IPA committed to develop Arab publishing sector: Al Qasimi

October 11, 2021
Bodour Al Qasimi, President of the International Publishers Association (IPA).
Bodour Al Qasimi, President of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

The global publishing industry today stands at a critical juncture. The pandemic has disrupted the ecosystem, highlighted the need for transformative innovations across industry verticals to ensure business continuity, and exposed the interconnectedness of stakeholders, indicating that solidarity and collaborative efforts will be crucial to building back industry resilience and a sustainable future.

At the Riyadh International Book Fair (RIBF) 2021, Bodour Al Qasimi, President of the International Publishers Association (IPA), reiterated the organisation’s commitment to the development of the Arab publishing sector. She called for enhanced solidarity across its entire value chain to propel its upward growth.

In an interview with Saudi Gazette during her visit to RIBF 2021, the IPA President detailed the challenges and development opportunities in the sector and offered an insight into the strategies and actions currently being implemented to shape a positive and sustainable future for the industry.

* As President of the IPA, how do you view the role of events like Riyadh International Book Fair 2021 in driving forward the growth of the global publishing industry?

** Book fairs and other book related events are an integral part of the publishing industry. They attract media, government stakeholders, the general public, and of course industry experts such as publishers, agents, distributors, retailers and more. They have been and will always be a key platform for authors to meet their audiences. The Riyadh International Book Fair is one example in the region where Arab publishers have a chance to meet their counterparts from the region and from around the world providing them an opportunity to grow and expand their businesses. I believe that the global covid pandemic was an opportunity for us to think about book related events such as bookfairs. We have learnt that bookfairs, for example, do not have to be exclusively an in-person event. We have learnt also that hybrid events have the power to attract audiences who otherwise cannot attend the physical fair, and that means an opportunity to reach new audiences and expand in new markets. Going forward, I think that events like book fairs will always play an important role in the development of the publishing industry, and that publishers will develop the hybrid models even more to create enjoyable experiences for industry experts and the general public from all markets.

* How do you evaluate the reality of the Arab publishing sector, and what are the ways to develop it to keep pace with the global sector?

** Every time I meet with Arab publishers whether here in Riyadh, Egypt, my hometown Sharjah, or anywhere else in the Arab world, I reiterate my opinion that the Arab publishing sector has a tremendous potential to be a global contender in this sector. We have many elements to aspire to be global such as massive, tech-savvy young population hungry for knowledge, a world-renowned legacy, rich culture, and geographical position between east and west. These elements can play a huge role in the development of the Arab publishing sector when we use innovative strategies to benefit from them.

It’s important to note that like all publishing markets, there are many challenges facing the publishing sector in the Arab world, but I truly believe that the global pandemic is a golden opportunity for Arab publishers to pause and hit the re-set button. The world of publishing before the pandemic is not the same during and after this pandemic. Consumer behaviors changed very fast and, therefore, it’s important that Arab publishers adapt their mindset and skills to the new normal to be able to operate at a global level. I also believe that adding more diversity to the decision-making table by promoting more women, young talents and other minorities to leadership positions will fuel more innovation and create new possibilities for the publishing sector in this region.

* How do you evaluate the reality of the publishing sector in Saudi Arabia, and what are your expectations for its future?

** Culture and knowledge have always been a binding force in Saudi Arabia, which have laid the blueprint for a strong foundation that has been integral to the advancement of Arab culture and in elevating it to a prominent position, globally. This means that the Saudi publishing sector is equipped with many inherent strengths vital for its growth and success.

Currently, the Kingdom is passing through a cultural transformation movement at all levels that is strengthening the cultural ecosystem. Led by dynamic creative young minds, the positive ripples of this cultural renaissance are being felt across all creative sectors, especially the field of publishing. We expect this movement to lead to strong support for Saudi publishers to enable them to contribute to the sector’s development journey.

We believe that any development, whether economic or social, must be accompanied by cultural development. Culture flourishes and enriches lives through books, which carries knowledge from all parts of the world, and showcases our unique and rich cultural identities to the rest of the world.

* The publishing sector faces many challenges at the local and global levels. What do you foresee as the future of the publishing sector in light of current realities?

** It’s important to note that the publishing sector is resilient and adaptable. The covid global pandemic is not the first crisis we have been through and will not be the last one. But like any other creative sector, publishing has grown and flourished by adapting and innovating to remain meaningful with changing times. The adoption of new products and platforms like e-publishing, print-on-demand and audiobooks, online and social media marketing, etc., are just few examples.

This widespread adoption of emerging technologies in the book industry is in tandem with the current thinking and market trends. Therefore, the future of the sector cannot be decided just by looking at the immediate impact of the pandemic or any single event alone. Instead, its development will always reflect the changing nature of readership and distribution channels.

Whatever the prevailing challenges, books will exist, novels and poems will come to life, philosophical and social theories will take root, and human passion will continue to be the source and driving force for creativity. We are confident that the current realities of the publishing sector will lay the foundation for great new ideas that will mark the transformation of global publishing. The important thing is that we believe in this, and continuously work towards strengthening partnerships with publishers to help them advance this great industry.

* What are some of the most prominent steps and initiatives that you have taken to develop global publishing?

** At IPA, our forward-looking strategy is founded on the values of partnership, solidarity and exchange. As part of the Association’s post-Covid recovery efforts, we organised a series of field visits to various pandemic-hit markets around the world where we listened to the on-ground realities of publishers and learnt about their unique challenges and circumstances.

Through these visits, we were able to formulate a comprehensive overview about the future of the sector and what it takes to grow and sustain it. First, IPA's landmark report, From Response to Recovery: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Publishing Industry, was published in November 2020 and was the first-of-its-kind offering practical intelligence based on interviews with 33 senior global industry executives.

We are also working with all our members to launch the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience (InSPIRe) Plan, also known as the InSPIRe Plan. At this point, we have completed the InSPIRe Charter, which has been signed so far by 43 global publishing trade associations, book fairs and other ecosystem players along with IPA’s 86 member nations. Through the charter, its signatories have pledged their solidarity to IPA’s vision on creating a more resilient post-pandemic industry via broad-spectrum engagement of stakeholders.

Another significant development is the IPA Academy which will be launched as an international platform to train and empower members of the association to accelerate their digital transformation and keep pace with the development.

During the pandemic, the industry has consistently demonstrated its tenacity, and with the birth of such initiatives by IPA, we are certain that the qualitative outcomes and emergence of innovative ideas will boost the sector's recovery journey and development.

October 11, 2021
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