If there was a World Cup equivalent for book publishing, that would be the biannual International Publishers Association Congress, just completed in Jakarta, Indonesia. The event drew representatives from publishers associations across the world, ranging from countries with large and powerful constituencies, such as Germany, India and Mexico, and smaller but influential countries, such as Finland and Thailand. The Congress attracted over 600 delegates, 52 speakers and moderators, from 63 countries.

Unlike the prior in-person Congress held in New Delhi, India, in 2018—the 2020 Congress in Lillehammer, Norway, was cancelled due to Covid 19—where Maria Pallante, CEO of the Association of American Publishers, and several other representatives were on hand to give a spirited defense of international copyright protections, there were no Americans present this year, other than a smattering of members of the media.

The theme of the Congress was “Reading Matters: Embracing the Future,” and 12 panel discussions over the three days of the event, November 10-12, covered a range of topics—from technology’s impact on freedom to publish to the threat that artificial intelligence poses to copyright protections.

“Copyright is everything,” Richard Charkin, a former president of the IPA and director of Mensch publishing house in the U.K., said during a conversation on the “Faustian bargain” digitization has brought to publishing, it serving as both an ally and enemy.

The topic of sustainability and the environmental impact of publishing was the focus of several conversations. Among the most salient actions coming out of this year's publishing conferences has been the promotion of a new "carbon label" for books that indicates the amount of carbon consumed by the production—but not distribution—of the book. The project was presented earlier this year at the Frankfurt Book Fair during the IPA's Sustainability Summit and is part of the Publishing 2030 Accelerator, a project supported by the IPA and the Federation of European Publishers.

The carbon label is among the ideas being championed by Karine Pansa, who repaces Bodour al Quasimi of the U.A.E., as IPA president in January. Pansa is a children’s book publisher from Brazil and plans to focus her efforts on sustainability, as well as bringing more attention to the Lusophone and Spanish-speaking markets.

“A big priority for my term at the IPA is expanding representation: commercial, social and moral representation,” Pansa said. “This means we will encourage publishers to produce books that speak to everyone.”

Another project will extend the IPA’s collaboration with the SDG BookClub, the sustainable development goals book club operated with the United Nations. Initially the program, which produced several year’s of book lists focused on 17 different goals, including “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” and “quality education.” The SDG Book Club produced lists of books for children aged 6-12 covering each topic in all six official UN languages—Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish. The program will now begin offering book lists for adults.

Addressing the theme of the Congress, Pansa said, “The pandemic reminded us why reading matters. So many people turned to reading in those difficult days. Many markets saw bumps in sales. But so many children in poorer countries without access to the books in their schools were deprived of being able to read. In many parts of the world children are still catching up. When discussing the freedom to publish and hearing about the difficult situations in Thailand and Iran, you understand how much reading matters to people there. My panel on children’s publishing kept coming back to the need to create that love of reading in children. We had a dedicated panel on the evolution of reading rates and how reading has to compete with other forms of entertainment. While reading was always emphasized, the discussions always turned to the future: where are the opportunities? how can we do things better?”

Also looming over the Congress was the ongoing war in Ukraine, and Oksana Khmelyovska, co-founder and editor of Chytomo, a Ukrainian publishing news service, offered her comments by video, reminding the Congress of the importance of books in preventing cultural hegemony. Russia is a provisional member of the IPA and was in the process of applying for full membership when when Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

“Russia did not complete its applixcation,” Gvantsa Jobava, international relations manager for Intelekti Publishers in Tblisi, Georgia, and incoming vice-president of the IPA, revealed. “I have several priorities as a leader in this organization, top of the list is to foster and promote reading and literacy endeavors around the world and to continue to ensure the independence and freedom of our members whenever possible,” Jobava said.

The next International Publishers Association Congress will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2024.