Frontlist | Conference spotlights global book industry post-COVID

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The 10th Publishers Conference kicked off on Sunday in the lead up to the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair. The three-day conference gathered 317 professionals and 33 speakers in what is a first of its kind global gathering of industry professionals since the pandemic led to cancellations of some of the biggest book events internationally this year.

The formal proceedings of the conference organized by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), begun with Ahmed bin Rakkad Al-Ameri, chairman of SBA, saying: “Our meeting today is an exceptional one because we are among global pioneers dedicated to developing a brand new model of hybrid events, until the coronavirus ends.”

He said the event is being held to ensure that the publishing industry can continue to strengthen their response to the current crisis and work collectively to fortify the book industry’s future in the post-COVID-19 era.

Virtually addressing the attendees, Perminder Mann, CEO of Bonnier Books UK, said: “With several brick and mortar shops closed during lockdown for a considerable part of this year, and footfall lower than normal, we do understand that the book retail landscape will be quite different starting next year,” she said.

“For the UK market, things have been quite okay for most parts of the business this year, while the global book shop sector and our global publishing partners have taken a hit, especially territories across South East Asia, India, and Latin America. However, it’s been encouraging to see signs of early recovery, particularly in the US markets,” she said

The inaugural proceedings were followed by the first panel session of the conference. Titled “Global publishing spotlight: Surviving and thriving during a pandemic,” the discussions were led by Lisa Milton, executive publisher, HQ and Mills and Boon (UK); Nicolas Roche, managing director, BIEF (France); Ravi DeeCee, CEO, DC Books (India); Sherif Bakr, director, Dar Al-Arabi for Publishing and Distribution (Egypt); and moderated by Jacks Thomas, international book industry consultant (UK).

“It is fantastic to be at a book fair to be honest. We’ve missed most of them this year,” said Thomas to her audience, adding: “At a time when change has accelerated at a phenomenal pace, and we’ve been catapulted into different ways of sharing knowledge, communicating and doing business, the big question is how will publishers find stability and continuity in this new normal.”

In the second session titled “Publishing pivoting for the future: How virtual events and social media are connecting publishers and readers across the globe,” moderated by Jason Bartholomew, CEO, Midas (UK); panelists Gvantsa Jobava, editor/international relations manager, Intelekti Publishing (Georgia); Judith Curr, president and publisher, HarperOne, Amistad, and Rayo — HarperCollins (US); and Khoula Al-Mujaini, general coordinator, SIBF; threw light on successful campaigns being organized by publishers and authors in their respective markets to connect with readers.

The third and final talk of the day, “Books in translation: Finding new audiences,” engaged publishing professionals from across three markets in the Middle East and North Africa region to discuss the current state of the translations business in the post-pandemic era. The discussions led by Hassan Yaghi, editorial director, Dar Al-Tanweer (Lebanon); Marcia Lynx Qualey, founding editor, ArabLit (Morocco); Sandra Tamele, founder and editor, Editora Trinta Zero Nove (Mozambique); and moderated by Trevor Naylor, associate director, AUC Press/AUC Bookstores/Rights (Egypt), highlighted the need to boost the tools and resources available to the translations industry in the region, not only to tap into the region’s untapped commercial potential but also promote cross-cultural understanding by making Arabic literature more readily available to readers around the world.

The 11-day Sharjah International Book Fair will open on Wednesday with a hybrid online-offline cultural program.

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