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In the lead up to the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), diverse voices representing the global publishing ecosystem have come together for the 11th edition of the three-day Publishers Conference to network and unite industrywide efforts to build a roadmap for post-pandemic recovery.
Organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) in partnership with the International Publishers Association (IPA) at Expo Centre Sharjah, the three-day conference began Sunday, 31 October highlighting the need for stronger stakeholder collaboration and cooperation.
In a keynote address, Bodour Al Qasimi, President of IPA, reiterated their commitment to help support publishers emerge stronger from the pandemic.
“As we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the IPA this year, we are reminded of its long-standing role in giving a voice to publishers around the world”, said Al Qasimi, recounting the role IPA has played not just during global crises but throughout history to address key issues like protection of copyright, freedom to publish and the development of literacy, which affect industry stakeholders worldwide.
Referring to IPA discussions in context of Covid-19 over the past 18 months, Bodour Al Qasimi emphasised, “we want to enhance multi-stakeholder cooperation and strengthen solidarity between each. This is why the IPA worked with many partners to develop the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience Plan, also known as the Inspire Plan.
More than 50 publishing stakeholders have already committed to collaborating on its 10 objectives, following its recent launch. “We hope to see more trade organisations endorse the Plan during the Sharjah International Book Fair, and strengthen our chance of a strong recovery through collective action and increased dialogue”, the IPA President added.
Bodour Al Qasimi also reiterated to the conference attendees that IPA is working with different partners to help bridge the skills gap through the launch of IPA Academy.
Upon its launch, “the Academy will offer online masterclasses in multiple languages to all our members, which will help bridge the skills gap, and help our members adapt to rapidly changing readership and consumer behavior trends,” IPA President explained.
Welcoming participants to the conference, Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, SBA Chairman, reflected on Sharjah’s exemplary human-centric journey of development as envisioned by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.
He noted: “In 2001, the world agreed on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and in 2015, the United Nations announced the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The vital sectors of growth as identified by these Goals included health, education, services and food security. I suggest putting the publishing sector on this list too as it fulfills functions vital to life and progress”.
Al Ameri also suggested that the publishing sector’s contributions feature in global developmental plans and strategies, and that stakeholders collectively agree on indicators to measure the growth, flexibility and sustainability of the global publishing industry.
“If the eradication of illiteracy is the starting point for nation’s development, then the development of skills, conscience and imagination will guarantee that this development is continuous and long-term. The sustainability of the publishing sector, therefore, becomes not an isolated goal but a vital piece in the global developmental,” the SBA Chairman concluded.
IPA’s Inspire Plan roadmap
Leading the professional agenda of the 11th Publishers Conference was a panel discussion that explored IPA’s Inspire Plan roadmap which sets the stage for the creation of a more united, resilient, and inclusive post-pandemic publishing industry, and paves the way for coordinated action to strengthen and elevate the entire publishing ecosystem.
Moderating a conversation on ‘Coming Together in Crisis: How the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience (Inspire) Initiative is Supporting Industry Recovery in Unprecedented Times’, Karine Pansa, Vice President of IPA, said: “Inspire was born from a landmark IPA report From Response to Recovery: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Publishing Industry, published in November 2020. A headline finding was a universal call for solidarity in working together towards a more coherent and resilient publishing industry. Our future will be even more co-dependent, and stakeholders need the support of IPA, of governments, and local and international agencies and bodies.”
Lawrence Njagi, Chairperson, Kenya Publishers Association, said: “The pandemic caught us flat footed, crippled our operations; we were not prepared as an industry as a whole, like several other sectors. Issues of overreliance on textbooks over trade books affected us in a huge way with school closures. We lacked marketing plans and teams and work-from-home infrastructure too. So, we started looking at different ways of doing things and the Inspire Plan serves as an excellent guide to overcome these challenges in an inclusive, sustainable manner.”
Mingzhou Zhang, President, International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), said: “The impact of the pandemic on the children’s and YA book industries were unprecedented as most writers and illustrators of children’s books make the lion’s share of their sales in schools – Covid-19 completed blocked their entry into school campuses.”.
“However, the industry-wide solidarity we have seen and experienced has been so positive and encouraging. Moreover, the acceleration of digitalisation, especially in the children’s book industry, is a welcome revolution and will continue as a trend long after the pandemic is over,” he added.
Patrici Tixis, Vice President, LIBER Book Fair, and Acting President, Spanish Federation of Publishers’ Guilds, said: “The pandemic has changed everything. We need to see things in a new way. We still don’t know the full impact of these changes, but in Spain for instance, consumer behaviour has already experienced new patterns. In pre-pandemic times, 85 out of 100 books were sold in bookshops and 50 out of 100 were sold on e-commerce platforms. That is not the reality anymore, especially as bookshops are probably the weakest part of our publishing value chain. They are fragmented and needed financial support. Post-pandemic, they started working closely with printers, publishers and other stakeholders and the current reality is that our book market has grown by 15% compared not only to 2020 but also to pre-pandemic revenues. We are trying to open Spain to global markets like Latin America and Sharjah is going to be a key player in enabling our expansion into regional markets.”
Yuliia Кozlovets, Coordinator of the International Book Arsenal Festival in Kiev, Ukraine, said: “Even before Covid-19, Ukraine’s publishing industry was facing several challenges. During the lockdown, we launched a programme for Ukrainian writers abroad. This year we organised the Book Arsenal Festival in an online format, applying the lessons we learned during the pandemic. How should we be organising book festivals in the new normal? The physical presence of publishers at a book fair, the reader’s interaction with books – these are vital to the industry’s growth prospects, but are currently a challenge for us to execute safely. I am, therefore, personally extremely inspired by the Inspire Plan because it addresses common challenges faced by publishing industry worldwide, and at the same time, looks into individual roadblocks. The Plan brings us closer together in addressing these issues collaboratively and cohesively, making sure no one is left behind.”