A Level Playing Field: International Publishing Update 2006

The following is adapted from Ms. Cabanellas' address to the IPA in Frankfurt, October 6, 2006.

The International Publishers Association is a federation of national publishers associations, with some 76 members in 65 countries. Founded in 1896, it represents the interest of the publishing industry at international level, namely before United Nations organizations and wherever the interests of the publishing community are at stake.

Our two most important issues are copyright and the promotion and protection of freedom of expression. We support the interests of publishing as an economic sector and a cultural institution, as well as its role in literacy promotion. IPA is also involved in the development of international publishing standards and metadata projects, the most famous being the International ISBN Agency.

I would like to answer one question many have asked about the IPA's concerns: why are publishers taking an initiative in Internet issues? Aren't they too insignificant? Shouldn't we wait and see how the music and film industry are developing online? Shouldn't we just wait until iTunes starts selling books on a large scale?

To answer, let me ask you: how big do you think book publishing is compared to the other creative industries? Who is bigger, in commercial terms: the music, the film, the computer games industry, or book publishing? The answer may surprise you: Global book sales at publisher prices are about 69 billion Euros or US$88 billion.

This is more than four times what the music industry sells in recordings, both online and offline. It is also more than four times the size of the global sales of the computer games industry. It is twice the size of the global sales and rentals of film DVDs and video tapes. 1 In fact, book publishing sales are slightly bigger than all of them combined.

The above figures do not include newspaper publishing and they do not include large parts of the magazine industry. Many of you will say: well, ok, so you are big, but publishing is surely not very highly developed on the Internet!

Few will say this about newspaper publishers whose Web sites are among the most popular information sites. But unknown to many, large parts of traditional publishing have been using the Internet from the outset. In particular, the scientific, technical, and medical publishers are technologically very advanced.

The reason why we are underestimated in the electronic environment is because we are not visible. We are not visible because our business models largely rely on payment for access. We must protect our content. The most important reason for our invisibility is that much of our content cannot be easily found using search engines.

This is something we would like to change, but cautiously, in a marketplace that has clearly established rules and where all operate under the same terms and conditions.

I would like to raise a few other issues that are important to publishers: Firstly, piracy remains a chief concern for publishers in the developing world. Secondly, state publishing is putting publishers under pressure. How can we compete against governments who think it is more efficient if they write, print, and distribute books themselves?

The final issue I want to raise is the crisis of the book in large parts of the developing world. Africa, Latin America, and the Arab region account for less than 5% of the world's publishing output. Areas with great cultural richness, ethnic diversity, and important history are nearly white spaces in the publishing environment. This is a dangerous development. We are witnessing the collapse not only of the book industry but of the culture of reading, and the culture of books.

Many will say, well maybe books and reading are a historical medium and with the advent of radio, television, and the Internet, we no longer need a book culture. This is a very dangerous idea. Firstly the Internet remains based on literacy. Literacy precedes computer literacy. The book is, however, also a tool that teaches us abstract thinking, logic and a systematic discourse. It fosters our ability to get to the bottom of an issue. Literacy, in the sense of an active book culture, is deeply connected with the ability of a society to maintain a peaceful pluralistic internal and external dialogue.

For the book is at the heart of deep thought, the basis for substantial discourse across civilizations, across generations, even across historical ages. It is no wonder that India, the worlds largest democracy, is a society steeped in books. This is the kind of book policy all nations must aspire to.

No society can leapfrog into the information society without supporting a national book industry. The book is an essential tool.

Today the Internet brings the publishing world closer together. The books on offer at the Frankfurt Book Fair are all available every day, almost everywhere to almost everyone. There are also new competitors, namely the millions of people who write and upload information on the Internet. How can publishers react?

To be clear: I am not advocating protectionism. Quite the opposite—the Frankfurt Book Fair is proof how firmly international cultural exchange is woven into the very fabric of publishing. We love the free circulation of books and the free exchange of ideas and rights. But all need a fair opportunity. We, the small publishers can compete, provided there is a level playing field.

Smaller publishers must play to their strengths, which are flexibility, innovation, and our ability to take risks. We must be more creative and more reader-oriented. We must be quick, and know our markets well. And above all we must have quality and reliable content.

Small local publishers have a chance, but only if there is this level playing field. The same applies to competing with new services on the Internet. Personally, I am not afraid of the many excellent Web sites which provide content free of charge. They are simply other competitors. I can compete with them provided that we all play by the same rules.

On the Internet our market is quite different. We are now faced with new partners, such as the Internet booksellers, the online libraries, and the search engines. These relationships need to develop. Industries have their own cultures and we need to understand and adapt to the cultures of our new partners. Understanding means that both sides must try to step into each other's shoes. Such adaptation needs to go both ways.

1 Music: According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry global digital and physical sales of recorded music totaled US$ 21 billion in record companies' trade revenues (http://www.ifpi.org/site-content/library/worldsales2005-pr.pdf).

Film: Total sales and rentals of DVDs andvideo in the industrialized countries are around $45 billion (http://www.ivf-video.org/EuropeanOverview2004.pdf).

Games: The global market for consumer software (games) is $21 billion (http://www.elspa.com/docs/Fact_Card_01.pdf)

Ana Maria Cabanellas
President, International Publishers Association