Bodour Al Qasimi in Jordan: Take Publishing ‘Safely Into the Future’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Catching a willingness to engage at the Middle East seminar in Amman, the International Publishers Association vice-president urges publishers ‘not to play the victim.’

Bodour Al Qasimi opens the second day of the IPA’s Middle East seminar. Image: Nabs Ahmedi

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

Bodour Al Qasimi: Golden Opportunities’
Having heard “some thoughts and speeches yesterday,” International Publishers Association’s (IPA) vice-president Bodour Al Qasimi told her audience in Jordan, “I decided to completely revamp my speech.”

As the guiding energy behind the IPA’s still-new initiative in developmental conferences, Bodour may have surprised some in her audience, describing a robust alternative to talking their points into paralysis.

She told the assembly that in rewriting her Day Two welcoming address, she wanted “to participate in shaping a new direction for the publishing industry in the region, drawing in more readers, and creating a clear path for the future.”

The adjustment was significant, a timely gambit to capture an energy more motivational and actionable than theoretical and academic.

Unlike the original 2018 African seminar in Nigeria—a conference devised with a “‘Lagos Plan” roadmap as an anticipated outcome—the inaugural Middle East meeting in Amman had felt from the outset to be more exploratory. There had been a question about how earnestly the 40 or so speakers in the event, for example, and how candidly they’d they could make their cases.

But within hours of the start on Monday of the Middle East seminar in Amman, what was heard during breaks was, “Everyone is being so frank.” And it was said with approval.

Produced in association with the Union of Jordanian Publishers and organizers of the Amman International Book Fair, the program showed that this is a region ready to talk and act, and Bodour’s comments reflected that.

Here’s the text of her remarks.

Bodour: ‘The Arab Nation Can Reach Safety’

“There’s no doubt,” she said from the lectern, “that when a country, a region, or a nation is suffering from a crisis and facing challenges, there are usually two intellectual trends” at play.

“It’s not only the Arab publisher and writer and reader who suffer from difficulties. Publishing is a profession full of technical, material, and political challenges all over the world.”Bodour Al Qasimi, IPA vice-president

“The first trend drowns in attempting to analyze the crisis. It tries to create a deeper understanding of its causes and focuses on them until it comes to a standstill. This trend can’t spot a way out or see any possibility of survival.

“The second trend refuses to surrender to challenges or crises, working on a small or large scale to rectify the situation even in the weakest of hope or the smallest of steps.

“We’re here today because we wish to follow the second trend, rejecting self-deprecation, playing the victim, or giving up on so many challenges that face an Arab intellectual renaissance.

“This second trend doesn’t believe that our reality is our destiny. It believes that the Arab nation, like other current and former nations, can hold onto knowledge and science to survive and reach safety.”

“Yes we can. I say it with the utmost certainty. I say it from my perspective as an Arab publisher, close to the reader, close to the author, and close to my fellow publishers. And I say it as vice-president of the International Publishers Association, close to the concerns of publishers around the world.

“It’s not only the Arab publisher and writer and reader who suffer from difficulties. Publishing is a profession full of technical, material, and political challenges all over the world.

“The publisher and the Arab writer and reader have golden opportunities to develop the publishing sector and the book industry, and promote reading as it’s open to publishers, writers and readers around the world.

“Yes, we have challenges in our region.

  • “We have weak distribution channels and a lack of professional Arab literary editors and agents.
  • “We have a lack of funding sources and great challenges in applying the principles of the freedom of publication.
  • “We have a weakness in some Arab markets in applying intellectual property rights.
  • “There is also a decrease in the use of digital media for publishing and content-creation by some publishers…which presents a threat to their future…
  • “We have translation challenges and difficulties in delivering Arabic content to the global reader.
Bodour: ‘Open and Transparent Discussion’

“We all know that these are real challenges. They’ll be waiting for is when we return to our work and offices tomorrow.

“We must remember that in the past few years, some Arab publishing houses have reached international caliber.”Bodour Al Qasimi, IPA vice-president

“But as we reflect on these challenges, we must remember that we’re here to discuss them openly and transparently. It’s a healthy and important initial step to setting the right course of action.

“We must remember that an Arab city, Sharjah, has been chosen by UNESCO to be the World Book Capital this year. It’s not only an honor bestowed on Sharjah but also a tribute to the efforts of the industry of thought, science, and writers in the Arab world today.

“We must remember that in that same Arab city, the third largest book fair in the world is held each year, attended by writers, thinkers, and decision-makers from around the world, and most importantly attended by thousands of children and young people: the readers of the future.

“We must also keep in mind that in the past few years, some Arab publishing houses have won international awards in international book fairs, a positive sign that some Arab publishing houses have reached international caliber and that these awards are only the beginning.

“It’s quite clear with a simple online search to see that there are many serious attempts to create and disseminate Arabic content on different digital media, and there are thousands of Arab readers who benefit daily and freely from these modern digital platforms.

“We cannot overlook these achievements and many others. We should realize their significance as they represent proof that we are moving in the right direction.”

Bodour: Young People ‘Impose Change on Us’

Esteemed guests, when I think of the future, a poem by Gibran Khalil Gibran about children comes to mind, as he says:

“You may house their bodies but not their souls,
“but not their souls,

“For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

“You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.

“For life goes not backward … nor tarries with yesterday.”

“Yes, we can’t turn back time. The publishing industry in the Arab world shouldn’t go backward. We stand on the crossroads between the past and the future.

“The artificial intelligence revolution is transforming the way we learn, read and disseminate knowledge in a completely radical way. We cannot predict the way we’ll read and learn in the near future, but we should anticipate what’s to come and prepare for it, accordingly.

“There’s a new generation that sees digital devices as an integral part of their personalities and we can’t impose anything on them. On the contrary, they impose change and development on us.”Bodour Al Qasimi, IPA vice-president

“There’s a new generation that sees digital devices as an integral part of their personalities and we can’t impose anything on them. On the contrary, they impose change and development on us.

“Therefore, I’m very happy to see so many young attendees. They’re working passionately within this sector, because their ideas are the closest to reality and they’re aware of the needs of the new reader, [of how important it is] to develop the appropriate content and channels.

“So, we must support them with financial resources, experience, and encouragement in order to help them succeed, flourish, and take the publishing industry safely into the future.

“I invite all Arab publishers to continuously interact with the IPA, to join the various technical committees, and to attend the training workshops held on the sidelines of book fairs around the world to benefit from international experiences, exchange ideas, and open new markets for their books.

“The world is changing and the global reader is changing and asking for content from different regions of the world. This is a great opportunity for us.

“Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of this conference, directly or indirectly. I hope to celebrate more of your achievements and success when we meet again.

“Assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullah wa barakatoh. [Peace be upon you, with God’s mercy and blessings.]”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on its ‘Africa Rising’ Nairobi seminar is here, more from us on the Arabic world is here. More details on the IPA’s Middle East seminar, the first of its kind in the Arab world, is here. Publishing Perspectives is the media partner of the IPA’s regional seminar program in Jordan.

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.