Ahead of London Book Fair: IPA’s New Leadership on the State of a World Publishing Industry

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This year’s fair coincides with the arrival of the International Publishers Association’s new president and vice-president, leading ‘a conversation of public debate’ amid ‘sensitive socio-cultural issues.’

The London Book Fair’s 2018 symposium on the freedom to publish was produced in association with the International Publishers Association. The event returns on March 12. Image: Porter Anderson

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

‘Defending Publishers’ Interests Globally’
For a second year, the International Publishers Association has collaborated with London Book Fair‘s organizers to stage an opening-day seminar on the freedom to publish—one of the organization’s two most pivotal issues.

Set for a week from today, on Tuesday, March 12, and scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Club Room of the National Hall Gallery at Olympia London—the event this year is titled “Paying the Price: Is Truth to be Trusted, or Just an Outdated Trend?”

Of special interest will be the comments of Angela Gui, the faithful London-based daughter of publisher Gui Minhai, who remains in Beijing’s custody on false charges, despite the fact that he has Swedish citizenship.

Angela Gui

At the 32nd IPA World Congress in New Delhi last year, Gui spoke with precision and grace from London, accepting for her father the Prix Voltaire—the IPA’s highest honor for publishing valor in the face of oppression.

Tuesday morning’s session at London Book Fair will also feature opening remarks from fair director Jacks Thomas; comments from Member of Parliament Simon Hart; The Guardian’s Claire Armitstead; and the award-winning Rachael Jolley of SAGE’s Index on Censorship.

And also on hand will be the newly installed top leadership of the International Publishers Association.

Hugo Setzer, CEO of Mexico’s Manual Moderno, has succeeded Elsevier’s Michiel Kolman as president. And Bodour Al Qasimi of Sharjah’s Kalimat Group in the UAE has become only the second woman to hold one of the two top positions with the association in more than 50 years. The organization’s usual process puts her in line to succeed Setzer in two years as president.

The International Publishers Association, based in Geneva, comprises 81 member-organizations from 69 nations in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, and the Americas.  It’s the world’s largest association of its kind and, when founded in 1896, the opening goal was proper implementation of the then-new Berne Convention, the international treaty on which copyright stands to this day.

In what promises to be a year filled with challenges and ongoing change for publishing—amid deep upheaval in the politics, cultural contexts, and economics of many world markets—the IPA’s work covers strikingly broad range of issues and concerns.

Publishing Perspectives has had a chance to put some questions to Setzer and Bodour on the approach to the London Book Fair and the year ahead.

IPA President Hugo Setzer

Hugo Setzer. Image: Manuel Moderno

We start by asking Setzer what his shortlist of key issues might be, looking ahead in his new role as IPA president.

Hugo Setzer: In my view, IPA has to work to ensure a better business environment for publishers globally. And such an environment rests on the foundation of having the freedom to publish the works we believe are important and having our copyright is respected. That is why we focus so much on those points as our two main pillars.

Having said that, we’re also working on other projects as well, like one to show policy makers the value of publishers. In an era of information abundance and fake news, publishers’ job as gatekeepers, of curators of trustworthy, reliable information, is as important as ever. We need to convey this message to policy makers around the word.

There’s also the work we are doing on diversity and inclusion. There’s a lot of research showing the benefits of having more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Because of this I have asked immediate past president Michiel Kolman to be IPA’s envoy for diversity and inclusion. We’ll be working on many issues, especially continuing our support for the Accessible Books Consortium and the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Book Club announced last year in cooperation with the UN.

Publishing Perspectives: Can you point to any specific issues or perspectives that are enhanced by your experiences of publishing in Mexico and other parts of Latin America these days?

“IPA has to work to ensure a better business environment for publishers globally. Such an environment rests on having the freedom to publish the works we believe are important and having our copyright respected.”Hugo Setzer

HS: I think many of the issues we face in Latin America are similar to those in other parts of the world. What I think is particularly important in having a president coming from Latin America and a highly respected vice-president from the Arab world is that this shows the truly international character of IPA.

The association was founded almost 125 years ago in Paris and for a long time used to be kind of Euro-centric. As time passed and more countries joined, IPA transformed many years ago into a really international organization and the current leadership is a clear sign of that. It will also help put the spotlight on our regions, to have a better knowledge of their current challenges and improve collaboration between countries.

PP: Can you put your finger on one or more things that would quickly improve the IPA, itself?

HS: I think Michiel did such a good job as president and I also had a chance to participate in shaping the kind of organization we have today. I feel we have excellent communication with our members, though it can always be improved. I am also glad to have a very capable and committed team in Geneva, but resources are scarce. I think our major challenge is to remain relevant for our members, that all of them value the work we do on their behalf representing and defending publishers’ interests globally.

PP: And looking beyond the IPA for a moment, how do you see the “state of the industry” this year?

“Globalization allows certain issues, like the orchestrated attack on copyright and restrictions to freedom to publish, to spread more rapidly than ever before.”Hugo Setzer

HS: Publishers are very good at adapting to change. We’ve been doing so in many ways for years, adopting new technologies in production and delivery of content, and we’re still open to adapting our business models to the needs of our readers.

I think IPA plays a fundamental role in fostering inter-cultural thinking and understanding. We are fully aware that we live in a globalized world and that we have to think internationally and understand different cultures. On the other hand, globalization also allows certain issues, like the orchestrated attack on copyright and restrictions to freedom to publish, to spread more rapidly than ever before.

If the work of an international organization like IPA has always been relevant, nowadays it is more important than ever before.

IPA Vice-President Bodour Al Qasimi

PP: Looking into the year ahead, do you have a shortlist of key issues and challenges you’d like to approach, in particular?

Bodour Al Qasimi. Image: Kalimat Group

Bodour Al Qasimi: Hugo provided a great overview of the IPA’s direction over the next year. As a membership-based organization, a key priority of ours is also reaching out to members to understand their needs and to see what we can be doing better.

We’re planning to work with the secretariat on a membership and industry issues survey. The results will ensure that the services we’re offering are aligned with evolving member needs and that our advocacy efforts are focused on the most pressing issues in the global publishing industry.

I’m also working very closely with the Kenya Publishers Association on the second iteration of our regional African seminar series in June. The inaugural event in Nigeria attracted 200 attendees from over 20 countries–making it the largest global forum on African publishing ever held. The regional seminars are a great way to crystalize publishing industry ecosystems in emerging publishing markets like Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia and enhance IPA’s impact by connecting with our members on the ground.

With the Lagos action plan committee, we’re also working on some interesting, grassroots pilot projects to address industry challenges and partnerships to further enhance the impact of the seminar in Kenya. I’m also chairing the planning committee for the International Publishers Congress in 2020 in Lillehammer. The congress is shaping up to be the largest ever held by the IPA and will present us with an opportunity to gather publishing ecosystem stakeholders from across the world under one roof.

PP: As you begin your tenure as a much-too-rare female vice-president of the IPA, how do you think that you and the organization can work to help surface important issues and considerations of gender in the world industry?

“The publishing industry has a diversity problem. In many countries, our sector is not welcoming to outsiders, whether they’re female or from other disadvantaged groups.”Bodour Al Qasimi

BAQ: The publishing industry has a diversity problem, and it’s more important than ever that we take action. In many countries, our sector is not welcoming to outsiders, whether they’re female or from other disadvantaged groups.

The UK Publishers Association is emerging as a leader in addressing diversity issues, and I think there’s a lot our members can learn from their publishing workforce diversity study, 10-point inclusivity action plan, and five-year targets. Through this approach, the UK Publishers Association has diagnosed the problem with data, identified very specific goals, and created a collective vision for the future through specific, medium term goals. We plan to meet with our UK colleagues on the sidelines of the London Book Fair to see how we can work together to support other IPA members in taking action on our industry’s diversity challenge.

PP: Similarly, does the context of the Arab world’s growth and energy in the field provide you with specific insights and dynamics that you’re looking forward to bringing to the fore?

BAQ: We’re at a very interesting and exciting stage of publishing industry development in the Arab world. Not only does our region have among the fastest mobile and Internet connectivity growth rates in the world, but we also have a big, technology-embracing youth demographic that we hope will drive the region’s digital economy, and this underscores the importance of digital transformation in the regional publishing industry.

“In the Arab world, our young regional demographics will expedite the need for the publishing industry to digitize or perish.”Bodour Al Qasimi

Regional publishers are beginning to see that some of the stubborn industry challenges we’ve faced can be solved by technology and that the rapid rise of the digital economy and the region’s embrace of e-commerce is really going to transform how we do business.

In particular, there are some very interesting publishing technologies that are emerging in the region that can resolve book distribution and retail challenges. Issues like how digital publishing and artificial intelligence will impact educational publishing are starting to be discussed. We’re also increasingly seeing sensitive socio-cultural issues like the freedom to publish and new media becoming a conversation of public debate. It’s a very exciting time for our region, and, in many ways, our young regional demographics will expedite the need for the publishing industry to digitize or perish.

PP: Bringing such a deeply experienced understanding of the international industry to your IPA work, can you put your finger on one or more things that would quickly improve the IPA, itself?

BAQ: As I’ve said in the past, I think IPA should be a truly global organization by embracing members at all stages of development and providing capacity development to groups of publishers to start national publishers associations. As Hugo mentioned, all membership-based organizations struggle with offering demand-driven services and demonstrating value for money to members.

PP: And looking beyond the IPA for a moment, how do you see the “state of the industry” this year?

“As our industry becomes more digitized, governments in particular are cracking down on the freedom to publish through censorship 2.0 tactics that increasingly involve cybercrime, fake news, and laws regulating the digital space.”Bodour Al Qasimi

BAQ: I think digital disruption is a key theme underlying many of the current developments in the publishing industry. Technology has made it possible for Bollywood, Nollywood, Japanese manga, and even Turkish soap operas to reach a global audience. A similar transition is happening as global readers are increasingly seeking more diverse books. The digital age is raising some new questions about online freedom to publish as governments globally develop new laws to monitor and control online content.

As Hugo mentioned, publishers are the gatekeepers of trustworthy, reliable information, but, as our industry becomes more digitized, governments in particular are cracking down on the freedom to publish through censorship 2.0 tactics that increasingly involve cybercrime, fake news, and laws regulating the digital space.

Technology is also affecting copyright. A big impetus for Europe’s new copyright framework is the digital economy with the debate focusing on cross-border access to content online and a fairer marketplace for online content. As Hugo says, these industry changes are manageable, but they’re likely to have profound impact on the publishing industry.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here. More on London Book Fair and its programming is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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