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Solidarity among all parts of the book industry – from writers to booksellers – was the theme of International Publishing Association (IPA) president Bodour Al Qasimi address to the first international Booksellers Conference in Sharjah, UAE this week.

“Since the outset of the global pandemic, collaboration and solidarity emerged as the single most vital component in ensuring we remain resilient in the face of complex challenges,” she said.  “We learned, the hard way, that alone we can go faster, but together we can go further, as the African saying goes.”

She said that developing and sustaining a reading culture is a key pillar for growth in the book industry, and “it is on everyone’s agenda at a global level – everyone from publishers to booksellers, from libraries to authors and schools. But we all know too well that creating a reading culture in any given market is not an easy task.. It requires robust national strategies, much persistence, and most importantly, strong collaboration between all stakeholders for the long term.”

A few days later, the same message of solidarity came from Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of Germany’s Holzbrinck Publishing Group, owners of Macmillan US and UK and their many imprints.  Speaking at the Jerusalem International Book Forum, he referenced the war in Ukraine and said that a state needs “to stand up and defend your values and your system. And actually, publishing is about solidarity, and that’s why we’ve been here for so many years, even when the times were tough, and the situation was very complex and intellectually challenging. It’s about the struggle for peace.”

Following him, British author Julian Barnes, who received the Jerusalem Prize, spoke by video and noted the attempts by authoritarian regimes to censor books, “the regrettable tendency…especially in the United States, to wish to protect young readers and students from being shocked, hurt or even merely embarrassed by imaginative literature”.

The Nobel laureate, Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk, spoke of the solidarity and responsibility of authors during difficult times.  “The writers, we are all soldiers now”.

Sheikha Bodour concluded her address optimistically.  She noted that the latest IPA InSPIRe report – A Collective Commitment to a Sustainable, Resilient and Inclusive Future – highlighted key issues, notably “protecting copyright, defending the freedom to publish, publishing sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and embracing technology and innovation”.  She said:  “I am sure there are other issues that booksellers are facing, and we, as a publishing community, are here to support you in every way possible.”