Bodour Al Qasimi
6 min readOct 29, 2022


Panel discussion during Frankfurt Book Fair- “How Does Data Serve the Publishing Industry?”

Data is Playing a Growing Role in Global Publishing

In 2017, the International Publishers Association (IPA) partnered with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on a series of annual reports on the state of the publishing industry. With the launch of the 5th edition of the Global Publishing Industry report at Frankfurt Book Fair, I wanted to use this post to reflect on emerging trends, the growing importance of data for our industry, and how the publishing ecosystem can work together to improve data collection and quality going forward.

From late 2020, I led a series of IPA research efforts that looked into the evolving impact of the global pandemic on publishing associations and publishers. This research was informed by consultations with more than 80 senior publishing executives in 30+ countries accounting for roughly 70% of the global publishing market. Three reports were developed from this extensive primary research: From Response to Recovery: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Publishing Industry, How Global Publishing Can Channel Solidarity Into Opportunity, and A Collective Commitment to a Sustainable, Resilient, and Inclusive Future.

WIPO’s Global Publishing Industry in 2021 report is a much-welcomed contribution to this emerging body of research on the impact of the pandemic on global publishing.

A Wakeup Call on the Need for More Publishing Data

The global pandemic was a wakeup call for national publishers associations and publishers on the importance of publishing data for advocacy. IPA’s research found that publishing-specific stimulus programs in response to the global pandemic were rare. One reason was that many publishing ecosystems were not able to quantify their economic contributions and the negative impacts of the pandemic on the industry and value chain to make the case for government support. WIPO’s Global Publishing Industry in 2021 report is very important for arming the publishing industry with high-level data to engage stakeholders.

The pandemic exposed how critical data is to engaging governments on the value of publishing. In the throes of the pandemic, it became clear that we need more data to push publishing to the top of the agenda of global governments and mobilize support for policy priorities. Data-driven advocacy strategies are key to progressing publishing-related interest issues such as reading and literacy, digital piracy, competition policy, and taxation and promoting industry cooperation.

For example, in 2020, IPA’s landmark report, From Response to Recovery, called for the creation of a multi-stakeholder initiative to enhance publishing ecosystem solidarity and fast-track industry recovery. The IPA’s Inspire initiative, created as a response to this call for solidarity and reinforced via the Inspire Charter, led to the development of a series of data-rich primary research reports. The reports informed targeted interventions and partnerships under the Inspire Initiative to speed industry recovery and resulted in the launch of the world’s first online training platform for the publishing industry called the IPA Academy.

For publishing firms, data and analytics competencies are also increasingly important post-pandemic. Data and analytics capabilities are a competitive differentiator in responding to digital acceleration and evolving consumer behavior. Title, supply chain, and competitive decisions require current, real-time data. We’re also seeing more publishers sharing data insights with authors to grow their audiences and fine tune book marketing and sales strategies.

Interesting Insights from the Global Publishing Industry in 2021 Report

From IPA and WIPO’s reports on the state of publishing, there are a few themes playing out which are very important to highlight. Global publishing’s uneven recovery has meant that developed publishing markets have rebounded strongly, while other markets are still struggling. At the same time, the longer-term impacts of pandemic-induced digital transformation and acceleration remain unclear.

Developed publishing markets, like France, Germany, and the US, experienced significant market declines during the initial pandemic wave, but they have since rebounded quickly. According to data from the Global Publishing Industry in 2021 report, countries like the US (+14%), Italy (+12%), Finland (+12%), France (+13%), and Portugal (+15%) have posted double digit post-pandemic market growth.

Generally, countries with large domestic markets, mature digital economies, larger trade publishing markets, and governments which supported the cultural industries through stimulus packages have recovered faster. However, less developed publishing markets are still on the road to recovery — including markets in which consumer purchasing power decreases and currency devaluations have eroded incomes and books are considered luxury goods. Macro drivers like the ongoing supply chain crisis and unprecedented inflation also continue to affect the pace of global publishing’s recovery in many countries.

The pandemic has pushed publishers, big and small, to undergo digital transformation. Pre-pandemic, many publishers, particularly smaller publishers, were over reliant on a single client, retail channel, sector, book format, marketing channel, or supply chain node. Accelerated digital trends like audiobooks, edtech, and online discovery and purchasing are also challenging publishers to adapt. For example, the Global Publishing Industry in 2021 report found that digital and audio books now generate more than one-third of total revenue in Finland (33.2%), Japan (37.8%), and Sweden (32.9%).

Unfortunately, the ability of publishing ecosystems to pursue digital transformation and respond to digitization trends has further contributed to the industry’s multi-track industry recovery. It also remains unclear how digital acceleration will affect consumer reading and purchasing trends over the longer term.

How Global Publishing Can Improve Data Quality and Impact

IPA’s partnership with WIPO is a good example of the multi-sectoral partnerships required to improve industry data quality and impact. However, an ongoing challenge has been the need for capacity development in developing publishing markets to collect and report national publishing industry data and industry cooperation on data.

Effective data collection and distribution is complex since several linkages between publishers, retailers, publishing associations, and customs authorities are critical to data quality and coverage. The Global Publishing Industry in 2021 report includes data from 22 of the 74 countries represented by IPA members. A capacity development program that includes statistics authorities, publishers, retailers, publishing associations, and other publishing stakeholders is urgently needed to broaden data coverage and improve the quality and impact of this data.

IPA previously worked with Nielsen BookScan on a pilot project in Nigeria and Kenya to explore implementing point of sale data collection. These pilots showed that, in order for point-of-sale data collection to work, you need retailer cooperation, an up-to-date list of titles, government support, and publishers and publishing associations to fund data collection and processing. These ecosystem links are required to gather and provide data in a country at scale.

There is also a need for better online sales data that includes ebook, audio, and online print sales data from online book retailers. A few emerging data subscription services and analytics platforms that provide real time sales data have launched which provide a glimpse into where the industry is headed. Point of sale and online sales data collection and monetization is an interesting avenue for publishing associations to explore to diversify revenue while supporting members. The pandemic pushed IPA members in this direction, and I think we will see more national publishers associations getting involved in data collection and monetization.

At the same time we build ecosystems to capture data, we also need to equip publishers with the capacity to leverage data in strategic business decision making. Smaller publishers and publishers in countries with evolving digital economies are less prepared for utilizing data to the fullest. Pre-pandemic, small publishers and publishers in emerging markets were only just beginning to have a dialogue about the need for better publishing industry data.

IPA’s regional seminars in Africa and the MENA focused strongly on the need for more market level data and the need for capacity building at the level of individual publishers to build data-driven decision-making capabilities. In the absence of data, smaller publishers and publishers in emerging publishing markets have to rely on making decisions based on intuition, observation, and guesswork.

High quality data is also critical for the work of emerging, issue-based industry networks. PublisHer, a membership-based platform I started in 2019 for female publishing executive to address long-standing publishing diversity and inclusion challenges, uses data from its consultations at literary events to develop a global perspective on the priority challenges faced by its members. The data allows PublisHer to identify and co-develop targeted programs to address complex, systemic gender diversity and inclusion challenges through innovative, new approaches crowdsourced from its members.

Data is Key to a Full Recovery

It took one of the toughest moments in the history of global publishing to underscore how critical data is to the future of our industry. Probably the worthiest reason to improve data collection on global publishing markets is to support our colleagues in the publishing ecosystem still struggling with more targeted support.

While some markets have fully recovered, it is important to remember that many of our colleagues are still recovering. More data means we can ensure global publishing’s recovery is equally distributed.



Bodour Al Qasimi

President of International Publishers Association; Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, Kalimat Foundation and PublisHer network to empower women in publishing.