“Reading matters. It is the theme of this year’s conference. But everyone here knows this,” Karine Panse, the incoming president of the International Publishers Association said in her welcome speech on the second day of the IPA’s bi-annual Congress held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Referencing the boom in sales some publishers saw during the pandemic, she reminded attendees that this was not the case for everyone. The pandemic was particularly stressful on children, who saw schools closed and classes moved to Zoom, often to deleterious effect. “In many parts of the world, children are still catching up,” Panse said.

Several speakers at the event concurred. “Children are at risk of having education loss post-pandemic, especially younger children, four and five years olds, and girls,” said Latoya West Blackwood, publishing consultant and former chair of the Book Industry Association of Jamaica, during a panel called “PublisHer: Trailblazing Women in Publishing.”

Part of the agenda of this year’s Congress is to foster more direct engagement between the IPA members and the education sector. Indonesia is an apt setting for this discussion, as some 106 million Indonesians are aged 0-24, attending some 400,000 schools and being taught by four million teachers. Educating such a large number of people has been a challenge for the government, especially as the population is dispersed across the broad archipelago. “What we are lacking are reading materials that can stimulate [them], that are written from an adult’s perspectives,” said professor H. Endang Aminudin Aziz, the minister of education, culture, research and technology of Indonesia. He outlined a variety of government measures to support publishers in producing more appealing materials and supporting teachers who want to source their own teaching materials or adapt their curriculum to appeal more to the children in their classrooms.

“We need to develop technology that focuses on foundational skills,” which includes learning English, said Najelaa Shihab, founder of Karier.mu, one of the major Indonesian EdTech platforms. “Without English, it hinders what a student can access and learn digitally.” She said that the disparity of access is huge. “For example in Yogyakarta [a city on Java], 80% of the students have access to digital learning materials; in Papua [one of Indonesdia’s most remote provinces] only 15% do.”

The focus on education has brought several education publishers to the conference. Pushpita Ghose, managing director of PHI Learning from New Dehli, India, noted, “Learning poverty exists in this part of the world and there is a critical period when a child, especially in a developing economy, needs books to have an opportunity to open their world. It is more than teaching them skills, it’s teaching them how to think and how to dream.”

Another panel addressed how to “futureproof tomorrow’s readers” and underscored that one of the challenges is to entice parents to foster reading as well. “I always have two customers for every book I publish: the children and then the parents and grandparents,” said Joachim Kaurfmann, managing director of Carlsen Verlage, the leading children’s book publisher in Germany. “So we have to find ways to address both audiences.”

Young people too have things to teach publishers. In the PublishHer session, Bodour Al Quasimi, the outgoing president of the IPA and founder of PublisHer, said that her advocacy group for women in publishing had launched “reverse internships,” which paired young people new to publishing with mentors, and asked the younger people to offer advice in return. “We learned about social media, TikTok, and other other topics of interest to and challengers for young women in publishing,” she noted.

The interplay of technology and publishing came up in several panels. The challenges and opportunities emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence poses to publishing were front of mind at the conference. One side, argued by R Rizky Abdurachman Adiwilaga, an intellectual property management consultant, was that AI had potential benefits, such as enabling publishers to "understand readers” and, ultimately, market books more effectively; the opposite side, argued by Jessica Sanger, director of international affairs for the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, was that AI needs to be regulated to respect and honor copyright, something technology companies may be reluctant or unwilling to do and “more and more exceptions to copyrights are being requested or introduced,” said Sanger. “Regulation had to catch up,” conceded Adiwilaga, who acknowledged there was a “need to move quickly.”

Perhaps the biggest technology impacting publishing this year, the Chinese social media platform TikTok, was referenced numerous times. Pedro Sobral, chief publishing officer of Grupo Leya and president of the Association of Portuguese Editors and Publishers, said his firm had hired two TikToks creator to be on staff. “They are researching, creating and generally working at light speed compared to the rest of us. We have a lot to learn from them,” he said.