Syndicat national de l'édition

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Trois questions à… Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Présidente de l’UIE (français et anglais)

À l’occasion de la publication du rapport d’activité 2020-2021 du SNE, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Présidente de l’Union internationale des éditeurs (UIE), présente le rôle de cette organisation internationale et revient sur les conséquences de la crise sanitaire sur l’édition mondiale.

La version longue de cet entretien est disponible ci-dessous en anglais. 

 

Quel est le rôle de l’Union Internationale des Éditeurs (UIE) et quelles sont ses missions principales ? A quels enjeux et défis de lobbying international est-elle confrontée ?

Avec 86 membres dans 71 pays, l’UIE est le plus grand groupement mondial d’associations d’éditeurs nationales, régionales et spécialisées. Sa mission est de défendre les intérêts du secteur de l’édition à travers la protection du droit d’auteur et de la liberté de publier ainsi que par la promotion de l’alphabétisation et de la lecture. Depuis sa création en 1896 à Paris et 125 années au service du monde de l’édition, beaucoup de choses ont changé mais nos objectifs restent les mêmes.

Quelles sont les conséquences de la crise sanitaire actuelle sur l’édition au niveau international ?

L’édition française a bien rebondi, mais la reprise dans d’autres marchés comme le Brésil, l’Égypte, le Kenya ou l’Indonésie est entravée par une diminution du pouvoir d’achat et une dévaluation monétaire. D’une manière générale, les éditeurs des 71 pays où nos membres sont présents font face aux mêmes défis liés à la pandémie. L’augmentation du recours à l’apprentissage en ligne et aux formats numériques oblige les éditeurs à s’adapter à l’évolution des comportements des consommateurs. L’annulation de salons du livre et la fermeture des librairies ont fait chuter les revenus, obligeant les éditeurs à développer leur offre en ligne. Pour les petites et moyennes entreprises, cette évolution nécessite l’adoption de nouveaux modèles commerciaux axés sur le numérique.

Vous êtes la deuxième femme à occuper le poste de Présidente de l’UIE depuis sa création et vous êtes originaire de Sharjah : quelles sont les priorités de votre mandat ?

Une faible diversité et un manque d’inclusion caractérisent depuis trop longtemps l’industrie de l’édition. Mon élection en tant que présidente de l’UIE signale l’amorce d’un changement aussi bien dans le monde de l’édition qu’au sein de notre association. Karine Pansa, notre vice-présidente, est une éditrice brésilienne, de sorte que, pour la première fois, deux femmes se succèderont à la tête de l’UIE. Je tiens à m’assurer que cette dynamique se poursuive et que l’UIE montre l’exemple à travers ses actes.

A votre avis, quel est le rôle de la lecture et du livre aujourd’hui dans nos sociétés ?

La lecture est indispensable dans nos vies ; cela ne se réduit pas à la capacité de lire et écrire, mais recouvre également la maîtrise du numérique, la capacité à comprendre et analyser avec un esprit critique toutes formes d’informations (médias, culture, santé, etc.).
Des études notent toutefois une baisse de la lecture récréative dans certains pays. Il s’agit d’un défi mondial pour notre secteur. Je pense que des relations plus solides entre éditeurs, bibliothèques, enseignants, entreprises technologiques, régulateurs, fournisseurs de services logistiques… nous permettront de définir collectivement des stratégies adaptées au monde actuel en vue de favoriser l’émergence des lecteurs de demain. La lecture est une compétence essentielle pour apprendre, travailler et vivre pleinement. Elle a un grand impact sur le développement personnel et est déterminante pour l’avenir de nos sociétés.

 

English version

 What are IPA’s role and main missions? What are the issues and challenges that international lobbying is facing? 

Founded in 1896, the International Publishers Association (IPA) is the world’s largest federation of national, regional, and specialist publishers’ associations. Our membership includes 86 members in 71 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. Representing publishers associations and their members — from small and medium-sized, independent publishers to global publishing leaders — IPA is the global publishing industry’s most influential advocate.

This year is very important for IPA since we are celebrating our 125th year of serving as the voice of global publishing. Since its foundation, IPA’s work has been rooted in promotion and defense of copyright, freedom to publish, and fostering literacy and reading. As a membership-based professional association, these pillars guide the demand-driven services we provide to members, whether it’s supporting our members in national consultations on copyright laws, advocating for publishers in peril, building multi-stakeholder partnerships to promote literacy and reading, or providing news and industry analysis to help members innovate and grow.

In my view, there is an urgent need for IPA to lead the global publishing community in coming together to reassert the value of the publishing industry. The global pandemic revealed that, despite publishing’s long-acknowledged benefits to humanity, many governments around the world still view our industry as ‘non-essential.’ Publishing being labeled non-essential in this time of uncertainty, where the power of books is most critical, was a very important wake up call for us as an industry. To reassert the value of publishing, we need to do much more as an industry to engage policymakers, leverage partnerships, raise awareness via social media, and engage key constituents in other innovative ways.

In the near term, reasserting the value of publishing will involve ensuring the publishing industry receives sufficient support to get back on its feet. For the study I led for IPA in 2020, From Response to Recovery: The Impact of Covid-19 on the Global Publishing Industry, we spoke to national publishers associations in more than 30 countries, and only in 11 countries did governments provide targeted, publishing-industry specific stimulus programs. France’s €230 million in assistance earmarked for supporting the publishing industry is very commendable, but, in most global publishing markets, publishers, unfortunately were left to fend for themselves. Even in France, increased budgets for libraries and vouchers for buying books could further boost liquidity in the publishing ecosystem to ensure a full recovery and incentivize publishers to implement digital transformations to adapt to evolving consumer trends.  

In putting publishing back atop the agenda globally, we need IPA members like the French Publishers Association to support other members in enhancing their advocacy capabilities. Many remain far less prepared than the French Publishers Association in engaging governments on a range of publishing-related interest issues, such as the value of publishing, reading and literacy, taxation, and digital piracy. The French Publishers Association has been very effective in lobbying at the national and European level, and I think there is a lot IPA members can learn from its approach.

In addition to continuing to support IPA members through the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience (InSPIRe) plan, an industry-wide consultation aimed at identifying ecosystem partnerships that further enhance the resilience of the publishing industry, I am also working with the Executive Committee on a number of other initiatives to advance the IPA’s advocacy priorities. These include a lobbying toolkit, stepping up engagement with key stakeholders via op-eds, speeches, explainer videos and whitepapers to make IPA’s policy positions known more widely and further demonstrate issue leadership, and forging innovative partnerships, like the African Publishing Innovation Fund, that support publishing innovation at the edge of policy and practice.

 

What are the consequences of the current health crisis on international publishing? 

While France’s publishing ecosystem has demonstrated its resilience by staging an impressive recovery, unfortunately, the story further afield is not as positive. The relatively quick recovery of France’s publishing industry needs to be contrasted with the experiences of publishing markets, like Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia, where consumer purchasing power and currency devaluation have complicated recovery and will likely lead to protracted recoveries.

In this environment of uneven recovery, it is becoming clear that small, independent publishers, which make up the bulk on the publishing industry globally, are likely to require more support in adapting to evolving industry dynamics. And some countries will be slower to recover than others. However, across the more than seventy countries represented by IPA members, publishers, both big and small, collectively face several common challenges as a consequence of the pandemic.

Understanding Evolving Consumer Behavior: With the shift to online learning and spikes in reader interest in digital formats, publishers are under pressure to understand which evolving consumer behaviors will persist and how to respond. There remains a lack of market intelligence on accelerated consumer behaviors across the entire book publishing value chain with publishers left to ponder open questions like: how are readers discovering titles now? where will readers prefer to buy books? will pandemic-accelerated digitization trends in education persist? How can surging digital piracy be held in check? Through the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience (InSPIRe) plan, the IPA is taking initial steps to understand what the ‘new normal’ means for global publishing and how best the IPA can support its members and partners in monitoring and responding to evolving consumer behavior.  

Upskilling for Organizational Resilience: For small and medium-sized publishers, the cancellation of book fairs and closure of book shops, caused sudden, sharp decreases in revenues. As a response, many of these small and medium-sized publishers were forced to pivot online, some for the first time, while lacking many of the organizational competencies to drive successful digital transformations. I think an emerging problem we face as an industry is that many of the small, emerging independent trade publishers and booksellers which take chances on diverse voices and titles may disappear if they are unable to adapt. Publishers require support in adopting operational resilience capabilities including employee upskilling, implementing digital transformations, managing the impacts of increased input costs, adopting digital marketing and sales strategies, reducing supply chain risk, and diversifying revenue streams. To support these at-risk publishers, the IPA is currently developing the publishing industry’s first global online academy to promote experience, knowledge, and skills sharing between its members.   

Publishers Association Innovation: In weathering the global pandemic, Associations found innovation in adversity by transitioning analogue book fairs to digitally‒enabled events, offering experiential online activities, establishing online marketplaces, and introducing other innovations such as monetizing online training. These changes to the traditional model provided an interesting pilot of alternative revenue generation strategies which perhaps provide a replicable approach to make publishers associations less financially dependent on membership dues. In the same way that publishers need to pivot and build digital competences to adapt to the new normal, I think national publishers associations will also need to adapt their services. In particular, there appears to be significant opportunity for national publishers associations to digitize national book fairs, develop online transactional marketplaces for members, and monetize supply chain information sharing to develop alternative non-dues revenue while supporting broader publishing market digitization trends. I also see room for innovation providing alternatives to international book fairs and rights trading events in response to ongoing safety concerns about travel and increasing acceptance of doing business internationally online.

 

You are the second woman to hold the position of IPA President since its creation, you are a Sharjah native: with these specific traits, what are the priorities of your mandate?

Lack of diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry is an endemic industry-wide problem that has persisted far too long. It is true – I am the only the 2nd female President in the 125 years that IPA has been in existence. However, I believe social change is a result of intentional acts of people, and the time for us to act is now.

My Presidency is a reflection of the changing face of publishing, and the IPA’s Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee is also driving the diversity and inclusion agenda globally through their work. It is also a reflection of the way the IPA itself has changed. The current Vice-President is Karine Pansa, from Brazil, which means the IPA will have back-to-back female presidents for the first time. I believe this shows that the rate of change is accelerating. During my presidency I want to ensure this momentum continues to build, so that the IPA leads by example and sets its own standards for the global publishing industry to follow. 

 

According to you, what is the role of reading and books nowadays in our societies?

Reading is a prerequisite for success in life. In today’s societies, literacy – not just reading and writing but digital, media, informational, and other forms of literacy – are critical skills for learning, working, and living. A growing number of studies show that reading has a significant impact on personal growth and development, determining the future of children and young people, and national development. Given the benefits of reading, we would expect to see rates of reading for pleasure to have increased dramatically as countries seek to instill reading as a national value to position their citizens for success and individuals recognize its importance.

Yet, in a number of countries reading for pleasure has been on the decline. In the UK, which fields annual literacy surveys, for example, young people’s level of reading enjoyment has shown a continuous decline with the number of young people reading daily hitting an all-time low in 2019. While reading by young people during the UK’s pandemic lockdown did increase, it remains unclear if these trends will persist. OECD research has also found that daily reading for enjoyment has fallen in the majority of member countries since 2000. The decline of reading for pleasure was further documented in the IPA’s recent meta-analysis of global reading surveys.

For us as publishers, and also as societies, the widespread decline in reading for pleasure we are witnessing globally prompts the question: how do we create the readers of the future? While I don’t believe the global pandemic has changed the significant importance of reading and books, I do believe the shift to online learning, increased interest in digital formats, and evolving digital discovery, purchasing, and reading trends will alter how we have traditionally thought about promoting a culture of reading for pleasure. At IPA, we recognize the significant need for industry-wide cooperation to understand what the ‘new normal’ means for the entire publishing ecosystem and how this might affect programs, campaigns, and policy work on promoting reading cultures. While much has seemingly changed in recent times, I believe a few foundations for cultivating a reading culture will remain constant.

An important factor in developing reading for pleasure is choice –  the ability to self-select reading materials that are of personal interest and which readers can identify with. In my view, the global pandemic, due to its inordinate impact on smaller publishers and booksellers, has the potential to decrease bibliodiversity and limit choices. I think there is also a real risk of diversity and inclusion potentially taking a back seat to other organizational issues in this time of industry uncertainty with the unintended consequence of further complicating how diverse voices can find a market. Unfortunately, these challenges may result in books becoming less inclusive.

Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading, and I believe these factors are even more important now. Having access to books at home is a strong predictor of reading achievement and increases children’s tendency to engage in independent reading. However, school closures, which forced children to learn independently, may redefine the role parents play in literacy development. A few unanswered questions are: will parents’ unprecedented exposure to their children’s learning redefine parental involvement in reading development and how will family engagement in education affect the role of teachers and schools in developing early childhood reading skills?

Declining trends in reading for pleasure is a global issue which warrants cooperation and discussion by the whole publishing industry. However, I believe the alliances of necessity, which involve strengthened publisher relationships with libraries, teachers, technology companies, regulators, logistics providers, and other publishing stakeholders –  reinforced by the industry to weather the global pandemic – provide a basis for us to collectively define strategies fit for the times to create the readers of the future.

 

Photo credits : Ivana Maglione

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