The three-day International Publishers Association (IPA) Congress kicked off its 30th session March 24 by clearly stating the changes (and challenges) facing the industry, and how publishers should act (and react).

In his opening speech, Elsevier chairman (and former IPA president) Y. S. Chi emphasized the need to regard the changes as opportunities instead of threats or diversions. The core of the industry, he added, “remains the same, and that is to continue producing high-quality content.” But with the world population spending upwards of 3 billion hours a week on games, and up to 2.3 billion hours a week on Facebook, Chi acknowledged that there is less reading being done.

In the first panel on whether publishing does matter, author Ayu Utami advocated viewing publishing as a part of the industry of ideas. Publishing, she said, plays a big role in giving birth to, nurturing and spreading ideas, and thus shaping our world. Connecting to the “industry of ideas” concept will enable publishers to view changes as opportunities, and to team up with authors to integrate ideas with visions, and decide on the forms and modes of those ideas. For Charlie Redmayne (HarperCollins UK), publishers are essential to growing talent, curating ideas, protecting author rights, and marketing titles. “We support editorial instincts with consumer insights to make a better, and more informed, product. With the value chain changing, we need to take what we are doing, and do it better.” Focusing on the core competencies, added IPA president Richard Charkin, “is the key. The publisher/author relationship has to adapt with an eye on long-term cultural and commercial asset building.” Chi, who chaired the panel, concluded by saying that if previously publishing was about culture or commerce, traditional or new skills, and specialist or generalist, “we should replace every ‘or’ with ‘and’. That is the new way of thinking in this changing world.”

The future role of publishers was the topic for the second panel, chaired by Joachim Kaufmann (Carlsen). Names like Amazon and Google were thrown in to highlight dominance of such technology companies in the publishing world and the disruptive powers they wreaked on the supply chain. The much-weakened bookselling community in Australia, given Amazon’s dominance, for instance, “calls for a different business model,” said Sandy Grant (Hardie Grant Publishing), adding that these giants have driven global appetite for content and thus, created new opportunities. For Rarin Utakapan Punjarungroj (Amarin Publishing), the market offers plenty of lessons on mastering technologies to generate business advantages. “Create your own content, set up an e-library, have a subscription model, do print on-demand, and start self-publishing program: these are just some formats to do.” Nigel Newton (Bloomsbury), whom illustrated the publishing industry as the teetering bus in The Italian Job, advised attendees to find out what readers want and to promote publishing as an enticing form of entertainment. Claudia Kaiser (Frankfurt Book Fair) was all for creating local content, creating the buzz and then go global. Since Asians are Facebook junkies and are much more into gadgets and online access compared to their Europe and American counterparts, she opined that “there are opportunities for distributing diverse content over many formats.”

Then the Congress conversation turned to digital distribution developments with Brian Murray (HarperCollins), Trip Adler (Scribd), Santiago de la Mora (Google) and Chantal Restivo-Alessi (HarperCollins). The advice from the panel included creating the most varied distribution channels possible, offering print/digital bundled products that cost just a bit extra, and capitalizing on the mobile device craze by selling content and subscription through apps. De la Mora, for instance, emphasized the need to focus on content discoverability, one-click easy access to content, immersive and enhanced reading experience, and creating a post-reading support system (of reviews, recommendation etc.)