By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
The Demand for Coherent Data in PublishingAs the 37th Guadalajara International Book Fair continues through Sunday (December 3), we point you today (December 1) to two statistical reports released during the fair, one from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the other from the International Publishers Association (IPA).
In its introductory commentary, the WIPO report—which is for 2022—admirably points out one of the most vexing aspects of efforts to quantify the world publishing industry across its many markets, most of which operate their own statistical self-assessments using discrete means, methods, and criteria.
“The report highlights the limitations of producing such statistics,” this analysis’ authors write with fine candor, “both in terms of data consistency and comparability. Unfortunately, publishing industry data are not unified under a single authority, making it necessary to gather data from various sources in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the industry. A drawback to this approach is that it may result in conflicting information with regard to market size and industry trends, due to differences in methodology and market coverage.”
That apples-to-oranges comparative problem rightly highlighted by WIPO’s team was in focus at Frankfurter Buchmesse in a session from Guest of Honor Slovenia with Miha Kovač, Christoph Bläsi, and Owena Reinke, and moderated by Publishing Perspectives.
One of that conversation’s most hopeful elements was news on the development from Aldus Up of a proposed “European Item Core Set for Reading Surveys” (ERICS), a protocol meant to harmonize the creation, implementation, and analysis of reading surveys across the European Union’s book markets. If an approach of this kind can be developed and extended beyond the European bloc, we could see new promise in efforts to bring coherence to quantification to the international book publishing business.
A side note for those who met the Slovenian program curator Miha Kovač: He has been honored now in Ljubljana by the Chamber of Publishers and Booksellers with their Schwentner Prize for his work in leading the program.
The WIPO and IPA reports, created independently of each other—both reports have the advantage of Nielsen BookData‘s participation—offer discrete looks at various metrics available for consideration, with input from different sets of national markets.
And in introducing them at Guadalajara, IPA president Karine Pansa said, “A large part of our sector is dedicated to storytelling and we also have to consider how we tell our own story.
“We know that publishing plays a vital role culturally, educationally, but also economically in the world.
“These two statistical reports are part of establishing the evidence base that will enable us to explain to policy makers the importance of publishing.”
Because these reports are thus quite distinctive in both what they measure and in which countries and how many, we’ll leave it to you to explore as your interest guides you, and simply look at a couple of high-level observations.
IPA’s Report: Regional Trends
The IPA’s International Publishing Data 2023 report gathers information as available from the 76 markets that were represented in the International Publishers Association’s membership at the start of this year. (As our readers know, that number of nations rises to 81 in January, when the IPA’s membership will expand to comprise 101 associations.)
This report puts a good deal of emphasis on school education and higher education, noting, “The data on school enrollments as a percentage of the total population reveals the young population in Africa. The United Nations estimates that 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30. The school population in Africa is 20 percent of the total population, compared to a figure of 14 percent in Europe.”
Another area of focus is in imports and exports, getting at one intention of the report: to provide a way to assess “receptive target markets [to] help publishers refine their international distribution strategies.”
From this part of the information, for example, it’s surfaced that “Responses to the survey around the importation of books highlighted 17 countries as the origin of book imports in the Africa region. The three countries most frequently mentioned were India, United Kingdom and United States. It’s suggested that the frequency of mentions for India could reflect the printing of books there. In terms of book exports, a plurality of countries is to be found: 27 countries were highlighted with Kenya and Tanzania receiving the most mentions.”
Usefully working by region, the report offers this quick look at comparative regions and their top nations in terms of ISBNs registered in 2022.
Following the executive summary, the report then looks at various regions, in Asia for example, looking at data from 23 IPA member-associations “from Jordan to Japan” and revealing, for example, that “Literacy rates vary from lower rates in Pakistan (58 percent) and Nepal (71 percent) reaching high figures (over 90 percent) in 16 of the IPA member countries in Asia.”
WIPO’s Report: Data and Disclaimers
Looking at the WIPO report, The Global Publishing Industry in 2022, one of the most instructive elements actually lies in a fine demonstration of how many sources must be used to gather data and how varies those sources’ information may be.
Keenly forthright about the problem of there being such a morass of data collection, methods, and sources, the report’s most interesting component—at least in this era of international cooperative publishing’s development—may be found by world-traveling publishing professionals to be Figure 20.
There, the comparison is laid right out for you, so that three sources of data—the publishing industry survey, the legal deposits survey, and ISBN registrations—are compared, allowing you to see the spread of information between them. And even then, there’s a caveat: “Countries were only included if data from at least two sources were available, and the selection of countries based on the title count reported by the publishing industry survey.”
Thus it is that Figure 20 “shows a significant discrepancy in values between the three data sources. This discrepancy is not unexpected given the variations in data coverage and methodology. The purpose of comparing what are inconsistent sources is to highlight the potential dangers of basing conclusions about the performance of the publishing industry on a single source of information.
“In a few countries, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, the number of titles recorded by the three sources is of similar magnitude. For instance, Spain is estimated to have published approximately 83,000 titles in 2022 based on the publishing survey, 98,000 based on the legal deposits survey, and 95,000 based on ISBN registrations.”
Figure 20 carries data for 23 countries, and it’s pointed out that Iceland and Germany come in with “the most substantial difference between the number of titles published, according to the publishing and legal deposits surveys, with legal deposits being 4.5 and 5.6 times higher, respectively.”
To read more about these discrepancies seen in various markets, you’ll find this discussion on page 28 of the 33-page report. Meanwhile, here is Figure 20 with its immediately informative look at the wide range of what researchers are trying to handle.
Even a two-source comparison shows a wide range of information, as in this look at the number of titles published in print formats according to the publishing survey and the legal deposits survey in 2022.
And to its credit, WIPO makes its main message the problem of mismatched and confusing data across world publishing markets, something that IPA’s president Pansa has also made a key concern of her term in office.
We encourage you to read the conclusions the program offers on Page 30 of its report. There, the WIPO team lays out in a very straightforward and understandable way how seriously the problem of mismatched data is hampering the international book publishing industry from evaluating and understanding its own character and progress.
In five short paragraphs, WIPO identifies the problems in publishing industry data; revenue data; and data coverage for digital publications.
“Greater efforts are necessary to standardize definitions and methodologies for core indicators,” the authors write. “For instance, some countries reported sales revenue data based on retail prices rather than net revenue, which limits cross-country comparison. This inconsistency further underlines the need for harmonization.
“WIPO is grateful to those organizations that generously shared their 2022 data, or made efforts to do so. We recognize that increasing data availability at the international level is a long-term process, and encourage all national publishers’ associations, copyright authorities and statistical offices to establish new national surveys or revise existing ones, so as to enable the reporting of a wide range of publishing industry indicators on an internationally harmonized basis.”
In other words, the sort of effort that Aldus Up has made in a pilot data-harmonization program needs to be expanded to a worldwide project. This, of course, may lie best in the International Publishers Association because of its ability to reach across all regions and markets, but it’s also going to require—we surmise—special allocations of resources. To develop and implement an all-markets approach will be a full-time project that can’t be attached to existing duties “on the side.”
And yet, as daunting as such an effort may seem, until world publishing takes on this dilemma, devises a response, and sees it through, the attempt to analyze its own contours, scale, performance, and potential will be something done only by candlelight.
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At Guadalajara: EU Guest of Honor, and Italy in Mexico
IPA’s Karine Pansa at Guadalajara: ‘A Union of Cultures to Build’
At Guadalajara Book Fair: Guest of Honor EU Plans a Professional Program
IPA’s Reach Expands to 81 Countries, 101 Associations
More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here, more on the World Intellectual Property Organization is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, and more on publishing data and its issues is here.
Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.