heard from about 30 speakers who were not only big names in publishing, but also held different perspectives and opinions on the publishing world as it stands today. One thing most of them agreed on is that digital publishing is here to stay, and we have to prepare ourselves to deal with this change.
As an international publisher, I found this experience very enriching. There were lessons to be learned from past mistakes and opportunities to be discovered. However, there were four key lessons that I took home with me and found really relevant to my own experience. They were:
- With the digital transition happening in the United States, publishers are looking for new opportunities and areas of growth. US publishers are urged to take an interest in the rest of the world and look for new opportunities, as international audiences have proved to be an untapped market for many publishers in the US. Many of the speakers at the course stressed the importance of thinking about the potential of publishing in a global context. This is especially true for digital books where there is a push for English language rights to be global. For digital books to make money, publishers need to sell high volumes of them, so when territorial boundaries are melting international audiences are suddenly very appealing.
- With boundaries being blurred, it will become much easier for stories to travel from different cultures and penetrate the American market. In the past, this was a challenge for many international publishers who struggled to get the attention of their American counterparts. However, as digital publishing continues to transform the local publishing scene, there is every evidence that this will soon change. This exchange of stories across cultures will hopefully encourage dialogue between countries and break down existing stereotypes and prejudices. The digital transition is bringing our world closer in many ways, and offering platforms for exchange of ideas and opinions.
- With all the change and disruption in the publishing industry, there are no longer any standard models for publishers to adhere to. Authors’ royalties are not standardized, retailers’ terms are not uniform, standard parameters about licensing and rights no longer apply. Digital has really exploded this differentiation. For international publishers such as myself, this is a great opportunity to rethink the absolute and move away from the standard business models that many US publishers have been using. It was refreshing to hear that it was up to us to come up with models that work well in our own specific situations. We were advised to look for our own opportunities, which may be different for each and every publisher.
- Big companies that used to dominate the publishing sector are now being challenged by smaller start-ups. The rules have changed and anyone can succeed and make it in the publishing industry. The smaller, more nimble companies might even have a better chance of surviving than the bigger publishing houses. In times of flux, publishers need to be flexible and ready for change – opportunities are available everywhere for those who know where to look.
At the end of the day, the Yale Publishing course prepped us to deal with change that is happening as we speak. The speakers, course presenters and other publishers encouraged each of us to experiment, to take risks, to make mistakes and learn from them, because this is what we need to do if we want to drive the market.
The sharing of information and experience extremely valuable, and I know I am not alone in looking forward to using and implementing the tools and techniques we discussed, and living up to the challenges the publishing industry is currently facing.
We — especially those of us from outside what are traditionally seen as the big publishing countries or areas — are at the front lines of this change, and attending this course not only gave us tools and techniques to deal with these changes, but also, and most importantly, gave us the confidence that we will emerge from this change even stronger.
Bodour Al Qasimi is the founder and CEO of Kalimat, a publisher of Arabic-language children’s books, based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.