By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
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The Core Currency: ‘Reading Now and When?’At the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) 33rd International Publishers Congress here in Jakarta, the overall event slogan is Reading Matters: Embracing the Future.
In the next two days, delegates from many of the 73 countries in which the IPA has member-associations will hear presentations, discussions, and debates on pressing issues in world book publishing, all of them revolving in one way or another around “immersive reading”, its place in the 21st century, the conditions under which it still is valued and viable, and its importance during these years of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
The evening’s breeze-swept reception—atop Jakarta’s Fairmont Hotel, with a commanding panorama of the Indonesian archipelago’s capital city—was noisy with greetings as friends found each other, colleagues caught up on business, and panelists and their moderators exchanged notes on their upcoming events in the congress’ agenda.
Among key figures in the crowd of some 200 participants:
- IPA secretary-general José Borghino is leading the Geneva-based association’s team;
- The incoming Georgian IPA vice-president Gvantsa Jobava has made the trip from Tbilisi;
- Frankfurter Buchmesse president and CEO Juergen Boos—Iceland’s 2022 Vigdís Prize laureate—is here to speak;
- And the director-general of Madrid’s influential Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, Luis González, is here to talk about some of the “research coherence” that Aldus Up is developing, and more.
You can review plans for the two-day program here in our coverage for Thursday here and Friday here, and you’ll notice that the essential currency of reading—that indispensable, reciprocal covenant with publishing’s consumer—is never far from the planned conversation.
‘Promoting Reading: Gender and Generations’
One exploratory discussion directly focused on reading as a core industry-component is set for 3:45 p.m. on Friday, (November 11), and will be opened by Naomi Baron, professor emerita in linguistics at Washington’s American University. Her most recent book is How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio (Oxford University Press, March 2021) is a seminal analytic study of insight into contemporary reading.
In working with Kristina Kramer of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, and with James Taylor, IPA’s communications and freedom to publish director, Publishing Perspectives—which will provide moderation—determined that we’d like to broaden the session’s focus beyond what’s often an emphasis on children’s reading,
Certainly, helping youngsters to find the joy and importance of reading is crucial, and almost every book-publishing market has important programs in place that reflect this.
The congress will welcome Catherine Uwimana, a seasoned specialist and consultant in children’s book publishing based in Rwanda, and she’ll share several incisive observations from her years with Save the Children, and in the leadership of the Children’s Book Initiative in Senegal and Rwanda.
We’re also aware, however, that many adults have slowed or all but quit what Naomi Baron calls “real reading” in the past decade or so. Many people, even professionals in book publishing, concede now that they feel the pressure, as digital entertainment forms—film, television, gaming, music—challenge the “attention economy” in which we all live and work.
“Not enough time” becomes the mantra, fewer and fewer pages get read, the “habit of reading” evaporates and soon, large swaths of a population’s adults are former readers.
What’s more, we’re curious about the sometimes overlooked gender gap in reading.
With women and girls forming the most fundamentally faithful readers in many international markets, how clearly can we gauge what men and boys are reading? How well do we make the case to guys for the value of reading? How seriously are we taking advantage of a survey-demonstrated male affinity for audiobooks? And how much does the industry worry about male readers disappearing, when a dedicated female readership is so reliable among consumers?
All these points depend on genuinely useful, applicable metrics in reading. Without them, we can’t productively compare the bookish life of one group of people to the “reading habits” of another.
González, in working from Spain with Aldus Up, is engaged in the organization’s effort to bring more coherence to publishing research—to help the world industry address just that apples-and-oranges dissonance.
To help us get a better look at what we know about reading today, Baron will start us off with an exclusive, recorded overview of consumer behavior, based on her ongoing international research in the States.
Selecting just a few of Baron’s sets of data points, when viewed we might start with the CommonSense Media Census of 2021, using American subjects, found teens were reporting spending eight hours, 39 minutes per day in watching screened entertainment (over boys’ 29 minutes of reading and girls’ 27 minutes of reading)
Start with that eight house 39 minutes of screen time, Baron says, “Add in some sleep, some going to school, and your day is shot.”
And from the most recent PISA study from the OECD, an international study of 15-year-olds, Baron presents some of the most alarming attitudinal research results, showing that in 2018, 49 percent of those asked, agreed or strongly agreed that they only read when they had to.
That 49-percent figure had jumped from 36 percent in the 2000 edition of the study. And in 2018, 28 percent, almost a third of the sample, said they agreed or strongly agreed that reading is “a waste of time.”
At one point, Baron talks about her conversation with a bookseller in Singapore, who reports that since the onset of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, “Buyers have wanted short books, saying, ‘I can’t cope with anything too long.'”
Another reader has told Baron that she, the reader, likes digital reading because you can’t see how many pages are left to the end, and thus a book doesn’t seem as intimidating as it might in print.
Among several points Baron asks her audience to consider is that of responsibility. Does today’s “state of reading” put the responsibility to improve it—for all ages, for all genders, in all circumstances—on schools? families? the publishing industry?
Clearly, world publishing needs to sort this out and understand better not only the specific pressures on its business but also who should be charged with bettering the situation.
And one of the things Baron will ask the 33rd IPA Congress delegates and speakers to consider is whether they’ve forthrightly faced the attrition seen in so many instances in so many societies when it comes to reading?”
In “a post-truth world,” she asks, “where confidence in media, government and higher education are low and social insecurity is high, do we feel that pleasure-reading will help us navigate these waters?” And “do we feel,” she asks, “that investing the time and pleasure reading (and away from social media) is wise?”
In short, how committed is the world industry itself to the job of asking these hard questions? How dedicated is the book business to working to develop the readership essential to its survival?
Baron says that this motivational challenge is fully fundamental to the issue that contemporary publishing faces today. And her input is part of what this week’s International Publishers Congress will weigh.
Our special thanks to Maura Dinda for her fine assistance in reporting our story for this morning’s edition of Publishing Perspectives.
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.
Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of the International Publishers Association.
More from us on the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.