By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Respond to the Challenge’There was a sense of accord in the room Monday (October 29) as International Publishers Association (IPA) president Michiel Kolman began his keynote address at the Sharjah International Book Fair Publishers Conference 2018, following a welcome from Sharjah Book Authority chairman Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri.
Kolman, who is in the final month of his two-year term as president, was quick to reference the news from the IPA’s sessions at the Frankfurter Buchmesse that United Arab Emirates’ Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi will become the new IPA vice president: “Mabrouk, Sheikha Bodour,” he said, noting that she would join the IPA’s Kristenn Einarsson onstage later in the morning in a discussion of issues around the freedom to publish. Mexico City’s Hugo Setzer will succeed Kolman in January as president.
But he had more on his mind than the day’s marquee discussions.
“The age of our industry and the predominant technology it uses, printed text on paper,” he said, “causes many to think of us as an industry reluctant to change. In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth.”
His remarks—among the last of his term as IPA president—were geared toward asking the assembly to understand their book publishing industry as a leading edge in contemporary creative communication, rather than the slow-moving tweed-bound alternative that some suggest it is.
As preparations are finalized for the 11-day Sharjah International Book Fair (October 31 to November 10), several hundred publishers, editors, literary agents, and rights specialists have gathered in the UAE’s third-largest emirate for the professional program that precedes the 37th fair’s formal opening with conference sessions and rights-trade discussions.
Basing Policy on ‘Solid Evidence’
“Our ability to make decisions about the future of our business,” Kolman told the audience at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce, “is based on the availability of reliable data gathered over time. It is of vital importance that both industry and governments produce data on publishing.”
Kolman’s reference was to the international body’s ongoing stress on threats to copyright as being among the most difficult of the industry’s digital-era challenges.
“We want to ensure that national governments, intellectual property offices and statistics offices understand that good policy-making in the fields of copyright and education need to be based on solid evidence.”
Kolman went on to stress the breadth of what “digital” means in terms of book publishing beyond ebooks, including audiobooks and new forms of accessibility for readers who are visually impaired—as well as “new competitors for readers’ attention, for instance self-publishing platforms, and new reader and customer practices that force publishers to reconsider their business models.
“Yet again,” Kolman said, “publishers respond to the challenge whether through open-access offers, or the development of new services.”
‘Combat These Threats’
Another area of warning flagged by Kolman: copyright infringement. “While we can welcome legal competition for readers’ attention,” he said, “the digital transition has also seen new ways of infringing the intellectual property and pirating the hard work of publishers and authors.”
Kolman is a senior vice president with Elsevier, based in Amsterdam, and he told the audience, “My own company is tied up in a case with SciHub and OceanOfPDFs, a high-profile site that was forced offline and came back again.
“We are even seeing sophisticated phishing attempts targeting the publishing industry by pirates to obtain copies of manuscripts,” he pointed out. And while “I focus on digital piracy,” he added, “let us not forget that physical piracy remains a challenge in many parts of the world, undermining the development of thriving local publishing industries.”
Kolman warned against “companies who use the cover of technological change to promote legislative change and the expropriation of authors’ and publishers’ rights through exceptions and limitations. We see this in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Europe.
“We are even seeing sophisticated phishing attempts targeting the publishing industry by pirates to obtain copies of manuscripts.”Michiel Kolman
“We must not be caught asleep at the wheel. Many livelihoods are at stake and your professional associations are essential in ensuring that our industry, while beautifully diverse and spread across the planet, can combat these threats in a coordinated way.”
And to the increasingly charged world political situation today, Kolman said, “In many countries, the freedom to publish is severely challenged.
“And while repressive regimes continue to use force to prevent inconvenient works being read, something more insidious is growing: self-censorship. In an Internet age when anyone can publish anything, the risk is that we choose not to publish—out of fear. Publishers have a responsibility to promote the freedom to publish and support those in countries who are less free.”
Programming in the Sharjah publishers’ sessions continue through Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday’s (October 31) formal opening of the 37th book fair.
More from Publishing Perspectives more on developments in Sharjah is here, and more on the International Publishers Association is here.