Dr Michiel Kolman, president of the IPA recently spoke on the occasion of World Book & Copyright Day (April 23) at Reading Promotion Summit in Chengdu, China to promote reading and literacy. Excerpts.

Dr Michiel Kolman became president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) on 1 January 2017. Before that he was the IPA’s vice president for two years as well as chair of the association’s Membership Committee. IPA is an accredited non-governmental organisation (NGO) enjoying consultative relations with the United Nations. Dr Kolman is senior vice president of Global Academic Relations at Elsevier, the world’s leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information solutions. His publishing career spans 25 years, during which he worked for Elsevier in Amsterdam, Tokyo and Frankfurt, and also at Wolters Kluwer in a division now part of Springer Nature. Based in Amsterdam, Dr Kolman is also a member of the Dutch Publishers Association.

Millions of people around the world mark World Book & Copyright Day with festivities and activities to celebrate and promote literacy, books and the pleasure of reading. What is less known is that the inspiration for this celebration came in 1995 from the mind of one of the presidents of the International Publishers Association – a Spanish publisher named Pere Vicens. Pere’s vision was to create a moment when literacy and reading could be brought to the front of people’s minds for a day – wherever they were in the world.

The IPA already had a strong relationship with UNESCO even then – so it was a natural step for Pere to seek their support. UNESCO had the international clout to make his idea a reality and mobilize governments around the world – which they did very efficiently in just 12 months.

And it’s no accident that they chose the 23rd of April. It was on this date in 1616 that a surprising number of literary figures from around the world either died – or were born. William Shakespeare and the Spanish writers Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, all died on the 23rd of April 1616.

And the French novelist Maurice Druon, Icelandic writer Haldor K Laxness, Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, Catalonian writer Josep Pla and the Colombian writer and journalist Manuel Mejía Vallejo were all born on 23 April.

For more than two decades, the goals of World Book and Copyright Day have stayed the same: to encourage the world – and in particular young people – to discover the joy of reading, and to honour the contributions of those who have furthered our collective social and cultural progress through literature. But the story doesn’t end there.

UNESCO World Book Capital

A second IPA-led initiative – the UNESCO World Book Capital – was born out of the first, and is growing from strength to strength today. Once again it was the creative mind of Pere Vicens that in 2000 thought of granting the honour of World Book Capital to a city, to enable it to spotlight books and reading for a whole year.

Since the outset, the IPA has been on the nominating committee, which helps UNESCO to select the most deserving candidate. Madrid was the first UNESCO World Book Capital city, in 2001. This year it is Conakry, in Guinea, and in 2018 it will be Athens, in Greece.

These cities stage large-scale book fairs, public readings, celebrations and author talks, and huge numbers of children take part throughout the year. The legacy of World Book Capital city is a lasting understanding of the beauty of books and the pivotal importance of literacy and education.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova once expressed the significance of World Book and Copyright Day by saying: "Books help weave humanity together as a single family, holding a past in common, a history and heritage, to craft a destiny that is shared, where all voices are heard in the great chorus of human aspiration."

It’s a sublime statement, and the message is clear: books are like glue, binding peoples together and immortalizing human commonalities.

Since it was founded in 1896, the International Publishers Association has been shaped by and committed to that principle.

On Chengdu…


Chengdu has a long and illustrious literary history, having produced some of China's most important writers, such as the ‘Hanfu’ masters Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong; the poets Li Bai and Su Shi, and more recent writers, such as Guo Moruo and Ba Jin.

On China… It’s well documented that the very origins of printing lie here in China, with fragments of floral silk prints from almost 2000 years ago. This was adapted to paper – which was also a Chinese invention – with the earliest printed paper book dating from the 7th century Tang Dynasty.

Had printing not made its way around the world and evolved into a ‘General Purpose Technology’ – as fundamental to our evolution as the domestication of animals and the invention of the wheel – there could have been no knowledge economies, no science education and no financial credit systems.

But since those ancient times, Chinese publishing has boomed into a $10 billion concern – second only to the United States in terms of market value. In terms of new titles, China is the world leader: 470,000 in 2015, up from around 328,000 in 2010, compared to 338,000 in the US.



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