The Accessible Books Consortium: what it means for publishers

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

Since its launch in June 2014, the WIPO-led Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) has been working to boost access to publications for people who are blind or visually impaired. The aim is for publishers around the world to produce works that are “born accessible” so that they can be used directly by both sighted and print-disabled readers. Michiel Kolman, Senior Vice-President of Information... (see full summary)


Why is the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) important?

Michiel Kolman: When it comes to accessible publishing the ABC is the way forward. Now that the legal framework of the Marrakesh (VIP) Treaty is in place and more countries are signing up to it, we have to focus on producing books in accessible formats and making them widely available. That is where the ABC comes in. And that’s why we need as many publishers as possible to sign up to the ABC-sponsored Charter for Accessible Publishing so that we can really boost the number and range of works in accessible formats like braille and large print.

Hugo Setzer: My company, Manual Moderno, has just signed the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing. We are a mid-size Mexican medical publisher. We believe the Marrakesh Treaty and the ABC are extremely important. Less than 10 percent of all publications produced every year are available in accessible formats, yet according to the World Blind Union there are around 253 million people globally who are visually impaired and need works in accessible formats. That is why it is so important that we publishers engage in the process of making our publications accessible. And even if publishers are not yet ready to sign the ABC Charter, they can still support the initiative by expediting copyright clearances requested by the ABC Global Book Service to facilitate the cross-border exchange of books in accessible formats.

What are the main concerns publishers have in relation to the ABC?

Michiel Kolman: While Elsevier was at the head of the queue in joining the ABC in 2014 – our Chairman, Youngsuk Chi, IPA President at the time, was convinced it was the right thing to do – I am aware that many publishers are worried about the impact born-accessible publishing will have on sales and revenues. These concerns are understandable, but unfounded. Sales will not plummet because publishers make books available in accessible formats, like EPUB 3 for e-books or html for journals, for a select group of customers with print disabilities.

Hugo Setzer: I agree. Publishers can really do a lot to make books available in accessible formats. Their concerns stem in large part from the fact that they still don’t quite understand what accessible publishing is all about. Many still associate the Marrakesh Treaty with a copyright limitation, which typically means a negative impact on revenue. But in this instance there is no evidence that that is the case. On the contrary, making our publications accessible could be a source of revenue. People who are blind or visually impaired don’t want publishers to give them anything for free, they want to be able to buy books but in the formats they need.

Michiel Kolman: Publishers are also concerned about the cost of moving to a born- accessible publishing environment. I realize Elsevier is a large publisher and ahead of the curve on...

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