IPA’s Karine Pansa: ‘It’s About Our Responsibility’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Amid world book publishing’s challenges in 2024, IPA’s Karine Pansa says publishers need to talk more about what they do, and why.

Karine Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) leads one of the association’s events at the 2023 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: IPA, Holger Menzel

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A Call to ‘Talk About the Importance of Publishing’
As the Brazilian publisher Karine Pansa looks at the year we’ve entered—the second year of her time in office as president of the International Publishers Association (IPA)—a kind of over-arching contour comes into her observations. In an interview with Publishing Perspectives at the beginning of this month, her conversation goes beyond the familiar focal points of the IPA’s work, primarily copyright protection and the freedom to publish, even the controversies around artificial intelligence give way to something a bit larger.

The It has to do, says the editorial director at Girassol Brasil Edições in São Paulo, with a surprising need to think beyond what often seems the priority mission for her and her fellow publishers.

“Publishers,” Pansa says, “they do their best in trying to do the best book ever published about a certain topic right best novel. And they tend to talk a lot about the author but they don’t talk about themselves, about the publisher and the publishing itself. Or if they talk, they just talk about an imprint” the name of which “doesn’t mean anything, or doesn’t ring a bell for the public.

“They don’t always talk about the importance of publishing or editing, specifically.”

While on the surface, it of course seems completely logical to focus on the attractions and accomplishments of a book and its author—the product of the moment. But the role of the book publishing industry itself actually is where some of the most currently tested values are held and deployed.

She points, for example, to the ongoing controversy around artificial intelligence’s (AI) large learning models (LLMs) using unlicensed copyrighted book content for training, the issue that is triggering court action, debate, and serious concern in the book world.

“If you publish a book,” she says, “and that content is incorrect or is miswritten or something else, then you can be prosecuted because you are the publisher and the publisher is responsible for the content being published.

“On the other hand, on the Internet, on Web sites or anything, the person who publishes is the responsible one … but the platforms are never responsible.”

A stark component of what Pansa’s talking about was on view in the United States’ capital on Wednesday (January 31), of course, when Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and leaders from Discord, Snap, TikTok, and X (formerly known as Twitter) were grilled by an unusually aggressive Senate Judiciary Committee, key members of which made it clear that they’re closer to moving against the protections that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides to purveyors of content posted by the platforms’ users.

As Will Oremus wrote in his analysis of the hearing at the Washington Post, legislation now being promoted by some on Capitol Hill includes “a package of five bills related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM) advanced by the Judiciary Committee in May.”

While Section 230 protects online service providers, Pansa’s point is that this can make the deeply vetted, fact-checked, extensively edited content of the book industry all the more attractive to parts of the AI industry looking to train its models on the most reliable content.

‘It’s About the Responsibility We Have’

IPA president Karine Pansa in conversation with Publishing Perspectives, February 1. Image: Publishing Perspectives

“It’s about our responsibility for the content we have,” she says. And this creates an ironic situation in which the incursions into copyrighted content for which some instances of generative AI training are being challenged in courts and in public debate—as in more prosaic cases of copyright infringement—involve the high level of book-industry production that publishers have been, she says, too slow to tout as one of the most sought-after factors of their work.

“Publishers tend to talk a lot about the author but they don’t talk about themselves, about the publisher and the publishing itself.”Karine Pansa, IPA president

Policymakers, Pansa says, have to be made aware not only of the legal validity of copyright protection but also of the sheer value of what publishers must have that protect and the freedom to publish in order to produce and maintain.

In short, the two great pillars of IPA’s ethos—copyright protection and the freedom to publish—actually may have a new chance be appreciated for their value during the onset of so many disturbing instances of incursions by large language models. But world publishing, she says, must learn to say this for itself, to speak up and define its most enviable values, which are in fact inviting infringement at, in some cases oppression.

This, then, became one of the messages Pansa included when she spoke to the Center for Publishing and Applied Liberal Arts at New York University’s School of Professional Studies in January’s inaugural presentation of the NYU Advanced Publishing Institute for book business professionals.

In copyright, of course, the challenges facing book publishing today range from such developments as AI and protected content to severe efforts in censorship from political conservative quarters in the States and elsewhere.

In the freedom to publish, the darkening reality of the Association of American Publishers’ decision in January not to name a recipient of its International Freedom to Publish Award—because of nominees’ fears of retaliation in their home markets—offered a stark new view of how dangerous open and forthright publishing can be in settings controlled by oppressive regimes. The IPA Prix Voltaire, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, continues to collect nominees for its 2024 award until March 22.

And what Pansa is pointing out to the 92 member-associations of the world body—associations that stand in 76 nations and represent, IPA says, publishing services that reach some 5.6 billion people—is that it’s time for book publishing to do a better job of telling its own story: what it is, how it works, and which of its disciplines make it so valuable.

“We never had the opportunity to deal directly with our public in the past,” Pansa says, referring to traditions in which publishers dealt with retailers’ book buyers and distributors but rarely consumers. “We were producing our content to deliver it to somebody else who was responsible to talk with the public. Now, since e-commerce has started, we are allowed to speak to our customers and hear what they have to say.”

The most important part of that exchange this year, Karine Pansa says, may be in making sure that publishers learn to tell their readers, their consumers, what it is they do—and why it’s important.

In teal, book publishing markets the publishers’ associations of which belong to the International Publishers Association. In yellow, those associations currently designated as provisional members. Image: IPA


More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more on Karine Pansa is here, more on controversies around artificial intelligence is here, more the protection of copyright is here, and more the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.