By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Boos: ‘It’s Our Responsibility’As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) created its “Inspire” project in 2021, an acronym of its International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience Charter (PDF).
Having held a follow-up symposium on the project in February 2022—when IPA president Bodour Al Qasimi would speak about the critical need for world publishing ‘to find community’—the IPA’s 33rd International Publishers Congress in Jakarta programming concluded today (November 11) with exactly that: a ballroom in the Indonesian capital full of community and mutual support among publishers, and resonant with the kind of mutual respect described in the Inspire program’s final report. That’s actually a bit more of a feat than might be evident on the surface.
When we speak of “diversity” in publishing, the term tends to be interpreted, after all, according to a person’s own sociopolitical focus. That’s why to some, it seems to mean gender diversity, first and foremost. To others, it might seem to mean almost exclusively a question of racial diversity. Others emphasize educational background, socioeconomic resources, even political stance or another criterion.
In a concluding panel discussion, Inspire: Celebrating Diversity, Juergen Boos, president and CEO of Frankfurter Buchmesse worked to broaden that purview, making it clear just how critical it is today for members of the international professional book publishing trades to expand the framework in which they consider “diversity,” so they can embrace and demonstrate what’s meant by inclusion and tolerance and acceptance across the many societies of the industry’s markets.
“It’s our responsibility, not as publishers but as human beings, to think about accessibility, to think about the rights of minorities–not to defend our status quo, what’s happening right now.”Juergen Boos, Frankfurter Buchmesse
Boos was able to access that energy from the stage by saying that despite the ebullient fellow-feeling that filled the room and the congress experience, group-think isn’t the answer.
“It’s an individual decision, what you can do,” he said. “It’s our responsibility, not as publishers but as human beings, to think about accessibility, to think about the rights of minorities–not to defend our status quo, what’s happening right now.”
Boos shared the stage with Melani Budianta, a professor of humanities at the University of Indonesia (FIBUI), and with moderator Mohammad Alattar of the Morocco-based Nasher News. They and the audience also heard some brave, determined commentary from Oksana Khmelyovska of Ukraine’s Chytomo. She had found herself unable to travel because of the limitations on power production in the country this week under Putin’s assault.
Boos said he admired overall what Khmelyovska and the Chytomo staff have done, “working with the Book Arsenal Festival in time of this aggressive war, and still being able to talk to us here.”
He wanted, however, he said—having spent a lot of time talking with Budianta in preparation for their discussion—to point out, “We see ourselves as cultural and political institutions. And I think in the past years, we’ve been focusing too much on the economic side.” So much attention has gone in that direction, Boos said, that, “The importance of the editor went down a bit.”
The industry today sees increasing numbers of people working in sales, distribution, the costs-side of the business, “with fewer and fewer editors. Maybe we need more support from the state to fulfill our role,” he said, “at least for the smaller independent publishing houses who actually are the ones [becoming] so successful that they’ll be bought by the big corporations.”
Budianta: ‘A Shift That Has Occurred’
Budianta agreed with Boos and talked about seeing a “shift that has occurred on the level of literary agents all over the world, and in Europe as well.”
Having conducted research with students who are “very concerned about religious conflict and tolerance,” she said, “we tried to find books that promote understanding from one religion to another. It’s very hard to find it. We can find only a couple of books about this.”
In a similar pattern, she agreed with Boos’ assessment that there are “two sides of the publishing industry, the economic side and the cultural side.”
Indeed, in answer to a question from Alattar about urban and rural populations, Boos said, “We have an initiative in Germany actually to translate scientific research in the field of humanities into English because otherwise you wouldn’t get access for German philosophy” on the widest scale.
“I sometimes do have the feeling,” Boos said, “that societies have drifted apart, and it’s only not only the rich [vs. the working class] like the models we’ve had in the past, but it’s about which people will have access, and whether we know how to use that access.”
“I would like to use this closing statement to honor all of you, the publishers who have made our lives so special.”Melani Budianta, University of Indonesia
All of this, Budianta agreed with Boos in talking with Alattar, requires us to, “Use data to justify activities. You can think about human beings, use data to justify activities. … We have to be very sensitive. We have to be aware that people are different. I think that’s happening in publishing.”
Budianta showed an image of a compound in which educational spaces were found for children in the most mundane and impoverished of sites, but nevertheless had merit and importance. Together with Alattar, she and Boos had indicated how multifaceted the “correct” approach to cultivating tolerance and diversity really is, without a one-size-fits all approach.
And they had decided in advance that Budianta would make a short statement for “what we agreed on,” as Boos put it, a final message.
“I would like to use this closing statement to honor all of you,” she said, “the publishers who have made our lives so special”–in appreciation not only of success in-hand but also of the challenges ahead in the importance of many diversities and their demands to come.
Referring to her own young-life experience of dyslexia and how learning to do the hard work of reading her first book had “hooked my for my whole life, the beginning of my career as a professor of literature,” she said, “I would like to stand up now and give honor to all of you who work in publishing. Thank you so much.”
And so they did, all three on stage, stand in honor of their audience—a moving moment as a closer to the intellectual business of the 33rd congress before a gala dinner of celebration would take over the dynamics of the ballroom.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on the IPA’s international publishers congress is here, more from us on Indonesia is here, more on Asian book and publishing markets is here, and more on reading is here.
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