Digital Book World, a conference focusing on innovation in publishing, returned to New York City for the first time since 2016 and runs through Wednesday. The event drew several hundred attendees to the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square for an opening talk by Karine Pansa, Brazilian children’s book publisher and new president of the International Publishers Association. In her remarks, Pansa said that the main areas of focus for her two-year term, which started January 1, will be on collecting data to get an objective baseline of the what is happening in the industry. “We will have a new beginning, driven by data,” said Pansa.
As Pansa noted, the adoption of digital publishing practices, both in production and retailing, vary wildly. In Japan, for example, digital audiobooks account for 35.8% of the total revenue of the book market, while they represent less than 1% of sales in other countries with large book markets, such as Mexico and Colombia. In Spain, digital publishing is growing in popularity, but fully 50% of the material being consumed by readers are being downloaded for free, suggesting piracy is rampant. Piracy also continues to vex Middle Eastern and Africa publishers, which has stalled digitization in the region.
Digitization also impacted retailing, said Pansa, with online bookselling now dominating in Italy, Korea and the U.K. Meanwhile, some regions of the world, such as Africa and the Arabic-speaking countries, remain reticent to engage with digital publishing due to the prevalence of digital piracy in the region.
Part of the IPA’s mission is to educate publishers globally and sometimes this comes down to a simple reminder: not everyone is wealthy enough to afford an e-reader, high-speed internet or even consistent access to books. In the U.K. for example, “75% of people are using e-readers or tablets to access digital material,” said Pansa, “while for many people, like those in my part of the world–Latin America– purchasing a dedicated e-reader is not possible with their salaries.”
Part of Pansa’s message was about making books more accessible to a broader demographic of people. She noted that with its population growth, Africa "offers a big opportunity for publishers to reach a growing audience” while to reach the disabled community, publishers need to make their books “born accessible.” Pansa noted that with the passage of the European Accessibility Act, publishers will be required as of June 2023 to make all of their digital books accessible should they want to sell them in Europe.
Accessibility was also the subject of a panel on the first day. On the subject of making print and books accessible, Benetech’s Michael Johnson, v-p of content, said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He noted, “There are more people in the world who are blind than have red hair. There are more people who are dyslexic than are left handed. So this is a huge group of of people who cannot read your books unless they are accessible.” He said that it may be as much as 20% of the population. “When we talk about DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] efforts, you cannot leave out the letter, A, for accessible.”
Madeleine Rothberg, senior subject matter expert for WGBH, Boston’s public media company, noted that the biggest challenge, beyond making work accessible, is letting users know it is accessible. “The metadata tools exist for this on Schema.org and ONIX offers accessibility metadata,” she said. “The one point that needs to be filled in by humans is the accessibility summary. If you have done something above and beyond, or have a little problem, you can put that in the summary,” she said. Rothberg piracy will not be a problem should publishers chose to free up copyright to make their books accessible. Benetech's Johnson concurred: “We have had 25 million downloads and only ‘lost’ 16 files,” he said.