By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Every Corner of the World’As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the International Publishers Association (IPA) has been making a series of gains in recent years that have brought it to new levels of industry relevance, working at the center of many demanding issues, trends, and initiatives in world publishing. Now a consortium of 92 member-organizations based in 76 countries in Asia, Australasia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, the organization has benefitted from a series of particularly impactful presidents, as well as from its lean secretariat based in Geneva.
Many elements of the gains that the association is making have to do with the fact that its membership and committees are choosing their leadership figures well.
Hugo Setzer, the Mexico City-based president of the association–his term was in 2019 and the fateful year of 2020–is proving the point today (May 16), as the IPA formally releases its newest 25-year retrospective, The Fifth Quarter Century: The International Publishers Association, 1996-2021. The book, published by the Penguin Random House imprint Conecta, is available at this link as a PDF and you can find it on sale as an ebook on all major vendor platforms.
An interesting pattern comes into view, in fact, if you look back to 2015, when Richard Charkin started his two-year presidency. Charkin, now an avidly followed columnist with Publishing Perspectives, last month released his own book, from Marble Hill Publishers, My Back Pages: An Undeniably Personal History of Publishing, 1972-2022. You can see our publication of five sections of that book here.
And if you look at just this group of IPA presidents from Charkin forward—when Setzer himself began his most active association with the organization—you get an idea of the kind of progressive, forward-leaning leadership and momentum the organization has been gathering in the last decade:
- Richard Charkin, 2015-2016
- Michiel Kolman, 2017-2018
- Hugo Setzer, 2019-2020
- Bodour Al Qasimi, 2021-2022
- Karine Pansa, 2023-2024
Each of these leaders has brought to the association their own unique style and energy. Their ability to drive change and development has rested on the preparation provided by more presidents of the past quarter-century, including Alain Gründ, Ana Maria Cabanellas (proudly the first woman president of the organization), and YoungSuk “YS” Chi.
Setzer is an especially apt past president to have handled the job of putting together the 25-year perspective in such a pivotal time.
Having been president for only one highly productive year—he watched the association, and the world, come to a shuddering impasse as the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic first asserted its fearful presence.
“What comes through clearly from Hugo’s book … is that copyright and freedom to publish were as important 25 or 125 years ago as they are now, and will be tomorrow.”José Borghino
As it happens, much of the energy that Setzer might have put into a fully active second year has gone into his painstaking, readable account of the organization’s development in a pivotal quarter-century. Al Qasimi, then vice-president, had led the development with Setzer of the major 2019 regional conference at Nairobi—which would be followed by another such gathering in Amman. The IPA was rapidly gaining traction, plans, updraft, its influence expanding quickly.
During the first year of his presidency, Setzer notes in the book, he, Bodour, and IPA secretary-general José Borghino “had visited 25 countries during the first year of my mandate.”
The ball was clearly rolling, in other words—until it wasn’t.
IPA would make an artful adjustment, of course. The association went into triage mode, working to get local and regional member-organizations through the worst of the struggle, instituting training in the digital infrastructure that had eluded so many of the hardest-hit markets, opening its “Inspire” program, and predicting the focus of the current president, Brazil’s Karine Pansa, on data–the international industry’s desperate need for the ability to evaluate itself in terms coherent across borders and spreadsheets from market to market.
‘What It’s Like To Be an Author’
“It took about a year,” Setzer says, to write the book being released today. The offices in Geneva were “kind enough to send me the minutes of all the executive committee meetings from 1995 up to 2020.” While such a gift might make the rest of us want to hurl ourselves out of an open window, Setzer made the most of it.
The CEO of Mexico City’s educational publisher Manual Moderno now is also president of the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM) and says with a laugh that he’s finally learned “what it’s like to be an author,” referring to those long nights and weekends and holidays he refers to in his acknowledgments, with special thanks to his wife Ruby.
“It’s really great how to see how we are alike and how we can we can have insightful conversations with other publishers in every corner of the world.”Hugo Setzer
He’s also had an experience of being a traveling writer published by Penguin Random House. On arrival in Jakarta in November, for the IPA’s 33rd International Publishers Congress, he found his baggage being held up at the airport by an agent perplexed at its load of a small early print run of the book.
“Until,” he says, “the young lady doing the inspection saw my photo on the cover flap. “‘Oh,’ she said,” suddenly smiling. “‘You are a writer. Welcome to Indonesia.'”
And beyond the kindness of impressed customs agents, he says he’s had a distinct advantage in that “I’ve been part of IPA for 15 of the 25 years” he surveys here. “I’ve been on the executive committee,” and he was, of course, vice-president while Kolman was president.
“I did interviews, each about an hourlong conversation,” he says, with each of his fellow past presidents. “And I didn’t do this as my full-time job. I still had my company to run.”
Indeed, the book, while a slim volume in print at 112 pages, is dense with incremental events, developments, and inflection points under each presidency it covers. Each of those presidents, including the late Alain Gründ, also has contributed a bit of “testimony,” a brief, personal look-back with high points recalled and appreciated.
Cabanellas, for example—whose term ran for four years, from 2004 to 2008, as was the custom until Herman Sprujit followed her in 2008—recalls how “Between many other meetings, we organized two important ones, the copyright seminar in Montreal and the IPA congress in Seoul.” It was also during her term that the organization worked with UNESCO to activate the World Book Capital program, she writes.
The book’s back pages include a useful listing of all the association’s presidents and secretaries-general from 1896 forward.
José Borghino, since 2015 the organization’s secretary-general, writes in his foreword of how the International Publishers Association “has been continually evolving over the past quarter-century in response to the technological and social changes running rampant around it. Hugo breaks up his chronicle of the IPA’s committee meetings—and their often heated, and sometimes esoteric, internal debates—with stark reminders of what was happening in the outside world.
“So in these pages, you will not only learn when the Publishers Association of China finally became a member of the IPA, you’ll also be informed when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, when the last Concorde flew, and the year that the Encyclopedia Britannica discontinued its print edition.”
As it turns out, Setzer, looking at the work he’s done to bring the book to the association, probably now has the firmest grasp of anyone involved of just how deep that evolution Borghino refers to has been. He has become the association’s de-facto historian and chief analyst.
“It’s the most recent 25 years,” Setzer says, “but on the other hand, it’s a period in time—and this is something I wanted to tell while writing the book—when, from my point of view, the IPA has changed much more dramatically than in the first 100 years. That was extremely difficult to write because I didn’t want to minimize the work of my predecessors of more than 25 years ago. But the circumstances then were different. The IPA used to be a boys’ club, for example, and somewhere in Europe, and that has changed dramatically” with its current succession of female presidents and vice-presidents, and its presence now in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australasia.
Borghino stresses in his piece, “So much has changed over the last 25 years, and yet the basics of our industry have not. Publishers are still dedicated to finding and sharing the words of great authors, developing the best educational resources, and providing access to accurate, verified, peer-reviewed research. What comes through clearly from Hugo’s book … is that copyright and freedom to publish were as important 25 or 125 years ago as they are now, and will be tomorrow.
“We can look to the future with optimism built on strong foundations and a continued commitment to promoting the value of publishing at a global level.”
And Setzer says, “It’s really great how to see how we are alike and how we can have insightful conversations with other publishers in every corner of the world.”
In addition to Borghino at the IPA offices in Geneva, Setzer in his acknowledgments thanks the organization’s Olivier Borie for archival assistance, those fellow past presidents, the former secretaries general with whom he’s been in touch, and James Taylor and Laura Silva Aya “who did such a great job putting all my texts together, taking care of editing and design.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more on copyright is here, more on the freedom to publish is here, and more on the work of Hugo Setzer is here.
Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.