Watch: International Booksellers Conference starts in Sharjah; calls for sustainability in industry

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi highlights environmental pressures, material shortages, hyper-inflation of energy and other costs of business during the opening

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Published: Tue 2 May 2023, 12:19 AM

“One trend that needs our immediate attention is sustainability, most importantly the impact of the book industry on the environment. It is also an opportunity to raise discussions on the book industry‘s sustainability and propose initiatives that could radically change the way we produce and distribute books, while at the same time giving us the opportunity to lead this change and be part of the process. No single publisher or bookseller or stakeholder from our ecosystem can face this challenge alone, which is why collaboration is more critical now than ever.”

This powerful message was delivered by Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, and Immediate Past President of International Publishers Association, highlighting environmental pressures, material shortages and hyper-inflation of energy and other costs of business during the opening of the Sharjah International Booksellers Conference, a pioneering event that is building upon the success of its inaugural event last year. Organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), the two-day conference brings together a host of prominent booksellers, publishers, authors, and industry luminaries from across the globe.

In a quest to uncover new opportunities, untangle complex issues, and chart a path for the future, the two-day event — a first-of-its-kind in the region, hosting more than 400 booksellers and distributors from 69 countries — is committed to enriching the publishing industry. With a goal to spark groundbreaking discussions on the state of the industry, the conference is an unparalleled platform for sharing knowledge, experiences, and expertise that will redefine the future of the publishing and bookselling industry.

The conference's opening day started with a keynote address from Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, and Immediate Past President of International Publishers Association, an inspiring welcome and introduction by HE Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, followed by a keynote conversation featuring the ex-CEO of Penguin Random House, Markus Dohle and Porter Anderson of Publishing Perspectives.

Sustainable and prosperous bookselling industry

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, emphasised the importance of collaboration and innovation in the book industry and the need for the industry to address sustainability and effects of the industry on the environment, also discussing the growing trend of generative artificial intelligence and its potential to bring radical changes to the way books are written, published, and consumed.

The Kalimat Group CEO and Founder, and Immediate Past President of International Publishers Association, stressed the importance of staying ahead of the curve and finding

ways to strengthen the industry and its processes, as well as unleashing the creative power within teams and inviting thought-leaders from different sectors to help the industry look at things differently. Emphasising the need to challenge biases in order to continuously learn and evolve, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi left the audience with an impactful and motivational message, saying, “I truly believe that we are at a historic moment in our industry, and through consistent collaboration, our ability to innovate and re-imagine our industry will help transform these challenges into opportunities."

Supporting and promoting the book industry

During his opening speech at the conference, HE Ahmed Al Amiri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, highlighted the commitment of the Emirate of Sharjah to supporting and promoting the book industry both regionally and globally thanks to the visionary leadership and directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad AlQasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. Al Amiri emphasised the significance of the challenges facing the publishing and creative industries and how these challenges could become opportunities. He encouraged collaboration between publishers and distributors from all over the world and stressed the importance of effective communication between all stakeholders in the industry.

Al Amiri also expressed his hope for fruitful discussions and successful outcomes at the conference. Expanding on this, the Chairman stated, "We recognize the significance of the role of booksellers and are fully aware of the main challenges hindering the development of your businesses... As such, we have organised this Booksellers Conference not only as a platform for dialogue and discussion but also as an excellent opportunity to present solutions, implement and support them, and transform successful experiences in this sector into practical lessons to learn from."

The state of global publishing

Markus Dohle, the first Chief Executive of Penguin Random House, participated in a keynote conversation with Porter Anderson, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, titled, “The State of Global Publishing, Bookselling, and the Promise of Emerging

Markets”. Dohle presented his views on the state of global publishing, bookselling, and the promise of emerging markets. “The future for publishers and booksellers is bright and full of opportunities, and the data shows it” Dohle exclaimed.

During their discussion, the two publishing heavy-weights expanded on the important points Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi made during her keynote address, and spoke about the impact of the industry on the world around us. As Porter Anderson put it, “We are not only the merchants of culture and words, but we are custodians of the future of knowledge sharing and our industry, and it is in our hands to make this industry a sustainable and responsible one for the future of our readers and our planet.”

Dohle identified six reasons why the publishing and bookselling industry is on the rise, making this arguably the best time in history for the industry. First, the global revenue for books is showing growth year-on-year. Second, the industry is experiencing stability and profitability in distribution models. Third, there is a healthy co-existence between digital and traditional formats of books. “What may surprise many is that 80% of the market is still in physical copies, even with the additional options we have these days. Print has prevailed, and has proven to be the “life insurance” for publishers and retailers,” Dohle stated. Fourth, the addressable audience is growing every year due to population growth and increasing literacy rates.

The fifth reason Dohle presented is that the biggest market for books and publishing is for children and young adults. This is a healthy sign for the future of publishing. Finally, Dohle noted the ever-growing industry of audiobooks. He explained that listening to stories is in our DNA and that the format enables people to multi-task, making it attractive to those with busy lifestyles.

In conclusion, according to Dohle, the data shows that the publishing and bookselling industry is thriving, and there are many opportunities for growth and success. Despite negative perceptions, the future looks bright.

The conference’s opening day also featured a series of workshops, each led by experts in their respective fields. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about data in the book industry, sustainability and the SDGs, consumer book buying behaviours, effective social media campaigns, bookshop design and marketing, along with many more engaging and informative sessions. The workshops provide an excellent platform for attendees to ask questions, exchange ideas, and learn from the experts. Attendees have the chance to network with other professionals in the industry and build new connections.


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