By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘To Build a Compelling Narrative’In our January 6 interview with the Brazilian publisher Karine Pansa—who this month has begun her two-year term as president of the International Publishers Association (IPA)—she stressed the challenge faced by the world publishing industry to generate and analyze coherent data among international markets.
On Monday (January 16), in giving a keynote address at the Digital Book World conference in New York, Pansa expanded on the case for her emphasis on getting past an apples-and-oranges juggling act when it comes to collecting and interpreting data across the international spectrum of the book business.
As she put it, the issue “demonstrates both how many opportunities there are in the digital publishing market but also how we have to work harder to build a compelling external narrative about the innovation in our sector.”
Pansa noted that in putting together her presentation, she and IPA have had the support of IPA’s partner in Geneva, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as Nielsen BookData, and some of the 92 national publishers’ caucuses that are member-associations of the 76-nation program she leads. She and IPA have shared with Publishing Perspectives (we are IPA’s global media partner) Pansa’s presentation for our report today (January 17).
What Pansa had come to say on Monday, was, “We know market data of some type exists for about 40 countries. That means there is a lot of data darkness.”
Views of a Complex Data Picture
Turning first to an example she had mentioned in our interview—incompatible datasets from markets in Latin America—Pansa presented to her audience illustrations of how in her region, data is available “for just three markets”: Brazil—where she directs publishing at Girassol Brasil in São Paulo—as well as Colombia and Mexico.
In terms of digital books, Pansa pointed out, Colombia surprisingly appears to lead, available data showing a 15-percent share of market for digital books over 4 percent in Mexico and 6 percent in Brazil.
The reason? “In Colombia,” she said, “the digital book is not just an ebook or audiobook but also educational platforms. Obviously boosted by the pandemic, these platforms have a real impact on the numbers in Colombia where audiobooks are almost negligible. In Mexico, audiobooks are even less present, and print is very much still king.
“Across these three markets,” she said, “we have different definitions of digital books, we are at least comparing revenues, but we have vastly different degrees of granularity.”
And perhaps most important relative to these three Latin American markets, she made the point that “Developing countries still struggle to grow their markets because there is a structural barrier for their demand. Aspects like reading habits and reading skills are top difficulties and are only part of the discussion.
“We cannot solve the problem of increasing demand by just producing more digital content or even more printed books. There are deeper aspects to be discussed and considered.”
Another region, Asia, in Pansa’s commentary, is producing data she could compare only from China and New Zealand. Here, she was using, for China, the Beijing OpenBook “Crisis and Changes” annual report for 2020, which Publishing Perspectives covered in January 2021. (Our monthly China bestsellers reports are also produced in association with OpenBook.) New Zealand data was provided by Nielsen BookData (2021).
Between those markets, she said, “We see digital books represent 6 percent of Chinese market revenues and 8 percent of the New Zealand market’s revenues. For New Zealand, data collection has only just started,” she added. “Rome wasn’t built in a day and hopefully we will have more granularity in a couple of years.”
In Europe, as we’ve reported, the Aldus Up program in concert with Luis González of Madrid’s Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez has been piloting an effort to create “publishing research coherence” in Europe by harmonizing survey and study protocols between several markets of Europe.
As Pansa pointed out, unless inter-market efforts can coordinate and harmonize at least some elements of data collection and reporting, the actual data sources become an issue, too. European markets are probably better and more thoroughly surveyed and studied than many others, and yet “a mix of data sources—consumer and industry data,” as Pansa said, can yield “a mix of revenues, volume, and turnover. Some are trade only, some cover education and STM.”
The Impact of Inadequate Data in World Publishing
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Karine Pansa told her audience, “has shown us that in many ways we cannot continue with business as usual. Many markets around the world had a big wake-up call.
“Without real detailed data, how can we understand the environmental impact of our sector? In all the markets we looked at, print is still king. How can we work with the supply chain to reduce the carbon impact of physical books, which readers in many markets still love?“Karine Pansa, IPA president
“I spoke of IPA’s ability to tell a compelling story about the innovation within our sector. About our value, the value of publishing. But it goes deeper than that,” she said, pointing to how specific policy areas that make up the IPA’s mission are impacted by a paucity of reliable data.
Pansa spoke, for example, about how in issues of copyright and piracy, “One of our major European markets” has “a majority of readers of digital books doing so from free downloads. In Africa and the Arab world,” she said, “we hear publishers say that they won’t shift to digital because the risk of piracy is too great and their copyright enforcement regimes won’t protect them. In all likelihood there are probably many digital book readers in these regions but outside of the market.
“Even in strong markets like the UK, “she said, “we see discounted ebooks making up a large part of sales, suggesting real price sensitivity. That price sensitivity also extends to devices–we have regions where the cost of a dedicated e-reader is really high compared to local salaries.”
In accessibility, she said, “Ebooks and audiobooks, done properly, are a great way of making better products that can reach even more readers, including those who are visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled. The European Accessibility Act will come into force in 2025. Despite its name, it will affect publishers outside Europe, too. Anyone selling into Europe must have accessible formats available. ‘Born accessible’ has to be the target for future books, but what about backlists?”
She added, in terms of backlist, “What is the potential of AI narration to help with that backlist challenge and make more books available quickly?” a question that touches on our news today from Germany’s Bookwire.
In the remarkably urgent realm of sustainability, Pansa said, “Without real detailed data, how can we understand the environmental impact of our sector? In all the markets we looked at, print is still king. How can we work with the supply chain to reduce the carbon impact of physical books, which readers in many markets still love? How can we reduce physical waste, the environmental impact of shipping?” One of Pansa’s most cogent points this month has been that the conversation about sustainability and the fragility of the industry’s home planet is at times starkly different in the developed world and developing markets because the critical needs, values, and resources can be so different.
In literacy, Pansa told her audience, “The ‘digital book world’ is an opportunity to boost literacy rates everywhere, even in the hardest-to-reach places. [And] let’s also talk about economic diversity. What are the range of business models and retail outlets and how do they keep us connected to our readers?”
In setting up her talk, Pansa used the title “A New Beginning,” which reflects three ways on the positioning of the International Publishers Association, her new presidency, and the new year, of course, with its potentials and challenges only some of which can be known at this point.
While focusing on the importance of getting much more data in the publishing industry–and, just as important, much more coherent data for a book business that encompasses so much of the inhabited world–her message was one of optimism that the complexities of data collection, analysis, and comparison can be addressed to produce actionable results capable of generating more unity and progress throughout the international field.
“The beginning of the year is always full of crystal ball gazing,” she said, “and I love the optimism of starting this new year looking to the future of our sector.”
The International Publishers Association in Geneva has issued this video to its membership this month, a new year’s message from IPA president Karine Pansa.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the work of the International Publishers Association is here, more on the work of Karine Pansa is here, more on women in publishing is here, and more on industry statistics is here. More from us on the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, to which Karine Pansa refers in her presentation, is here.
Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.