Interview with Kristenn Einarsson and Bodour Al Qasimi

From 28-30 May 2020, the 33rd IPA International Publishers Congress will take place in Lillehammer, Norway. We talk to the co-organisers, Kristenn Einarsson, Managing Director of the Norwegian Publishers Association, and Bodour Al Qasimi, Vice President of the IPA.

Kristenn, why did Norway want to host the Congress and why Lillehammer?

This will be the first International Publishers Congress to be held in Norway and the first in the Nordics since the 21st Congress in Stockholm in 1980. Despite being a relatively small country of just over five million inhabitants we are immensely proud of our publishing sector and its international outlook. Arranging the world congress next year is the perfect follow up of our Guest of Honour position here in Frankfurt this year.

Once we had taken the decision to try to host the Congress, there really was only one choice for the city. Lillehammer is not only a beautiful place, but two of Norway’s three laureates for the Nobel Prize for Literature (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 1903 and Sigrid Undset, 1928) lived in the City. It is also the host of the largest literature festival in the Nordic region, The Norwegian Festival of Literature.

Bodour, you have been driving IPA’s Regional Seminars? Is this a continuation of that work?

The Regional Seminars are a new part of IPA’s approach. The IPA has been listening to its members and is responding by focusing new energy where the needs are greatest, and where the IPA can have clear impact. This was why we have held seminars in Lagos, Nairobi and Amman, with the next one in Marrakesh, in December 2020.

The IPA started out 123 years ago by organising the first International Publishers Congress in Paris. But the intent behind the Congresses and the Seminars is the same. Bring publishers together to talk about their challenges and opportunities, to learn from each other and to provide support to each other. The links between the events can grow stronger as the Regional Seminars develop, but they have certainly already helped inspire elements of the programme.

Both, have you chosen a theme?

Bodour: Of course. Reading Matters. Reading is so important to individuals but also society as a whole. At the recent Regional Seminar in Amman, IPA President, Hugo Setzer summed it up well: Reading brings empowerment. The ability to understand complex ideas and to challenge them. To better ourselves. The ability for society to progress, generation by generation.

This means making sure that people can read, that literacy rates are high. There are some regions of the world where literacy rates are 59% or even lower. We need to play our part in tackling that both in creating the desire to read and also through education and educational publishing.

Kristenn: People choosing to read drives our industry. What use is literacy if no-one reads? We have seen studies that suggest less people are reading or find they have less time to read with social media and streaming platforms like Netflix competing for their free time. This is exactly one of the issues that we will look at.

Tell us more about the programme, what can we expect?

Bodour: We are really confident that the Programme we have come up with covers all the big issues that publishers of all stripes are interested in. It’s an opportunity for publishers from around the world to share and discuss the challenges that apply at a local level but also at international level, whether that’s our role in achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, the concerted bid to erode copyright in national and international policy fora, and the way digital technologies affect the freedom to publish. The importance of the freedom to publish will be underlined by the 2020 Prix Voltaire ceremony taking place during the Congress.

Why did you choose to have a two-stream approach?

Kristenn: Educational Publishing is such an important part of any local publishing market. In some countries it is the only local publishing market or the part of the market that enables some publishers to take risks in trade publishing. We wanted them to have a special place in the programme to discuss their issues while benefitting from the broader discussions about the global publishing industry.

I know you want this to be more than just talking but actually making progress on key issues.  How do you intend to do that?

Bodour: We’ve changed the dynamics of this Congress in two main ways.

Firstly, we’re preparing six reports in the run-up to the Congress, which we’ll put before the well-informed audience and our speakers to encourage evidence-based discussions, and even challenge the findings of the reports. These reports will cover a range of key subject, including the lost readers Kristenn mentioned, but also international copyright policies, the state of Freedom to Publish around the world, how publishers are working toward the Sustainable Development Goals and on public policies to support reading, literacy and publishing. These reports will then be developed further based on the discussions had during the Congress, and publicly released afterwards.

The second way we’ve changed things is by creating opportunities for smaller, breakout groups to reflect on the panel discussions with a deeper dive into the issues covered. The substance of these interactive exchanges will also be captured as another valuable source of input to be fed into the IPA’s work.

Where can I find out more?

Kristenn: While you are at Frankfurt Book Fair you can find information here in this Pavillion and at the  Norwegian stand in Halle five.

Otherwise go to for more information about early bird prices, the program and Lillehammer. More announcements are scheduled to come so keep checking back.

You can also follow the hashtag #IPALillehammer2020 on social media.


Interview with Kristenn Einarsson and Bodour Al Qasimi

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