IPA President Bodour Al Qasimi Stresses Opportunity in African Publishing

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The IPA president has made trips to four African markets, meeting with publishing leaders on the challenge to learn from the pandemic’s lessons in rebuilding the continent’s book business.

International Publishers Association president Bodour Al Qasimi meets in Accra with Ghanaian publishers. Image: IPA

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

‘African Ownership, African Innovation, African Energy’
On the latest stop in her series of meetings with African publishers and associations, International Publishers Association (IPA) president Bodour Al Qasimi was in Accra to meet with publishers there and with members of the Ghanaian Publishers Association. One of her key messages in her travels is that the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic holds out a chance for African publishers to rebuild their sector for growth.

Al Qasimi’s previous trips and meetings have taken her to Abidjan to meet with members of the Ivory Coast Publishers Association (l’Association des Editeurs de Côte d’Ivoire, ASSEDI); to Nairobi to meet with the Kenya Publishers Association; and to Cairo for meetings with the Arab Publishers Association and the Egyptian Publishers Association.

The meetings are set up both to assure publishers on the African continent that the International Publishers Association is aware of their issues and challenges during the ongoing pandemic and its impact, and also to share knowledge and experiences in the face of those challenges.

“Lasting solutions to Africa’s publishing, literacy, and book accessibility challenges,’ she stressed on the trip to Abidjan, “will require African ownership, African innovation, and African energy.

“While these are very testing times for publishers, this is also an opportunity to think big and to design new business models and strategies with a focus on international as well as national markets.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, Al Qasimi led the development of the world body’s From Response to Recovery study (PDF) of pandemic factors encountered by 33 member-associations, an initial effort released in November. In following up with her visits to various markets in this first year of her presidency, she’s both speaking with colleagues about diversity in educational issues in Africa and emphasizing, that “This is a huge opportunity for African publishers to make a fresh start.”

‘Underlying Issues in the Publishing World’

In Nairobi, Bodour Al Qasimi meets with journalist and storyteller Maimouna Jallow and Kenya Publishers Association chair Lawrence Njagy. Image: IPA

Her reference to education has to do with the abrupt move by millions of African students to online education, a development she stresses should be seen as an opportunity for publishers. Of course, as in many markets of the world, the challenges for educational publishing in such a scenario are closely tied to digital infrastructure and how ready a given market’s Internet services are to support online education.

“The pandemic exposed some important underlying issues in the publishing world, and its impact continues to reverberate,” Al Qasimi said in Kenya. “This is why we’re assembling a cross-sectoral task force comprising publishers, authors, illustrators, distributors, wholesalers, printers, and likeminded others.

“We’ll engage all stakeholders across the value chain and draw up a roadmap to help the book industry to be more resilient and move onwards and upwards, to everyone’s benefit.”

Once considered an issue only for emerging cultures, the pandemic’s conditions have seen to it that Internet inequity now is understood to be an issue in some of the most advanced markets in the world. When the American president Joe Biden revealed his controversial infrastructure-overhaul plan for the United States, high-speed broadband access was heralded as one of its most prominent and pressing features. The Biden administration points to 35 percent of rural Americans “who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds.”

‘Testing Times for Publishers’

A meeting in Abidjan with publishers and Bodour Al Qasimi during her visit to Côte d’Ivoire. Image: IPA

During her Ghana stop, Al Qasimi was also able to meet with representatives of APNET, the African Publishers Network, And in Ivory Coast, she met with Albert Nsengiyumva, executive secretary of the Association of the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), to explore potential IPA-ADEA collaborations to champion quality, inclusive education across Africa.

Earlier, while in Nairobi, Al Qasimi met with Lawrence Njagi,  the chair of the Kenya Publishers Association who’s familiar for hosting the IPA’s ‘Africa Rising’ conference in 2019, one of the world association’s seminal series of regional-focus events that have been paused during the pandemic’s travel restrictions.

Njagi is also a member of the committee for the US$800,000 four-year Africa Publishing Innovation Fund from Dubai Cares and the International Publishers Association. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the fund is stressing the digital-learning context to Africa’s publishers, as Al Qasimi is, having announced last month its 2021 projects, all dedicated issues in “social infrastructure” as well as digital shortfalls, with an estimated 250 million children out of school in Africa.

‘An Opportunity To Reevaluate Business Models’

In Cairo, Al Qasimi meets with leaders of the Arab Publishers Association and Egyptian Publishers Association. Image: IPA

In Egypt, Al Qasimi met with Arab Publishers Association president Mohammed Rashad and with Egyptian Publishers Association president Sayed Abdo.

This was the first stop in Al Qasimi’s African travels this year, and her message reiterated the approach the world body is taking to the effects on publishing of the pandemic: opportunity as well as challenge.

“The pandemic has offered the regional industry an opportunity to reevaluate current business models and replace them with more agile ones,” she said in meetings in Cairo, “with a strong focus on pushing the agenda of digital publishing.”

She also emphasized to the meeting’s participants and the region’s publishers that IPA will stand firmly behind them and offer them the support needed. She affirmed that there would be a continuous exchange of ideas and experiences between IPA and its regional association members in the Arab world, to ensure that the former keeps abreast of the latest industry developments in the region, and identify effective mechanisms to assist the exporting of Arabic content to international markets.


More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing in Africa is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, and more on the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund is here. Publishing Perspectives is the media partner of the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he 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.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (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.

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