The Emirate of Sharjah, UAE, welcomed an incredible assembly of global publishing industry experts, literary agents and thought leaders during the three-day event: The Publishers Conference. The 13th edition of the conference offered a unique space for professionals across the publishing landscape to not just examine some of the most significant industry challenges; but also hold dialogue focusing solutions, innovation and most importantly celebrating gender equality and diversity.
One of the pivotal points of discussion at the conference was the emphasis on fighting fake news, dis- and mis-information that can pivot socio-political realities the world over. The written word has a critical role to play when it comes to world politics, diplomacy, equality, social justice as well as humanitarianism. With the influx of unfiltered and even compromised content across the physical and digital realms, powered by hate and prejudiced algorithms, public opinion has undergone a massive polarization.
In her opening address, Her Excellency, Sheikha Bodour Al Qassimi, Chairperson Sharjah Book Authority, drew attention to the urgent need of the publishing industry to reclaim the vital role it has played for centuries as it stands “at the gates of history.”
“In our pursuit of progress, it is essential that we remain committed to our core belief in the power of the written word, and the role it plays in bringing us together, or dividing us. To continue delivering on our promise, the publishing industry has to adapt to the rapid changes of our time. We are at a unique intersection of tradition and innovation, and must navigate this exciting landscape of constant disruption,” she observed.
She further said: ““At a time when misinformation, disinformation, fake news, cancel culture, and algorithms dominate public discourse and create fake bubbles, publishers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to restore faith in humanity and present verified, well-researched content to shape a future where truth triumphs over falsehood. In an age where opinions are formed and shared at lightning speed, it is critical that publishers continue to provide a solid foundation of truth upon which individuals can build their understanding of complex issues. This is a sacred mission of publishers, upon which we built our credibility with our readers and communities, and we must protect it at all costs, no matter what the trends or circumstances are.”
The event held a series of insightful conversations on various aspects of publishing, beginning with Guest of Honour at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) this year, Yoon Chul Ho, President of the Korean Publishers Association who shared invaluable insights from the Korean publishing landscape.
In discussion with Porter Anderson, Editor in Chief of Publishing Perspectives, Núria Cabutí Brull, CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial shed light on publishing also focusing on Artificial Intelligence, remarking: “It is quite obvious that Artificial Intelligence will have a significant impact on the publishing market. However, it is still too early to fully understand the nature of this impact. What is crucial in this context is that this technology will offer many opportunities on various fronts, especially with translation, creativity, as well as editing, and will play an important role in empowering and enhancing the publishing process. That said, human creativity is still the most important thing, and won’t be replaced by machines.”
While Cabuti’s comments are encouraging as far as AI’s role in the publishing industry is concerned, what the sector still needs to acknowledge and perhaps fully realize is that it (AI) is a game changer. True, human creative endeavours ‘may’ not be replaced by machines, but it is a revolution unlike any other (industrial) humans have witnessed in the past.
The potential and power of emerging tech is immense, early adaptors and adopters are bound to benefit. These thought-leaders will indeed lead the way in the future of work, the future of publishing with the likes of Metaverse, augmented and immersive content taking precedence.
This was also a point of discussion at one of the sessions held during the day. Facilitated by Yoda Press Founder and PublisHER board member Arpita Das, the conversation revolved around challenges female publishers across the globe face. One of the suggestions put forward was upskilling especially in the field of tech for the future of work. Arpita also spoke about the importance of mentorship for women and how being mindful of the overall wellbeing of your team and other stakeholders is beneficial for the entire creative and publishing process. Female publishers from Rwanda, France, the UK, Azerbaijan, Egypt and more also lamented about the lack of funding and investment for women in the sector. Arpita also emphasized about the power of collaboration with participants citing incredible examples especially from South Asia and India-Pakistan collaborations.
Conversations also explored the expansion of publishing genres and formats, including the emerging market of graphic novels and audiobooks for children. Furthermore, the roundtable sessions encompassed a wide spectrum of subjects, including the art of pitching both adult and children’s books for translation, navigating the intricacies of book-to-screen adaptations, the nuances of contract negotiations, and the evolving landscape of digital business models.
As part of the conference agenda, a keynote discussion was held between Ian Chapman, CEO & Publisher of Simon & Schuster UK & International; and Jo Henry, Managing Director of BookBrunch, centring on the evolving landscape of global publishing,
Winners of the second edition of the Sharjah Rights Connection Award were also announced during the ceremony. Guests were also witness to WIPO’s ABC Accessibility in Publishing Award, organised by the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), marking its debut in the Middle East at the Sharjah Publishers Conference.
HE Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, CEO of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), accompanied by Mansour Al Hassani, Director of Publishers Services Department presented the Sharjah Rights Connection Award for the two categories. Elina Harutyunyan, Head of Publishing at Antares Publishing in Armenia, was presented the award in the individual professionals selling translation rights in publishing houses category. Yasmina Jraissati, founder and director of the Raya Agency in Lebanon was presented with the independent professionals working with agencies specialized in selling book rights to publishers and licensors category.
WIPO’s ABC Accessibility in Publishing Awards featured three categories with the Publishers Award going to Hegas from Sweden, the Accessible Reading Award being received by Chetana Charitable Trust in India, and finally a Special Commendation Award being awarded to UAE’s Kalimat Foundation.
In a LinkedIn post, HE Sheikha Bodour wrote: “I’m honoured that the Accessible Books Consortium has awarded a Special Commendation to the Kalimat Foundation’s ‘Ara Initiative’. Ara supports blind and visually impaired children by facilitating production of accessible Arabic content, to help them learn and integrate better into society. Its goals reflect the mandate of the Marrakesh Treaty, under which Kalimat Foundation in 2022 became the first Emirati non-profit to secure exceptional publishing rights to reproduce, create and distribute accessible books for visually and print impaired children.”
HE Sheikha Bodour also launched PublisHer Excellence Awards in recognition of exceptional female publishers. According to its website: “PublisHer is a call to action by female publishing leaders to address their industry’s entrenched gender imbalances and drive an international agenda for change. PublisHer is an empowered community seeking creative, viable solutions to the many gender-based inequities that have long characterized world publishing and the other creative industries”
Speaking at the Conference ahead of Sharjah International Book Fair, the PublisHer and Kalimat Group founder said: “In my experience, women are very good at forming support groups and lifting each other up — despite the tropes that say otherwise. Think of the PublisHer Excellence Awards as an extension of that support — we want to celebrate, elevate, and encourage women who cut their own paths and light the way forward through their resilience, ingenuity, and vision.”
The PublisHer Excellence Awards have a three-fold mission to celebrate women’s professional achievements, champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, and promote professional development.
They fall into three categories:
Lifetime Achievement Award
For a trailblazing publishing doyenne (minimum 20-year career) who has made a significant and lasting impact on the industry.
Emerging Leader Award
For a rising publishing star (aged 35 or less) who has demonstrated exceptional leadership, big-picture thinking, and the power to drive positive change.
For any woman responsible for an innovative contribution to the publishing industry, such as storytelling and content curation, editorial leadership, management strategies, company culture, and marketing campaigns etc.
Nominations will be open until 15 January 2024, after which a PublisHer Excellence Awards jury will draw up a shortlist before selecting the winners.