Adopt technology to remain relevant, IPA president tells Nigerian publishers

by Araayo Akande

President, International Publishers Association (IPA), Hugo Setzer, has highlighted how technology has altered publishing and advised Nigerian publishers to adapt to the changing times to remain relevant.

Setzer advised in his keynote speech at the 19th Nigerian International Book Fair themed ‘Information Technology as Panacea for the Book Industry Sustainability amidst Covid-19 Pandemic.’

The 2020 edition of the event organised annually by the Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT) including publishers, printers, librarians and booksellers, in association with the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) is happening virtually because of COVID-19 disruptions. It will end on Monday.

“The theme of your fair is perfectly chosen, and perhaps a little provocative,” Setzer said in beginning the keynote.

“It is constructive and forward-looking. It does not dwell on the difficult times now but looks at how our sector can adapt to overcome our current challenges. On the other hand, I have to say that I am reluctant to use the word “panacea”. Panacea was the Greek goddess of healing and is associated with universal remedy. But we have to be careful since no all-healing medicine has been found yet.”

“Yes, I agree that information technology and digitisation are significant innovations we have to consider. One of the things publishers around the world ask me is the future of publishing. I wish I knew the future of anything, but I am positive, and one thing is certain: now is the time to embrace digital.”

Though he endorsed digital publishing, Setzer warned that traditional publishing should not be neglected. Both models, he advised, should be blended because research has shown the advantages of both.

He further urged publishers not to abandon content in pursuit of shiny technological devices that could detract from the substance of education. “In regions that had either been reluctant or ill-equipped to embrace digital publishing, we have seen a recognition that digital publishing enables us to overcome many of the challenges that lockdowns and limited freedom of movement create. Beyond the pandemic, digital publishing also enables us to tackle accessibility challenges for visually impaired readers.

“Digital publishing and on-demand printing enable us to overcome distribution challenges. Digital technology enables these sorts of interactions and makes the world smaller. Digital publishing is an integral part of our industry, but no matter how important new technology may be, let us not forget the content. We must not confuse the means of distribution and reading devices with the content, whether that be educational resources, gripping stories, or scientific research.

“The importance of our work as publishers is our role in ensuring quality and of curation. We must guard against government’s who confuse budgets for shiny devices with budgets for quality educational resources. We must also ensure that governments understand that the attraction of copyright exceptions for educational uses is short-term thinking, like destroying a dam to release the water. The result will be a drought.

“Let us also note that research suggests that pupils don’t necessarily learn best through screens and that the future of education will probably be blended. There is so much scientific evidence backing this, like the one presented by Maryanne Wolf in her absorbing book ‘Reader Come Home: The Fate of The Reading Brain in a Digital World’”.

Setzer also praised how publishers rose to the challenge posed by COVID-19. “I have used the word ‘challenges’ many times today, but I believe that it is a testament to our industry to see how publishers around the world have risen to those challenges. We have been innovative, finding new ways to bring books to readers, teachers and students.
“We have been generous and responsible citizens, often making educational or scientific resources available for free. I have always been proud to be a publisher, but the last six months have made me prouder still.”

Speaking earlier, Chair, Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) and main organiser of the fair, Gbadega Adedapo, lamented the devastation of COVID on publishing. He, however, expressed happiness that some companies are coping by adopting technology and that it enabled this year’s fair to hold.

“Some might enjoy the smell of old books in a room. But it is becoming clearer that we do not only have to acknowledge the role of Information Technology in sustaining the book industry, we also have to embrace the tide gladly.”

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