As IPA’s Congress Closes in New Delhi, Norway’s Lillehammer Is Named 2020 Venue

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson2 Comments

Amid strong programming on the freedom to publish and copyright concerns, the 32nd IPA congress in India mirrored world industry shortcomings in diversity challenges—and will go to Norway in 2020.

Traditional dance closes the 32nd International Publishers Congress in New Delhi on Tuesday (February 13). Image: Porter Anderson 

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

Dance of Disruption: IPA’s Difficult Task

In the closing minutes of the 32nd congress of the International Publishers Association, it was announced on Tuesday (February 13) that Lillehammer will be the site of the next of these biennial gatherings of publishers from 60 nations.

Speaking in a video address to the 32nd congress of the IPA seated in New Dehli, the Norwegian minister of culture, Trine Skei Grande, told the group, “As a passionate reader, I’m looking forward to [this] cooperation with the publishing industry. We’re excited to welcome you all in 2020 to Lillehammer,” which is a UNESCO City of Literature.

IPA president Michiel Kolman told the assembly, “During our discussions [in Delhi]—although I could feel some tension around embracing technology and disruption—there was also an exhilarating confidence about our future direction. So, let’s get on the road to Lillehammer and work together to disrupt the disruptors.”

“Although I could feel some tension around embracing technology and disruption—there was also an exhilarating confidence about our future direction.”Michiel Kolman

Ironically, it may be some of publishing’s own patterns and assumptions that most need disrupting.

Many delegates to New Delhi, both male and female, were worrying aloud by the third and final day about the majority-male representation onstage during the presentations and panels.

The Indian host market is one that includes many accomplished women as well as men, but most representatives of India’s huge, complex, and fast-developing market are male, at least as seen in the programming of the 32nd congress.

Notably missing from the stage, for example, were prominent female publishers Chiki Sarker, the great Urvashi Butalia, and Arpita Das, whose interview with Publishing Perspectives for Frankfurter Buchmesse included some of her thoughts on “the kind of masculinity we’ve created” and how this tends to mean “the CEO bracket is all men.”

The Challenge of a Congress

It’s important to clarify two points:

  • India’s publishing industry is far from alone in gender diversity concerns. Much if not most of the world industry is struggling to constructively and productively address decades of male dominance at the executive levels. At the same time, many are concerned that the rest of the workforce (below executive ranks) is imbalanced toward women in many major markets.
  • The organizers of the IPA’s congress programming were working with a dilemma familiar to those who labor in NGOs and other multinational bodies: the international and national constituencies are at times in competition with each other at these events. A hosting association needs to serve its membership’s priorities and realities as well as those of the international-level agenda: not easy.

The IPA panel most extensively representative of women’s work in publishing was the one ably led by the UAE’s Bodour Al Qasimi, founding publisher of Sharjah’s Kalimat and patron of the Emirati Publishers Association. Sharjah, in fact, will be Guest of Honor at the New Delhi World Book Fair in 2019, it was announced as the IPA congress closed.

The session led by Bodour was focused on “Creating the Readers of the Future,” which of course means young readers, children’s books—the nurturing role to which women are so frequently assigned, even as Bodour, herself, is one of the premiere businesspeople in the Arab world. She chairs the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, known as Shurooq, and that is not kids’ stuff.

“During this congress a compelling case was made for the value of publishing, highlighting our contribution to literacy, education, employment, the economy, and upholding of functioning democracies.”Hugo Setzer

But the “Global Leaders Forum” on Day One was all-male, an all-too-accurate look at the executive suite in world publishing. Something is simply wrong when the leading association for the world’s book publishers fields a “Global Leaders Forum” with only men speaking.

Not until 2 p.m. on the first day of the congress could a woman of real publishing clout be seen onstage, when the Association of American Publishers‘ CEO Maria Pallante joined IPA’s Kolman and the  World Intellectual Property Organization‘s (WIPO) Francis Gurry on intellectual property issues.

In fact, on the third day, even “Strengthening Education Publishing Capacity” was all men—a panel in which we might expect the stereotypic lean into women and nurturing to recur with the educational theme.  If the stereotype was avoided, so were the voices of women working in educational publishing.

As the UK takes the lead in addressing not only gender inequities in publishing but also those of race, ethnicity, and sexuality, there may not be a national industry on Earth that doesn’t need to take a similarly hard look at its own issues in this regard and forthrightly, openly address them. Our publishers’ world body, the IPA, is well-positioned to provide leadership in this regard, much needed. And yet, none of all these guys on stage had the grace or presence of mind to say from the podium that more women should have been with them.

And so we take heart: the advances that women have made in publishing in the Nordic and Scandinavian industries may hold timely value for many national associations to learn from in 2020 when Oslo hosts everyone at Lillehammer.

Hugo Setzer, Mexico-based IPA vice president, was instrumental in some of the best elements of the Delhi congress, and he said, in a statement on Tuesday evening, “We’ve heard many times about the social and economic importance of our work and during this congress a compelling case was made for the value of publishing, highlighting our contribution to literacy, education, employment, the economy, and upholding of functioning democracies. I look forward to taking this message from India to Norway in 2020.”

The IPA flag is passed from the New Delhi hosts to Lillehamer. From left, IPA president Michiel Kolman (the Netherlands), Freedom To Publish committee head Kristenn Einarsson (Norway), India’s Asoke Ghosh, and IPA vice president Hugo Setzer (Mexico). Image: Porter Anderson

Passing the Flag to Norway: With Hope of More Diversity

Further commentary from the stage noted the special contributions to the program of both the IPA’s Freedom To Publish committee members and executive committee—as well as the host association, the Federation of Indian Publishers.

And yet, the congress ultimately made far less news than might have been anticipated, other than the instructive controversy around the Prix Voltaire (more on that in our report here).

The coming Norwegian congress is expected to coincide with events in Lillehammer’s City of Literature programming in the last week of May 2020, following  Norway’s Guest of Honor program at the Frankfurter Buchmesse in October 2019. The City of Literature context exists under UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network initiatives.

One of the former IPA presidents at Delhi was Ana Maria Cabanellas of Argentina, a woman who told Publishing Perspectives that this year’s program was her 12th biennial. At this iteration of the IPA’s progress, you could hear her and other veterans talking of the congresses of the past, much as they might discuss chapters in a book.

And in coming editions of Publishing Perspectives, we’ll have chances to look at specific sessions and presentations, to capture more of what was said in this genial, professional crowd of publishing players.

In every case of a world congress, the lion’s share of the presentation work will always fall on the host association—including the procurement of sponsorship for many elements of a gathering for hundreds of delegates. Opinions about programing need not dim our appreciation for the hosting publishers’ association’s hard work, in this instance, the tirelessly committed Federation of Indian Publishers. They deserve the thanks and applause offered at the close of the congress.

But getting it all in, local and international—urbi et orbi, as the Vatican would have it—is easy for nobody.

The New Delhi congress hosts were gracious and diligent in staging their industry’s congress for the international membership.

We simply have to keep asking for more: more respresentation of the entire, multi-colored and -gendered spectrum of the many professionals working in–and for–book publishing today.

Organizers and sponsors of the IPA’s 32nd International Publishers Congress are thanked onstage at the close of the event in New Delhi, six men and one woman. Image: Porter Anderson

More coverage from Publishing Perspectives on Gui Minhai, his daughter Angela Gui, the Prix Voltaire, the International Publishers Association, and its 32nd International Publishers Congress in India is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International,, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.


  1. Dear Porter
    Thank you for your excellent coverage of the three days of the IPA Congress in New Delhi this week. It was indeed a great success and, as you say in today’s article, the Programming Committee (ably led by IPA Vice President, Hugo Setzer) deserves much praise.

    However, your article also raises the legitimate question of the gender imbalance evident on many of the panels. You do so gently and thoughtfully, all the time acknowledging the difficulties that programming such a behemoth of a congress necessarily entails, but you are correct to say that we had a problem, especially when it came to gender representation.
    My reckoning is that we had about a 40% female representation for speakers over the three days, but as you point out there were a number of panels where there were no women at all.

    I won’t go into the nitty gritty of necessary changes to panels because of last-minute unavailability of speakers. What I will say is that the IPA is aware of the imbalance and will work assiduously with the Norwegian PA in the run-up to the 2020 Congress to redress it there.

    In structural terms, in 2016 when our Statutes last had a major overhaul, the IPA decided to make an explicit call for both gender and regional balance on all of our Permanent Committees. At the moment, there are only 4 women on the 19-member Executive Committee of the IPA. That is clearly not good enough. We are currently searching for replacements for a number of EC members who will retire in Frankfurt this October, and the search committee has been unequivocally reminded of the need for balance.

    Stay tuned for the results after our General Assembly on 11 October, but I’m confident that we can start moving towards a better representation of the true diversity of global publishing.

    José Borghino
    Secretary General, IPA

  2. Author

    Hello, José,

    And many thanks for your good comment here.

    I can readily say–as is evidenced by your constructive and forthright response to the issue here–that one of the International Publishers Association’s strongest features is its embrace of changes we all want to see and realities “on the ground” as they exist today. It’s much to the credit of the IPA and its widely spread membership that the statutes have been made to call for balance in gender and region, and none of us can expect to see even the most eagerly awaited changes happen overnight.

    As you could tell in our article–and thanks for acknowledging this–I do understand very well how hard such major events as the congress are to produce in the ways desired (I have produced many conference events, myself, as you know), and I honor the efforts made by the event’s hosts and organizers, confident that there will be steps forward in the future.

    If anything, the role of the media in cases like this becomes “the one who says it,” the party that takes what is being recognized by many and simply gets it on the record so that it can be seen, understood, and worked on. And it’s the hope of any journalist in taking on that role that her or his respect for what IS accomplished in such a weighty undertaking is clear and not diminished by shortcomings along the way.

    The New Delhi event was worthy, enlightening, and indicative of its times, when all is said and done. As I pointed out, it wasn’t heavy on “making news,” and that in large part is because the world of publishing itself is currently in the trenches on some of its major issues–discussing, examining, exploring, and working through copyright threats, freedom to publish challenges, and a diversity both in its workforce and its output that reflects its world and era. The congress was, thus, a working event, and that’s as it should be.

    Much good work was done, the tone was consistently collegial, and the energy was infectious. As you say, “stay tuned” is the right mode at this point: There’s more to come from the organization and its many constituencies, and the world industry of publishing will be richer for it.

    Thanks again for your comment and for your work with IPA. The organization’s leadership on some of the biggest challenges of the times is appreciated by a great many who understand publishing as an internationalist art and industry.


    On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

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