Publishing: a force for social, economic and cultural development

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-José Borghino, Secretary General, International Publishers Association (IPA)

AABP: For those who were unable to attend the Congress, how would you describe it to them?

José Borghino, Secretary General, International Publishers Association (IPA)José: Well, I would definitely say that they missed out on something special. We had 313 delegates from 21 countries over 3 days, with 15 sessions covering everything from STM publishing and Collective Management Organisations to children’s books and online literature in China. The panels had a great mix of perspectives from across the world, without ever losing a strong Indian focus. The setting was excellent, and the networking opportunities were just as fruitful as the panel sessions were enlightening. The diversity of the sessions also meant that you could be talking about the nitty gritty of book pricing one minute before plunging into high-level discussions about the social, economic and cultural value of publishing the next. We really do have to thank the FIP for their hospitality and the amazing job they did in putting it all together.

AABP: What were the highlights of the Congress?

José: The stand out moments for me revolved around the two core pillars of the IPA – copyright and freedom to publish. I think the opening day’s session — with IPA President, Michiel Kolman in conversation with Maria Pallante from the Association of American Publishers and the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Francis Gurry — was fascinating. The three speakers covered many different aspects of copyright and Gurry was firm on the need to deal with sites that are blatantly and systematically infringing copyright. That positive message was echoed by many of the Indian officials who spoke on the different panels throughout the Congress — they clearly recognised the importance of our industry and the vital role copyright plays in keeping it sustainable. We now need to make sure that message resonates beyond the Congress as there is concerted pressure across the world in national legislatures and supra-national bodies like WIPO to weaken copyright and create broad exceptions that would undermine the ability of publishers to keep doing what they do.

On the freedom to publish side, we had a number of very strong speakers in the line-up. I don’t think anyone who was at the Congress will forget the Prix Voltaire award ceremony: this year’s recipient is the Swedish/Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai, who is currently detained by the Chinese authorities and was unable to receive his award in person. His daughter, Angela, joined us via videolink and delivered a powerful, emotional speech. The emotion of the evening didn’t stop there: we also presented two posthumous Special Awards, one to Chinese Nobel Prize winning author, Liu Xiaobo, and another to, Faisal Arefin Dipan, the Bangladeshi publisher who was murdered by extremists on 31 October 2015. Mr Dipan’s widow, Razia Rahman Jolly, received the Award and spoke passionately and eloquently about her husband, his work and why she will keep his publishing house running. These heart-breaking personal stories took us away from cold marketing statistics or the impact of digitisation and reminded us of the ideals at the core of publishing and the human costs paid by some.

AABP: What were the key takeaways from the Congress?

José: At a very simple level, the Congress brought many disparate people together and was an opportunity to develop social as well as commercial relationships. It was a direct and powerful way for all of us to learn more about the complexities that publishers face around the world.

I certainly learnt a lot and I think the insight that many of the international delegates got into the Indian market was very valuable. Similarly, I hope that the Indian delegates also benefited from the strong international delegation that came to New Delhi.

I’m sure there are many business deals that were done or begun during the Congress. One that I know about for sure, involves the organisation of a Freedom to Publish seminar as part of this year’s London Book Fair — that deal came about through meetings between the IPA and the London Book Fair that happened during the Congress.

I also made a plea during my session on ‘Bringing Markets Together’ for all of us to appreciate the importance of gathering statistics about our industry. There are big gaps in our knowledge about publishing markets around the world and WIPO and IPA have launched a pilot study to try to fill those gaps. It was great to see figures on the Indian market coming from Nielsen at the Congress and we need to build on that kind of research to create an accurate picture of global publishing today. It’s not just important to help us evolve and plan for the future, it’s also a crucial political tool.

AABP: Talking of evolutions, this was a return to New Delhi for the Congress after 26 years – can we even begin to imagine the industry in 26 years’ time?

José: In 1992, when we were last in New Delhi, mobile phones were the size of large house bricks, digital books came in the form of CDs and Amazon was a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’s eye. In many ways, the changes over the last 26 years are encouraging: literacy rates around the world are higher and more people are reading more content now than ever before. At the same time, the challenges are profound and existential: digitisation and globalisation; dwindling attention spans and the insidious undermining of copyright by tech giants and their freetard allies; fake news and the turning away from expertise; censorship and self-censorship. All of these trends make it clear that the IPA has to continue protecting the foundations of our industry – copyright and freedom to publish. In many ways, as an industry, we have not explained the value of publishing powerfully enough to policy makers, readers, and the general public. For centuries, publishers have been at the forefront of technical innovation; we have educated, entertained and informed the world to an extent undreamt of in the past; and publishing is demonstrably a force for social, economic and cultural good. As our President, Michiel Kolman, said in his closing speech, we need to be confident taking that message beyond the confines of our own industry and into the wider world.

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