Opening the 32nd International Publishers Congress: ‘Shout About What We Do’

In News by Porter Anderson

Urging the International Publishers Congress to embrace its most forward-leaning trends—and promote its timely work to the world—IPA president Michiel Kolman convenes the industry’s 32nd gathering and welcomes industry leaders to agenda-anchoring.

International Publishers Association president Michiel Kolman makes the opening address to the 32nd International Publishers Congress in New Delhi as India’s Asoke Ghosh looks on. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘We Need To Get on the Front Foot’

Opening the 32nd International Publishers Congress on Sunday (February 11) in New Delhi, International Publishers Association (IPA) president Michiel Kolman in his keynote address has called book publishing “an industry permanently looking to the future.”

While many in book publishing’s most advanced markets have aggressively pursued the blessings of consumer data and supply-chain advances that the unstoppable digital dynamic offers, the emotional core of the business—and the operational reality in many markets—trends toward sentimentality about the industry’s traditional values and is unclear on where book culture should stand in coming decades.

The three-day biennial congress is themed “Shaping the Future: Innovation Meets Experience,” and Kolman has encouraged its hundreds of delegates to join him in trying to catch the international industry’s balance between traditions of literature and electronic entertainment consumption.

“Our strength is our centuries of experience in bringing authors’ works to their readers,” Kolman said, “and we are constantly innovating in how we do that.

“Global technology companies: While some of their gloss is starting to fade amid scandals of fake news and tax avoidance, they are still framing many of the policy questions…We need to start re-framing these issues.”Michiel Kolman

“We provide high-quality information to our end-users in the right format and at the right time. This is well illustrated by how medical publishers provide crucial information to emergency room doctors so that they can take crucial decisions. And that is now supported by Artificial Intelligence. Can it get more futuristic than that?

“But we need to shout about how we do that more.”

This was impetus of Kolman’s message to the conference—an appeal to the assembled publishers’ associations of 60 nations that included obvious references to the perceived excesses of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and placed book publishing on the side of the angels in social responsibility.

“Global technology companies,” he said,”have successfully presented themselves as the exciting future. While some of their gloss is starting to fade amid scandals of fake news and tax avoidance, they are still framing many of the policy questions that will have an impact on our industry.

“We need to start re-framing these issues.”

Remarking on how India’s sports fans “love cricket,” he urged the crowd to “start hitting some sixes”  and “differently put, we need to get on the front foot.”

At the International Publishers Congress opening ceremony in New Delhi. Image: Porter Anderson

The Double Sword of Digital

Kolman’s collegial chiding may not be misplaced. Quite a number of delegates and speakers have told Publishing Perspectives that too few players in world book publishing today fully understand the threat of digital entertainment media and how their siren calls of video, television, film, and gaming may be eroding what is frequently called “the reading habit.”

Kolman thanked the hosting Federation of Indian Publishers, noting that theirs is the sixth largest market in the world, as he was introduced by Delhi’s Asoke Ghosh with NK Mehra of the FIP, and he welcomed three of his successors as president of IPA—Richard Charkin, Ana Maria Cabanellas, and YS Chi, each of whom will be heard from onstage during the course of the congress.

So critical is each step in the progress of the congress’ exploration of themes that in recent revisions to the schedule, the program has been unified as a “single track” agenda without competing events to divide the delegates. And HarperCollins UK chief Charlie Redmayne now is listed on the second day’s online literature discussion before the congress’ gala dinner.

That event, which awards the IPA’s Prix Voltaire for valor in freedom to publish, is sponsored by the UAE’s Sharjah Book Authority, chaired by congress speaker Ahmed Al Ameri who opened the emirate’s Sharjah Publishing City in November as the world’s first free trade zone for publishing.

“Over the next three days,” Kolman said in his opening speech, “the IPA Congress will be the beating heart of the global publishing industry.”

From left in the International Publishers Congress’ ‘Global Leaders Forum’ are Amitabh Kant, Richard Charkin, YS Chi, Matthew Kissner, and Asoke Ghosh. Image: Porter Anderson

More Highlights of Day One

In the morning’s “Global Leaders Forum” session, a high-profile group of industry players spoke about “forecasts,” at Asoke Ghosh’s request, primarily looking at where important points lie for focus in the world business. Some examples:

  • Bloomsbury’s Richard Charkin, immediate past president of IPA: “I wish editors would get back to being the core of the business…but in parallel, I wish they’d become more professional. There’s been a growing tendency toward an egocentricity in editors.” And service to the author now is primary. “We have to demonstrate our value to the authors.”
  • Amitabh Kant, CEO of the National Institution for Transforming India: “Technology will be a big disruptor whether we like it or not” in India. And while the nation has been able to provide universal education, “teachers must be assisted to improve the quality of learning. Twenty percent of our students aren’t able to read in their mother tongue. We will use technology to make education fun.”
  • Elsevier’s YS Chi, past president of IPA: “Publishers are becoming ambidextrous, we serve both ends, the author community and the professionals who have to make the difficult decisions. Those of us who are relevant at the table with the analytic capability and the content—those of us who are ambidextrous—will thrive.”
  • Matthew Kissner, chairman of John Wiley & Sons: Systems now use adaptive learning to monitor how a student is learning. In India, three times the number of students today will have to be educated in the next generational cycle. “How do we leverage the physical infrastructure with digital learning products?”

The Association of American Publishers’ Maria Pallante, IPA’s Michiel Kolman, center, and WIPO’s Francis Gurry. Image: Porter Anderson

And in a highly popular afternoon appearance by the World Intelletual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Francis Gurry and the Association of American Publishers’ Maria Pallante—with Michiel Kolman chairing—the delegates were challenged with some trenchant insights into the big-picture issues around IP.

  • Gurry identified “a remuneration shift” that sees distribution platforms using advertising and services rather than the content, itself, as the basis for a model. In creating a competition policy and platform economy based in “providing new means of linking business and customers,” he said, the need is for “a revitalized partnership between the private sector and the public sector, an area of opportunity.”
  • Pallente, a former Register of Copyrights in Washington, while not disagreeing with Gurry, stressed that platforms “are part of the disruption, the challenge, the innovation. And they’re partners of publishing. This brings into question whether there should be more government oversight.” She also said that in cases of copyright violation, even when infringement is certified by a court, the question of blocking sites is difficult. “Coordination among governments” is key to piracy and data infringement response.

You can follow our updating coverage from New Delhi of the 32 International Publishers Congress on hashtag #IPACongress2018 and here at Publishing Perspectives.

More of Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of the International Publishers Association is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.