Regional seminars are a relatively recent initiative for the International Publishers Association (IPA). They have organized two in Africa, one in Lagos and one in Nairobi, and have announced a further conference for African publishers to be held in 2020 in Marrakesh. The Arab world, a region that has seen significant innovation in recent years, was the latest place in the spotlight when the IPA recently organized its first seminar dedicated to the area. The two-day event was held at the end of September in Amman in conjunction with the Union of Jordanian Publishers. It brought together key players, policy makers, and thought leaders from around the region to find solutions to the most pressing challenges faced by the publishing industry.
There is a rich publishing tradition in the Arab world and a long history of publishers, booksellers, and librarians supporting scholarship and literary creativity. There’s also been plenty of innovation in recent years. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates with its thriving book fairs and service hubs like Sharjah Publishing City have led the way with investments aimed at modernizing the region’s industrial infrastructure, so the IPA seminar came at a time of significant energy and imagination in Arab publishing. With that said, there is no shortage of serious challenges facing Arab publishers, many of which were addressed by the Amman program. Literacy levels and access to books have been a particular difficulty for a region unsettled by conflicts and supporting large numbers of refugees. Traditional bookstores have been declining in number and libraries in the Arab world have often been under-resourced. Piracy of printed and digital content continues to be a problem, as does the absence of any collective licensing infrastructure in the region. These and other challenges, such as finding ways to encourage more of a reading culture among the region’s young people, fostering more local publishing, and supporting freedom to publish, were addressed by delegates from all over the Middle East as well as by experts from Europe and the United States.
The problems faced by the region are significant and none of the attendees in Amman saw easy or quick fixes at a time when political, economic, and social upheavals are likely to persist or, in some places, intensify. Nevertheless, there are signs of positive change. In the area of copyright and collective management, for example, we have seen stakeholders in Algeria, Lebanon, and the UAE looking actively at the creation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (RROs) and at ways of encouraging content licensing, efforts supported by organizations such as IFRRO, WIPO, and Copyright Clearance Center. There are dynamic, entrepreneurial, and innovative publishers at work throughout the Arab world, and there’s a growing awareness in some of the region’s governments of the need to support them and to help build an ecosystem in which they can thrive. Events such as the one in Amman are about showcasing successes, sharing experiences, and looking for ways the industry can come together to solve problems for the future.