Censor, advocate or disruptor? The role of Publishers in an Evolving Publishing and Media Landscape, 10th April 2018

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Good morning everyone,

Welcome to our first ever Freedom to Publish Seminar here at the LBF. I have to say that it is a remarkable achievement to put such a great line-up in such a short amount of time. The seed for this seminar was planted at our International Publishers Congress in New Delhi just a couple of months ago. Kristenn, Bodour, Jacks and Jacks’ team - congratulations.

It seems surprising that this should be the first Freedom to Publish seminar here at the London Book Fair. As you know, Freedom to Publish is one of the IPAs two pillars, alongside copyright.

And while much of the book fair will be talking about the future of our business, digitisation, new business models, licensing deals, the freedom to publish is an essential pillar of what we all do. In many countries we take it for granted. But we must not, and the speakers with us today can testify why that should be.

Make no mistake: censorship affects all forms of publishing - research, trade and education.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s seminar is entitled:

Censor, advocate or disruptor? The role of Publishers in an Evolving Publishing and Media Landscape
What an evocative title that is. Playing with contradiction, reminding us of the complexity of our industry and its place at the junction of business, culture, ideas, science, and dare I say democracy.

Are publishers’ censors? Does a publisher who rejects a book commit an act of censorship?

In an age when blogs, social media and self-publishing platforms empower anyone to become a publisher, and say whatever they want, can we fear for freedom to publish?

Publishers, as we consider them, are gatekeepers. Gatekeepers to reliable information. When reliability of information is a growing challenge, we have a responsibility, if not a duty to provide it.

This weight of responsibility, borne by publishers for centuries, seems only now to be dawning on tech operators, de facto publishers in the online environment. Yet, that ultimate freedom to publish in the online environment is a new reason for self-censorship.

Self-censorship is insidious. It can be caused by a legal regime, business or, increasingly online, fear of public reaction. Just last month the French trade publication Livres Hebdo had a piece on the issue following a number of high-profile cases. 

Yet, the power of publishers comes in their roles as advocates. They recognise the value of an authors work, even if they do not necessarily agree with it themselves and they bring it to an audience.
A publisher who believes in a work will support it against pressure.

But they need the right legal framework to do so with confidence. Just look across the Atlantic, where the President of the USA started issuing cease and desist threats which the publisher resisted. Smaller publishers, or publishers in markets with different legal frameworks may not have been so comfortable standing their ground. Defamation laws are an interesting point of discussion here too.

That role of publishers as advocates also makes us disruptors.

When we use the word now, we are almost always talking about new and innovative businesses having an impact on old legacy industries. Yet, publishers continue to be seen as disruptive in many places around the world.
Just look at countries like Turkey or Iran. Publishing houses are closed down, books banned, publishers jailed, or killed.

This is the real, human cost of those who resist censorship and self-censorship to defend the freedom to publish.

Earlier I spoke of duty. As an industry we must see it as our duty to support our colleagues around the world to promote the freedom to publish actively.

Publishing should not be a matter of life or death.

Thank you.

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