A look at the Covid-19 crisis and the publishing industry's near future

A look at the Covid-19 crisis and the publishing industry's near future


Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic the JIBF – a project of the Municipality of Jerusalem, run and produced by the Ariel Municipal Company – has had to readjust itself yet again. Two years after being reconceptualised and renamed as the Jerusalem International Book Forum the event now offers digital programming for 2021 (3rd–4th, 14th and 21st May). We spoke with Yoel Makov, director of the JIBF to learn more about the challenges and considerations underlying this adaptation for an event which has been taking place biennially since 1963. 
In the past several years you've moved from fair to forum, and now, under the current circumstances, to a digital event. Do you find these changes to be disruptive to the JIBF tradition or identity?
The shift from fair to forum was a necessary adjustment. We went to our core values, building on our strengths in order to offer a relevant and appealing meeting ground for people from all over the world. We had these values in mind when we put together the programming for 2021 as well, so in a sense, albeit the different format, we maintain continuity. It's the same DNA, so to speak.

What difficulties did you encounter in the shift from a physical event to digital programming and how did you approach them? 
First as a book fair and later as a forum the JIBF has always been a meeting ground for people of different backgrounds, origins and professional roles. It is known for its networking opportunities, chance encounters, the fascinating and beautiful backdrop of Jerusalem and its friendly and unique atmosphere, which allows for an open exchange of ideas and formation of long-lasting business and social relations. It is very much an in-person face-to-face event. Unfortunately, the digital edition cannot fully emulate this experience. Still, we formed a programme which would enable publishing professionals from across the globe and across professional roles to learn from each other and benefit from the interaction. In that respect this is very much a JIBF programme.

Does the 2021 programming have some sort of focal point or theme?
We wanted the programming to address this moment in time, ie what the industry can learn from its experience thus far in face of the pandemic and the challenges it presented and what can we take forward with us into the near future. We aim for a comprehensive integration of perspectives: we combine the views and experience of editors, publishers, agents, scouts and authors. Our keynote speech ventures even into a different field: Playing to an Empty Concert Hall: Creating Music and Performing During a Global Pandemic, where renowned composer and conductor Gil Shohat will talk about his experience during the pandemic and lockdown. Yaniv Iczkovits, author of The Slaughterman's Daughter (translated from the Hebrew and published in the US, UK, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Holland, Italy and Romania), will offer his perspective on a panel which will feature Madeline McIntosh (c.e.o. Penguin Random House US), Michael Cader (founder of Publishers Lunch and Publishers Marketplace) and Gray Tan (founder and president of Grayhawk Agency, Taiwan). The panel, moderated by Ziv Lewis, the foreign rights and acquisitions manager of Kinneret Zmora Publishing House, will deal with this issue from the various points of view of its participants.

Your programming will take place on 3rd–4th May and then on two Fridays later that month (14th and 21st).  Is there anything different about these additional Friday sessions?
The Forum Fridays, as we like to call them, will explore possibilities for the industry's forward motion. They will feature conversations between (mostly) Zev Birger Fellowship alumni editors, agents, and publishers who will discuss working from home, digital book fairs, promoting books online, staying in touch with authors, and focus on what worked, what didn’t and what will they be taking with them to the year ahead. These sessions will also have room for participants who are not panelists to offer their outlook.

You spoke about your fellowship program's alumni taking part in the 2021 programming, but what about the fellowship programme in itself, how does it play into this year's digital programming?
The Zev Birger Editorial Fellowship programme, which I mentioned earlier, has been sponsored by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group since its inception in 1985. Its alumni still return to Jerusalem, supported by the Penguin Random House Group. As much as it is an integral part of the JIBF, under the current circumstances we had no choice but to postpone the fellowship programme to May 2022, allowing for it to coincide with the full (physical) forum. Fortunately, in the next few weeks, we will open a second application period for the next group of fellows as well as keep the registration of those who have already applied.

Finally, what about the next Jerusalem Prize recipient? Could you give us a clue as to the identity of the next recipient?
Mum's the word, I'm afraid. The next Jerusalem Prize recipient shall be revealed during the formal opening of the 2021 JIBF. On 3rd May. I can only reveal that we are very honoured and excited.