IPA President Richard Charkin highlights priorities


Richard Charkin, 30th January

Richard Charkin, the new President of the International Publishers Association (and former President of The Publishers Association) sets out his priorities for the organisation.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) is a federation of more than 60 national, regional and specialist publishers’ associations.  Based in Geneva, Switzerland, IPA represents the interests of the publishing industry in international fora and wherever publishers’ interests are at stake.

At the start of the year I became President of the International Publishers Association, succeeding YS Chi of Elsevier who served brilliantly and diligently for four years. This is a really hard act to follow and our whole industry should be grateful to YS for everything he has contributed (and, thank goodness, will continue to contribute) to IPA and to publishing in general.

With a membership comprising more than 60 organisations from more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas, being President of an organisation such as IPA is unlikely to be a bed of roses. It may well result in frustration with bureaucracies and the acronyms will baffle me.  So why accept the role? First and foremost, because the IPA, by complementing the amazing work being done by the many country-specific publisher associations, plays a vital role in ensuring that our authors and businesses are allowed to innovate, create and prosper.

Founded in 1896 in Paris by the leading publishers at the time, its initial aim was to ensure that countries throughout the world showed respect for copyright, and properly implemented the (then) new international copyright treaty, the “Berne Convention for the protection of literary and artistic works”. Until today, the promotion and defence of copyright is one of IPA’s main objectives.

Since its foundation, IPA also promotes and defends freedom to publish, a fundamental aspect of the human right to freedom of expression. Likewise, IPA stands for the promotion of literacy and reading, and has always been a meeting place for publishers to network, exchange views and conduct business.  Without these things I would not have had the immensely satisfying career in publishing I have enjoyed since 1972. So naturally, when publishing friends invited me to give something back to our industry I could not say no.

So, what are the issues I believe we need to address over the next two years?

  • Firstly, we have a recruitment challenge.  How can IPA be seen to represent the totality of global publishing when we have only 50 member countries out of a potential 200 countries in the world?
  • Secondly, how do we square our absolute commitment to freedom to publish with the activities of some of our member country governments whilst excluding some others?  There will be no easy answer or solution to this but the tragic events in Paris earlier this month demonstrate just how fragile the notion of freedom of speech is and how important it is that we all stand together when it is attacked.
  • Thirdly, how do we ensure that less wealthy member organisations have powerful voices in our deliberations and actions?  The IPA needs to ensure that all its members feel their voice has value and resonance.
  • We also need to ensure we avoid duplication of effort with national associations, regional and special interest associations.  The Publishers Association is the pre-eminent voice for publishers in the UK, utilising its knowledge of the UK market and political system for the benefit of its members. Likewise, we need to draw on the expertise of the Federation of European Publishers to ensure our interests are properly represented in Brussels.  IPA must complement and enhance this work.
  • How should we engage with quasi publishing technology entities such as Google, Amazon and others?  Both sides are seeing an increasing blurring in the distinctions between publishing companies and ‘tech’ companies.  A discussion needs to be had as to what form our relationship takes going forward.
  • How do we ensure that the undeniable benefits of copyright and commercial publishing activities are understood better by governments and consumers? Too often, what is of benefit to a publishing business is seen as contrary to what is in the best interests of consumers.  This fallacy needs to be tackled head on and governments encouraged to give greater consideration to the long term benefits to consumers of a prosperous publishing industry such as finding and nurturing new authors, harnessing new technology to improve the consumer experience and providing jobs and revenue for the economy as a whole.
  • Unfortunately, in many countries we are seeing a tendency towards government intervention and interference in our sector.  How do we convince governments that education and culture are best served by a vibrant competitive local publishing industry than any amount of nationalised activity?

These are challenging questions – but ones to which IPA’s team in Geneva and its Executive Committee are committed to finding answers.