Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Caribbean publishers form CAPNET

Katherine Salahi
Co-ordinator, Bellagio Publishing Network

When Ian Randle wrote to the Bellagio Publishing Network, sometime in the mid-90s, asking whether the Caribbean could be included in terms of support for indigenous publishing, the response was guarded. The principle of support for all southern publishing industries had been established right at the beginning of the Network's existence, and continued in the Newsletter. But the Bellagio Group of donors were unequivocal about limiting their support to Africa and the knowhow in the Network was largely African. APNET was still finding its feet as a pan-African association of African publishers. We invited Randle to attend the Bellagio Publishing Network meeting in Accra in 1996, and he began to build his contacts.

By mid-1999 UNESCO were willing to include publishing as a separate agenda item at a meeting in Jamaica on regional book policies.

Various Caribbean publishers attended, as did an APNET delegation. At the end of 1999, at the Bellagio Publishing Network annual meeting held in New York, Randle reported that there was now enough interest in the Caribbean to think of setting up a Caribbean Publishing Network, emulating APNET's example. Conditions were, in many cases, similar: an industry dominated by northern multinationals, a few weak local publishers, inexperienced and under-resourced, in need of professional and financial support to help them up the rungs of the industry. The audience listened interestedly, nodded sympathetically, and went home. The Secretariat was under instructions to wind down operations, now that APNET's partnership with its funders was up and running. There would be no funding for a similar support network for Caribbean publishing.

Undeterred, a small group of Caribbean publishers began making plans to call a regional meeting of Caribbean publishers. They aimed to bring together publishers from all the four language groups in the region. This was no small task, given the highly fragmented nature of the region, not to mention the industry. It was hard enough to find out which publishers existed in the English-speaking islands; what about Haiti? St Maarten? Puerto Rico?

The Bellagio secretariat meanwhile sought ways to continue supporting the Network once core funding ended. It was clear that much work remained to be done to strengthen southern publishing industries, and that closing down the Bellagio Publishing Network would send a negative signal to southern publishers. The secretariat staff decided, therefore, to set up a separate company to work alongside the Bellagio Publishing Network secretariat. The company would provide a framework for the staff to undertake project work beyond the brief of the Bellagio Group of donors; it would also help to sustain the Bellagio secretariat work once the donor funding came to an end. In June 2000 Interculture was formally registered in England as a not-for-profit limited company.

Interculture's first assignment was to help with the logistics of a consultative meeting called by the Ford Foundation in Trinidad. The Foundation wanted to find out more about the range of cultural enterprises existing in the Caribbean region, with a view to funding regional cultural initiatives in the future. Ian Randle was invited to speak on publishing. It was too good an opportunity to miss. The Ford Foundation agreed to include funding for several publishers to attend the consultative meeting, with the proviso that representation from the region should be as wide as possible. Some publishers came under their own steam, Trinidadian publishers joined in, separate meetings were organised with the help of Interculture, and by the time it was Ian Randle's turn to speak at the Ford consultative meeting he was able to announce the formation of a Caribbean Publishers Network, to be called CAPNET in obvious recognition of the debt owed to the example of APNET.

The first CAPNET Council consisted of six officers: Ian Randle (Jamaica) as President, Alfredo Torres (Puerto Rico) as Vice-President, Ken Jaikaransingh and Jeremy Taylor (both Trinidad) as Treasurer and Secretary, and Montserrat Duran (Belize) and Ilona Armand (Haiti) as Council members; Alex Richards from St Martin, a librarian with legal training, became ex-officio member responsible for legal matters. Press releases, e-news and personal contacts spread the word quickly around the world. APNET expressed their delight at the existence of this new network and their sense of pride in the inspirational role they had played. Messages of support poured in.
The CAPNET Council were keenly aware of the challenges they faced. So little was known about the publishing that exists in the Caribbean, so little contact takes place between islands, especially between the different language groups. In parallel with APNET, they saw their mission as the development of publishing as a tool for the region in the face of globalisation. And they recognised the importance, in spite of the difficulties and the expense, of arranging to meet again as soon as possible.

Less than five months later, from 13 to 17 November, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, eight publishers met for an intensive planning week at the Rockefeller Conference and Study Center in Bellagio, northern Italy. In addition to the six original Council members were Dorothy Noel from Carlong Publishers, a textbook publishing house in Jamaica, and Jorge Luna Mendoza from the Cuban Book Chamber. In recognition of APNET's pioneering role, the APNET Board were invited to send two of their members to join the meeting. APNET Vice-President James Tumusiime (Uganda) and Mamadou Aliou Sow (Guinea), Chair of the African Publishing Institute, APNET's training wing, provided invaluable guidance and support. Katherine Salahi of the Bellagio Publishing Network secretariat and Interculture, which had helped set up the meeting in Bellagio, acted as minute-taker and, together with Bellagio Publishing Network members Carew Treffgarne of DFID and Carol Priestley of INASP, who joined the group for the second part of the meeting, offered advice and suggestions on possible funding sources for CAPNET.

The group reconfirmed their common vision for CAPNET: 'To contribute to the socio-economic and cultural development of the Caribbean by building and nurturing a professional indigenous publishing industry in the region.' Membership is open to publishers throughout the Caribbean, both individual publishers and, where they exist, publishers' organisations. Supportive organisations and individuals within and outside the Caribbean can join as associate members. Currently there are 18 members; by the end of the year the number is expected to rise to around 30. The proceeds of membership fees, currently set at $100 annually, will go towards funding the secretariat, which is run on a voluntary basis.

Throughout the discussions in Italy the group looked at the challenges of working in the four language groups of the region. The largest language group by many millions is the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, whose publishing conditions differ markedly from the rest, and also from each other: publishing in Cuba is radically different from publishing in Puerto Rico (although the countries consider themselves 'two wings of the same bird'), and both are different from the Dominican Republic. Similarly Haiti, with its thriving indigenous publishing industry, can not be compared with Martinique and Guadeloupe, whose intimate links with France are reflected in their French-dominated book publishing. In comparison the British islands, diverse as they are, look like one homogeneous market. The decision to expand the CAPNET Council to 12, to include two representatives of each of the four language groups, each from a different island, reflects the team's concern to accommodate all its diverse potential membership.

As a result, the challenge CAPNET faces to build a pan-Caribbean network working in four languages is every bit as daunting as APNET's (some would say more so). Almost none of the publishers round the table had met before last June's meeting in Trinidad. In fact, they confessed, for the most part they did not even know of each other's existence. One thing became clear: the opportunity CAPNET offers to get to know each other excites and pleases them all, in business, personal and Caribbean regional terms. As with APNET, even if CAPNET were to fail tomorrow, it will leave an industry made stronger by the regional links it has fostered.

CAPNET aims to be self-sufficient. The Council recognises, none the less, that support is needed at least in the early stages to get the organisation up and running. In the current political climate it is unlikely that they will find the kind of initial support given to APNET, a network of funders willing to work together and with NGOs. That said, besides the support they have already received from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, there is interest and even commitment in principle in the future from other sources.

Meanwhile the publishers themselves are contributing huge chunks of their own personal and business time and resources to building up CAPNET. Each Council member left Italy with a long list of tasks to be done within the next three to six months. The message was clear: inspired by the example of APNET and, even more, by their commitment to the socio-economic and cultural development of the Caribbean region, as publishers, they plan to work together to bring about a vibrant, flourishing, pan-Caribbean book industry.

CAPNET, 6 Prospect Avenue, Maraval, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. +1 868 622 3821(tel), +1 868 628 0639(fax), [end] [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p 2.]

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