The Publishers Conference, which precedes the Sharjah International Book Fair, got under way in the U.A.E. on Sunday with a speech from Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, founder of Kalimat Publishing and PublishHer. Al Qasimi is the former head of the International Publishers Association, as well as the new chair of the Sharjah Book Authority, and is taking a lead on shaping the organization for the future.

"Today, publishing stands at the gates of history, playing a role even more essential than it has played over the centuries” she said. “At a time when misinformation, disinformation, fake news, cancel culture and algorithms dominate public discourse…publishers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to...present verified, well researched content to shape the future."

The conference attracts a broad range of delegates, many from the global south, and now in its 13th year continues to grow in influence and importance. This year saw professionals from 106 countries participating, with 12 countries attending for the first time, including Benin, the Czech Republic, Paraguay, and Zimbabwe. South Korea is this year’s Guest of Honor. In all, 1,050 people registered for tables in the international rights center.

Among the speakers in the program were Nuria Cabuti, CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, who spoke of the diversity in the Spanish-speaking world—noting that the market remained 90% print—and the importance of bookshops and book fairs to access these markets. She also addressed the hot topics of AI, book banning, and cancel culture, emphasizing the importance of diversity in content and freedom of expression.

"It's incredible, in the 21st century, that we are still talking about banning books, including in the United States,” Cabuti said. “In our Spanish markets, we're not seeing this issue, though there is pressure in markets where we publish books about politics, with journalists being sent to jail or even murdered for telling these stories. And we're also concerned about cancel culture—for instance at PRH in Spain we have decided to maintain the original content of the Roald Dahl books. We believe in the freedom of expression and want to present diversity of content; we provide guiding principles for our editors and staff.”

Ian Chapman, CEO and publisher of S&S UK, recalled his bookish childhood and his philosophy of publishing, which focuses on authors, local publishing lists, and establishing the best team. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of sales reps and book fairs, and the need for diversity in publishing.

"I think publishing is like a circle, with points of publishing excellence in sales, marketing, finance, production, editorial, etc.,” Chapman said. “If you've got those publishing points of excellence, in the center of that circle you have the author, and that's where the spotlight should be shining." He added: "Publishing is simple. It isn't easy, but for me, it's simple. You try to get the right books, and then the right people around you in their various areas of expertise and ensure that the books get out there to the public who want them."

Among the announcements at the fair was the news that PublishHer, the organization run by Al Qasimi, has launched a new awards program. Awards will be given in the categories of Lifetime Achievement, Emerging Leader, and Innovation. Nominations can be made through social media at X, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook and will be open until January 15, 2024.