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Experts advise publishers to embrace technology for industry sustainability

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Adedapo

Experts have canvassed the need for the country’s challenged book industry to embrace technology amid the COVID-19 pandemic to realise its full potential.

Speaking at the opening of the 2020 Nigeria Virtual Book Fair on Tuesday, September 1, 2020, the President of International Publishers Association, Hugo Setzer, urged publishers around the world to embrace digital publishing, saying it will enable them “overcome distribution challenges.”

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The book fair, which is in its 19th edition, is being organised by the Nigeria Book Fair Trust that includes publishers, printers, librarians, and booksellers, in association with Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC).

Activities that usually mark the fair at the Multi-Purpose Hall of the University of Lagos such as conference, book exhibition, Authors Groove in collaboration with the Association of Nigerian Authors, and many more will now hold online via Zoom.

With ‘Information Technology as a Panacea for the Book Industry Sustainability Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic’, Setzer said digital technology enables publishers to tackle accessibility challenges for visually impaired readers.

Setzer said, “digital publishing is clearly an integral part of our industry, but no matter how important new technology may be, let us not forget the content. We must not confuse the means of distribution and reading devices with the content, whether that be educational resources, gripping stories, or scientific research.”

Setzer said, “the theme of this year’s fair is perfectly chosen, and perhaps, a little provocative. It is constructive and forward-looking. It does not dwell on the difficult times now but looks at how our sector can adapt to overcome our current challenges.”

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He said information technology and digitisation are important innovations that should be considered by publishers.

His words: “One of the things publishers around the world ask me is about the future of publishing. I wish I knew the future of anything, but I am positive, and one thing is certain: now is the time to embrace digital.”

Setzer added, “the importance of our work as publishers are our role of ensuring quality and of curation. We must guard against government’s who confuse budgets for shiny devices with budgets for quality educational resources. We must also ensure that governments understand that the attraction of copyright exceptions for educational uses is short-term thinking, like destroying a dam to release the water. The end result will be drought.

“Let us also note that research suggests that pupils don’t necessarily learn best through screens and that the future of education will probably be blended. There is so much scientific evidence backing this, like the one presented by Maryanne Wolf in her absorbing book, Reader Come Home: The Fate of The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

“We must ensure that publishers’ intellectual property rights, their copyright, can be properly enforced online and that the challenges I know you have faced in Nigeria with physical piracy are not dwarfed by that of digital piracy.”

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He advised those racing to become digital publishers to reach out to local publishers’ associations and for those associations to contact the international body. “The role of the IPA during this pandemic has been to bring our international community closer together and to help us work through this dramatic shift in our industry. I have used the word ‘challenges’ many times today but I believe that it is a testament to our industry to see how publishers around the world have risen to those challenges,” he said. “We have been innovative, finding new ways to bring books to readers, teachers, and students. We have been generous and responsible citizens, often making educational or scientific resources available for free. I have always been proud to be a publisher, but the last six months have made me more proud.”

Also speaking, Gbadega Adedapo, chairman of the Nigeria Book Fair Trust (NBFT) and President of Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), said, “COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and over the past five months, we’ve really been exploring and accelerating the potential of online events. We will like to thank all players in the book industry for their support and encouragement as we find new ways to engage with you in this virtual world.”

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On the theme for this year’s conference, he said: “The reason we picked this topic is obvious. The world wasn’t exactly prepared for the devastating effect that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, but we’ve had to adjust nonetheless. Several companies had to shut down and others surprisingly or maybe not surprisingly, thrived. Most of the companies that thrived are those that embraced technology or those that continued their operations virtually.”

He pointed to zoom video conferencing, which experienced an overnight success, because of the surge in the number of users due to the compulsory stay-home policy.

“Before the pandemic, Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, saw that one day, people would need to hold meetings without meeting physically. And with technology, he made it possible,” Adedapo said.

He admitted that many in the book industry appreciate the joy of holding a paperback copy, “in fact, some might enjoy the smell of old books in a room. But it is becoming clearer that we do not only have to acknowledge the role of Information Technology in sustaining the book industry, we also have to gladly embrace the tide.”

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