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In the land of Ganesa, Michiel Kolman, the President of the International Publishers Association (IPA), issued a rallying cry concerning GAFMA at the opening of the 32nd International Publishers Congress in Delhi. But GAFMA is not another Indian god – it stands for Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, whose growing influence Kolman alluded to, even if he did not mention any individual company by name.
“As an industry we are always looking to the future, always innovating – but we need to shout about it more,” he told some 300 delegates from more than 70 countries, including a 20-strong contingent from the Emirates Publishers Association in Sharjah, UAE. “We need to shout about what we accomplish. At the moment it is the tech companies that are framing many of the questions. We need to start framing the questions. To use a cricketing analogy, we need to start hitting some sixes, we need to get on the front foot”.
The UK’s Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury and a past IPA president, was more direct in the Global Leaders Forum that followed. “The five biggest publishers today are Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple,” he said. “Our future is about the protection of copyright. I do not think these five see it through the same lens as we do. We have a challenge – in order to protect copyright we have to educate the biggest five publishers in the world, and not just talk to each other.”
His fellow past IPA president, YS Chi of Elsevier, agreed, but noted that “those five have a different business model. They take other people’s content. They do not have to validate content like we do. The question is: are we going to play their game, or are we going to try and educate them?”
But if this sounded like ‘tech’ was being given a bad name, it wasn’t the whole story. The opportunities presented by technology – particularly in the field of education – were mentioned by a number of speakers. Amitabh Kant, CEO of the National Institution for Transforming India, talked passionately about technology’s role in ‘adaptive learning’ – how pupils can be “tracked technologically and uplifted”. Matthew Kissner, Chairman of John Wiley US, noted how “technology can tell us how a student is learning – it brings us much closer to end users”.
This year’s conference marks a return to the Indian capital after 25 years and all delegates must note how in 1992 GAFMA’s global presence was nothing like it is today.
The Congress opened with the lighting of the Ceremonial Lamp which represents the spreading of the light of knowledge. It also powerfully symbolises that which unites everyone in the room: the dissemination of that knowledge through books in whatever format. Charkin alluded to this commonality when he called for more “cultural intelligence”.
“We need this between old and young, between one country and another, between one religion and another. We have to understand how we work, globally and internationally. We have to understand our differences and similarities – but we all have a core which is the same because we are all human beings.”