The coronavirus pandemic has tested the mettle of the global publishing industry. As major book fairs were cancelled, supply chains disrupted and worldwide sales dropped, publishers scuffled to find a way to adapt to this gruelling new reality.
However, reactions and responses to the health and economic crisis were anything but uniform, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), said during her opening speech at the Seoul International Book Fair.
Last November, the IPA released a report detailing the different ways in which markets responded to the pandemic. The report drew on interviews with more than 30 senior publishing executives from different parts of the globe.
“This report is an interesting reference for all of us,” Sheikha Bodour said via video conference at the event, which took place between September 8 and 12. “Not only because it consolidates many lessons from around the world, but because it also demonstrates that the reaction and responses to the pandemic were not the same and were, in many cases, uneven.”
Each market responded to the pandemic according to the unique challenges it faced. Some did better than others and were able to bounce back quicker. Others were not so lucky.
“In South Korea, the government hasn’t imposed a full lockdown since the start of the pandemic, so while educational publishing sales were certainly affected because educational publishers couldn’t sell to students properly, overall you were still able to maintain some business continuously,” Sheikha Bodour said.
The founder of the Emirates Publishers Association emphasised that this was not the case for many publishers around the world.
The severity of lockdown restrictions were not the only barometer of how different markets fared. “Many other factors came into play such as a market's digital infrastructure, publishers’ digital readiness, government stimulus and support, digital piracy legislation and reading culture,” she said.
While some countries adopted sprawling economy-wide stimulus packages, governments largely overlooked the publishing and creative sectors, which were not initially deemed as essential. Exceptions included the UAE, Egypt, Morocco, New Zealand, Russia, UK, France, Germany and Canada, all of which doled out cultural and publishing stimulus packages.
“Through our continuous engagement with our members worldwide, we now have a much wider perspective about [the pandemic’s] impact on the future of our industry,” Sheikha Bodour said. “In my opinion, one of the most important lessons we’ve learnt is that the future is approaching fast, which requires all publishers to have an open mind towards change in order to become more resilient. It also requires collaboration between publishers worldwide and between publishers and their traditional and non-traditional publishing ecosystems.”
Sheikha Bodour said the IPA is now spearheading a global initiative to create the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience Plan, also known as the Inspire Plan.
“Through this plan, we aim to strengthen solidarity and collaboration within the global publishing ecosystems so that it can adapt to industry changes in tandem,” she said.
As part of the plan, the IPA is launching an online learning portal, which aims to bridge the skills gap identified in the association’s From Response to Recovery report. Called the IPA Academy, the portal will offer training in multiple languages to help publishers improve their skills in e-book and audio book production, online selling and social media marketing.
“This is something which will be especially useful to educational publishers who were severely impacted during this difficult period,” Sheikha Bodour said.
“I believe that strong and diverse collaboration through global partnerships will become an integral part of our industry as we adapt to the new realities of knowledge and technology-based economies.
“As we adapt and innovate, we must continue conversations with governments and policymakers to assert our value as a critical industry, and to seek their support to defend copyrights by fighting the upsurge in digital piracy through robust legislation and up-to-date enforcement mechanisms. I am sure the next few years will be an interesting chapter in our industry. It's a chapter we're all writing together now.”