By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Publishing: ‘Facing an Uncertain Recovery’As much as is said and written about the critical importance of sustainability in various parts of life and work in the world, it can be curiously easy to overlook the obvious: those entities working toward such sustainability must be able to sustain themselves.
This is why Publishing Perspectives columnist and former International Publishers Association (IPA) president Richard Charkin has written at times in his pieces for us that a publisher’s first duty is to stay solvent. A failed publishing house helps no one.
So even when the IPA in July celebrated attracting its first 100 commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals—that milestone reached through the development of its SDG Publishers Compact with the UN—the bid for sustainability of publishing hadn’t yet been accomplished.
Today’s announcement (September 20) from the IPA dates back to November 2020, when the IPA produced a survey of 33 of its member-associations in an effort to make an appraisal of the effects of the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on some of the organization’s 71 member-associations in 86 nations.
That survey effort, titled From Response to Recovery (PDF) and led by Bodour Al Qasimi, now the president of IPA, went a long way toward bringing some coherence to the effects it studied in an industry that often suffers from a disparate array of survey factors, criteria, and parameters.
One of the key values of the From Response to Recovery report was that it made a start at producing apples-to-apples comparisons of how various publishers’ communities in the world had found the onslaught of the pathogen to affect them and where the most beneficial relief had been discerned.
Today, this is part of the concept behind what’s called the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience Charter (PDF). Using the acronym “Inspire,” the organization is announcing that 32 publishing and publishing-related entities have become charter signatories to the initiative.
The most concise statement of need found in the commentary around the release of the Inspire initiative news today is this:
“Despite the industry’s inherent resilience, the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities that, if unaddressed, will negatively impact global publishing long into the future. The acceleration of digital transformation, in particular, has led to an uneven recovery.
“The adoption of emerging technologies, the shift to online learning, and increased demand for digital formats have posed particular challenges for publishing ecosystem stakeholders in emerging and frontier markets with less developed digital economies or heavy reliance on institutional sales, as well as more developed markets with unequal access to online learning.
“Evolving competitive realities have also revealed digital skills gaps in some markets and put operational sustainability and resilience atop the industry agenda.”
‘Cooperation, Unity, Solidarity’
In a comment released today with the news of the charter’s signings, Al Qasimi is quoted, saying, “Publishing is facing an uncertain recovery if our industry doesn’t come together.
“While developed publishing markets have fared better, our colleagues in emerging publishing markets are facing existential challenges. The global pandemic doesn’t just affect publishers. The livelihoods of millions of publishers, authors, illustrators, printers, distributors, and booksellers around the world are at risk.”
The disparity she’s referring to is at times quite stark. As we know now, markets with consumer bases and Internet infrastructure readily “fluent” in e-commerce and sophisticated distribution systems (even when disrupted at times) were able to weather the first pandemic year, 2020, with relative success. Some of those markets, in fact, boomed and still are riding a legacy of strength from the early stages of virus spread-mitigation efforts.
In other markets, where that digital apparatus wasn’t ready to take over from more traditional physical-bookstore sales and distribution, the results were sometimes dramatically different. In the Middle East, in particular, significant setbacks were suffered, companies were lost, industries are still trying to recover.
The experience of the From Response to Recovery survey effort persuaded Al Qasimi that the world publishing industry is going to have to pull together to “build back better,” as at least one nation’s political parlance has it.
“The publishing industry’s post-pandemic future,” she says, “looks likely to be even more dependent on cooperation, unity, and solidarity.
“The Inspire charter is a formal framework for coordinated action so the entire publishing ecosystem can learn and move forward together in these unprecedented times. We want all organizations committed to positively shaping global publishing’s post-pandemic future to join us.”
The Inspire Charter’s Commitments
Signing the charter signals for each party a commitment to the following 10 points:
- Asserting the value of publishing to policymakers as an essential industry
- Advocating for publishing-specific government stimulus programs to build a more sustainable and resilient global publishing industry that continuously adapts to changing consumer and competitive dynamics
- Fostering dialogue between publishing ecosystem stakeholders to build resilience, expand partnerships, mitigate risks from global supply chain disruptions, and minimize the environmental impacts of the publishing supply chain
- Demonstrating the damaging effects of piracy, and advocating for the development, protection, and enforcement of fit-for-purpose copyright frameworks that guarantee fair competition and protect the rights of publishers and content creators
- Identifying common ground between publishing stakeholders, rights organizations, and governments to fight censorship and promote freedom to publish
- Closing emerging workforce skills gaps through capacity building, mentorship, and partnerships
- Exploring partnerships and programs that emphasize the role of publishing in promoting access to knowledge, continuity of education and lifelong learning for all children and young people, with equal opportunities for girls and boys
- Empowering underrepresented voices to ensure diversity and inclusion in the publishing ecosystem
- Supporting indigenous language publishing through targeted initiatives and partnerships
- Highlighting the role of small and medium-sized independent publishers and booksellers, which make up the vast majority of the publishing industry globally, in ensuring bibliodiversity and supporting measures needed to future proof their businesses
An 11-member task force has been formed of IPA Executive Committee members, and that task force’s consultations are to culminate in an “industry-wide analysis on the state of global publishing, to produce recommendations for sustainability.
Announced today, the signatories to the Inspire charter at its outset include publishers’ associations and networks, book fairs and trade shows, and advocacy organizations:
- African Publishers Network
- Arab Publishers Association
- ASEAN Book Publishers Association
- Association for the Development of Education in Africa
- Association of American Literary Agents
- Bologna Children’s Book Fair
- Buenos Aires Book Fair
- Delhi Book Fair
- European and International Booksellers Federation
- European Educational Publishers Group
- Etats Généraux du Livre en Langue Française
- Frankfurt Book Fair
- Ghana International Book Fair
- Grupo Ibero-Americano de Editores
- Independent Book Publishers Association
- International Association of STM Publishers
- International Board on Books for Young People
- International Istanbul Book Fair
- London Book Fair
- Nairobi International Book Fair
- Nigeria International Book Fair
- Pan African Writers Association
- PEN International
- Rio Int’l Book Fair
- Più Libri Più Liberi (Rome Book Fair)
- Sao Paulo Int’l Book Fair
- Seoul International Book Fair
- Sharjah International Book Fair
- Tbilisi International Book Festival
- US Book Show
The new initiative is expected to publish its recommendations in October. Then, during 2022, what’s described as a “roadmap toward a more collaborative, cohesive, and powerful publishing sector” will be drafted as the “Inspire Plan.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here. Publishing Perspectives is the world 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.