Bodour Al Qasimi Announces Candidacy for Vice President of the International Publishers Association

In News by Porter Anderson

In opening her bid for leadership in the International Publishers Association, the UAE’s Bodour Al Qasimi says publishing ‘shouldn’t be an industry stuck in time in how it treats the majority of its workforce.’

Bodour Al Qasimi speaks at the 2017 Göteborg Book Fair. Image: EPA

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

‘A Broader Spectrum of Industry Ecosystem Players’
During Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 10 to 14), the International Publishers Association (IPA) will hold its customary statutory meetings.

They include several committee meetings focused on membership, copyright, and the freedom to publish. As Publishing Perspectives has reported, there’s also a public session programmed by the IPA for October 12 at 10:30 a.m. in the Weltempfang Salon, with IPA’s Kristenn Einarsson and the family members of two still-detained Prix Voltaire winners, Guy Minhai and Rafi Badawi.

Leadership considerations are on the week’s agenda, as well, and on October 11, in a session limited to members, one of the things expected to be confirmed in voting is that the organization’s vice president, Mexico’s Hugo Setzer, will be endorsed by the organization to succeed the current president, Michiel Kolman, who is to finish his two-year term of office this winter.

Publishing Perspectives has learned that the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, who leads the Emirates Publishing Association she founded, will stand for election to succeed Setzer as IPA vice president. If her candidacy is successful, Bodour would then be expected to follow Setzer as president of the organization. The IPA has had only one female president in more than 50 years: Ana Maria Cabanellas, who was vice president and then president of the association between 2004 and 2008.

And for this year’s cycle of leadership elections, no other candidate has been reported to be standing for the vice presidential position with the association. If another does step forward, Publishing Perspectives will be glad to interview that person, of course.

Known to many in the international publishing industry for her work as the founding publisher and CEO of Kalimat Group, Bodour has served on the IPA’s executive and Freedom To Publish committees, as well as on the membership committee and the literacy and book policy committee. She also has led the development of the program that has seen Sharjah designated UNESCO’s 2019 World Book Capital.

Publishing Perspectives has had a chance to ask Bodour about her observations as much of the industry and the IPA world membership prepares for the Frankfurter Buchmesse this year. We’ve started by asking Bodour why now is the right time for her to consider taking on more leadership of the International Publishers Association.

Emerging Markets: ‘Leapfrogging Into the Future’

Bodour: World Bank statistics show emerging markets account for 90 percent of the global population under 30 and 80 percent of all smartphones. These statistics capture two key trends that are a precursor to a profound rebalancing in the global publishing industry of tomorrow: emerging markets are now one of the main sources of world growth and digital transformation is enabling developing markets to leapfrog into the future.

“As our industry becomes more globalized, the IPA has a critical role to play in helping publishing respond to the opportunities and challenges of internationalization and diversification.”Bodour Al Qasimi

At the same time, the contemporary culture of emerging economies is growing in influence globally. Look at the rise of Bollywood, Nigerian pop music, or the example of Khaled Hosseini and The Kite Runner. The Internet is playing a key role in the internationalization of culture, and the globalization of the publishing industry presents an opportunity for publishers in emerging markets to meet surging world interest in more diverse, original narratives.

What are now considered frontier, emerging publishing markets are where more established publishers will find future readers and customers.

In response to these trends, the International Publishers Association has increased its membership to more than 70 member-organizations in 65 countries with many of the new members from developing publishing markets. As our industry becomes more globalized, the association has a critical role to play in helping publishing respond to the opportunities and challenges of internationalization and diversification.

While large firms are positioned to adapt to the globalization and internationalization of the publishing industry, there’s a considerable need to ensure that all publishers, big and small, are able to adapt to the major trends shaping our industry. In exploring a run for the IPA vice presidency, I believe I’m uniquely positioned at the leading edge of the big trends transforming our industry and I’m comfortable operating at this nexus between developed and developing publishing markets.

‘A Fine Line Between Criticism and Constructive Dialogue’

Publishing Perspectives: Your experience with the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) presumably informs you here. Can you help us understand how the dynamic plays out in supporting emerging regions and markets?

Bodour: I was fortunate to work alongside a number of passionate publishers to establish the EPA in 2009, and it became a full IPA member in 2012. To address industry challenges, we were able to seek help from IPA members and affiliated partner organizations. The support we received from the global publishing community thanks to our IPA affiliation has been critical to the rapid progress our industry has made. From 2009, when the EPA became affiliated with the IPA, our publishing industry has grown by 20 percent. A key contributing factor to that growth is our industry’s engagement with the IPA.

“The Emirates Publishers Association is opening the door to frank conversations about the freedom to publish, and this is starting to move the needle in the region.”Bodour Al Qasimi

I’m particularly proud of the achievements EPA has made in engaging with decision-makers on the freedom to publish. As in many countries and regions, freedom to publish is a sensitive and contextualized subject, often with some countries resistant to critical feedback. Through a variety of seminars, closed-door meetings, and technical assistance, the EPA is opening the door to frank conversations about the freedom to publish, and this is starting to move the needle in the region.

Experience from our region shows that there’s a fine line between typical criticism and constructive dialogue, and this is crucial to making progress on freedom to publish issues. In co-organizing the recent IPA event in Nigeria and the inaugural IPA freedom-to-publish event at the London Book Fair, I also felt that the EPA’s experience in engaging with freedom-to-publish issues was relevant both to the situation for our African peers and to the context faced by other developing publishing markets.

‘A Lack of Career Progression for Women’

PP: Diversity comes into play here, of course. How do you see your perspective influencing the IPA’s mission and potential?

Bodour: In 2017, The Guardian highlighted a survey of the publishing industry in the UK, revealing a significant lack of diversity in the industry—a lack of career progression for women, and significant gender pay gaps.

“In the past 56 years, there has been only one female IPA president. That’s symbolic of a significant problem in our industry globally.”Bodour Al Qasimi

That story and survey really resonated with me, so I recently commissioned the Arab region’s first publishing and creative industries’ gender and diversity baseline study.

Unfortunately, the survey confirmed much of what other such regional studies have found: the publishing sector is also not welcoming to outsiders, whether they’re female or from other disadvantaged groups. While publishing attracts a significant number of women, few are at the executive or board levels. Most women in the industry are in charge of more traditional functions, such as communications, human resources, and educational divisions, and they face significant gender pay gaps.

In a rapidly internationalizing publishing industry, lack of diversity is an endemic industry-wide problem. Consider this: in the past 56 years, there has been only one female IPA president. That’s symbolic of a significant problem in our industry globally.

Social change is a result of intentional acts, and the time for us to act is now. Publishing should be about path-breaking ideas, engaging content, and new digital delivery platforms. It shouldn’t be an industry stuck in time in how it treats the majority of its workforce. I think there’s significant work to be done alongside my colleagues at the IPA in addressing gender and diversity gaps in the publishing industry.

Our colleagues in the UK are making great strides, and those could serve as a model for other countries. There could be a very good case for convening a special committee under the IPA’s auspices to look at the issue of gender and diversity in the publishing industry to synthesize good practices, making actionable recommendations that IPA member-organizations can implement in their countries.

‘A Member-Driven Organizational Structure’

PP: How do you see the potential directions ahead for the IPA membership?

Bodour: The increasing role played by developing markets and the need for more diversity are key reasons I’ve decided to run for the IPA vice presidency. This wasn’t an easy decision, but several colleagues in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia convinced me to go for it. Their support is a recognition of the changing face of publishing and the forces of globalization that will continue to shape the industry’s future.

“As an organization, the IPA needs to welcome a broader spectrum of industry ecosystem players with clear, simple, transparent processes.”Bodour Al Qasimi

I’ve been involved with IPA for more than a decade now in nearly every committee, and I know the organization, the issues our industry faces, and what members, big and small, need. This helps me know how to work with members on key organizational and industry opportunities.

As an organization, the IPA needs to welcome a broader spectrum of industry ecosystem players with clear, simple, transparent processes. We need to develop a member-driven organizational culture that provides demand-responsive services, research, lobbying support, technical assistance, and training and professional development.

Helping our members collectively embrace industry changes, like the freedom to publish in an increasingly digital era, is critical. We also need to become more sustainable, to increase member support and global impact.

‘To Help Members Eradicate Illiteracy’

PP: And is there another interest you think the association needs to address with the advantage of its multi-national character?

Bodour: We need to put literacy back on the agenda of the global publishing industry.

The International Adult Literacy Survey shows that after factoring in educational qualifications, the level of literacy has a net direct effect on income, employment, health, participation in continued education, reliance on public assistance, and involvement in crime.

Literacy is both a foundation for socio-economic development and a prerequisite for successful participation in most areas of adult life.

As the IPA’s membership expands, there’s an increasing need to help members eradicate illiteracy and put national reading strategies into place. Literacy and reading are the foundations on which our industry is built, and there’s a lot more we can be doing to work with the private sector, nonprofits, and other stakeholders to help our members and their countries promote literacy, reading, and access to books.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, and on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

And our Summer Magazine is ready for your free download and is themed on politics and publishing.

It includes our extensive preview of the Frankfurter Buchmesse. Download the magazine 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 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.