Alain Gründ took over the family business, Gründ publishing, from his father in 1963 and successfully managed the company until he sold it in 2007. Alain was President of the Federation of European Publishers from 1990 to 1992 and President of the International Publishers Association from 1996 to 2000.

Bodour Al Qasimi, IPA President, said : The IPA is built on publishers who have dedicated so much of their lives to bringing us, as an international community, together. If I am able to be President of IPA today, it is thanks to the stewardship and leadership of people like Alain. His shared legacy stands as fitting testament for the sector he dedicated his life to.

Immediate IPA past President, Hugo Setzer, paid tribute to Alain Gründ:  I met Alain during the time of his IPA presidency and admired him for his intelligence and humbleness. He was thoughtful and resolved. Alain was tough on problems but soft with people. He was a true gentleman.

It was in my early days in IPA and I looked up to him and thought that perhaps one day I might also become president, like him. He was a role model to me and in time became a cherished friend. He will be dearly missed.

As a tribute to Alain’s memory, the IPA has brought forward the release of the first chapter of “The Fifth Quarter Century: The International Publishers Association 1996-2021”. I interviewed Alain as I prepared to write this book which tells the story of IPA during the last 25 years and this first chapter tells the story of Alain’s period as President, the challenges he had to face, as well as his many achievements. I hope you will enjoy reading it.



Early release extract from The Fifth Quarter Century: The International Publishers Association 1996-2021 by Hugo Setzer.

President’s testimony—Alain Gründ (1996-2000)

My Presidency coincided with the advent of the Internet, an acceleration of globalisation and a consolidation of the publishing industry. We fostered the integration of non-western associations, and their representation on the Executive Committee and since then the IPA represents publishers from all continents.

Under the leadership of Vice President Charles Ellis and his American colleagues, we created the Digital Object Identifier to provide publishers with a resolvable content identifier they control in response to technology companies’ drive for digital marketplace dominance. We transformed our then century-old IPA into a truly professional trade association, capable of bringing value to the industry, and carrying the global voice of publishers from all sectors and regions.


Chapter 1: Alain Gründ (1996-2000) 


Summer 1997. It was a comfortably warm afternoon in Geneva. The average temperature for July in the city is 20°C, but that day was a bit warmer. The International Publishers Association’s Secretary General Alexis Koutchoumow was sitting at his desk in the IPA office. He had just returned from lunch at his home, which was within walking distance from the office.

He usually preferred to use his car, but the weather was perfect for a short walk, and he needed to think about all the preparations for IPA’s October meetings in Frankfurt.

Hired by the Dutch IPA President Ernest Lefebvre in 1969, Koutchoumow had been Secretary General of the association for almost 30 years, taking over from Hjalmar Pehrsson. Since then, he had worked with eight IPA Presidents, including incumbent Alain Gründ, from France.

The IPA office was in an old but comfortable Parisian-style building at Avenue Miremont 3, Geneva, in the elegant, residential neighbourhood of Champel. This is south of Lake Geneva, just between the large compound of the university hospital and the Alfred Bertrand Park.

The office had been located here since 1963, when the IPA had moved from Zürich to Geneva.

In the far southwestern corner of Switzerland that extends out into France, Geneva is one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities. International agencies such as the Red Cross, the World Health Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization are based in the Nations district of the city just north of Lake Geneva. Here too can be found the Palais des Nations, once the site of the League of Nations, now the European home of the United Nations. 

The move of IPA’s headquarters from Zürich to Geneva in 1963 had followed the relocation in 1960 of the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI) from Berne, where it had been established in 1893, to Geneva. Just 7 years later, in 1970, BIRPI became the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the most important international copyright regulating body.

On that summer day in 1997, Alexis was thinking back on the recent International Publishers Congress. He had helped organize seven International Publishers Congresses, the last one in 1996, held for the second time in Barcelona. 

This last Congress—the 25th—had been very special, in so many ways: it marked the occasion of IPA’s 100th anniversary, with almost 1,000 publishers and accompanying guests from 47 countries attended the five-day event.

IPA President Fernando Guedes, from Portugal, who was succeeded later that year by Alain Gründ, had written a book about the first 100 years of the IPA, which was given to all participants of the Congress.  

The Congress was also memorable because attendees had been able to celebrate the Festival of St George.

La Diada de Sant Jordi, or the Festival of St George, is Catalunya’s version of Valentine’s Day, when people give away red roses — but also books. This one-day festival, held every year on the 23rd of April, is inspired by the legend of Saint George, who has been the patron Saint of Catalunya since 1507. 

The St Jordi celebrations in 1996 had been a particularly special because in November 1995, Federico Mayor—a Spanish scientist, scholar, politician, diplomat and poet who served as Director-General of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999—had sent a letter to Pere Vicens, President of the Spanish Federación de Gremios de Editores de España, informing him that UNESCO had unanimously decided to declare the 23rd of April as “World Book and Copyright Day”.

The date was chosen because on the 23rd of April 1616, three great writers of their time had passed away: Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Mayor makes it clear in his letter to Vicens that, although this timely initiative was suggested  by the Spanish government, its paternity can be attributed to publishers. 

Among many other speakers at the 1996 IPA Congress, three publishers who delivered speeches would continue to actively work for IPA’s objectives and play important roles within the association for many years: the President of the Congress Organizing Committee, Pere Vicens, Argentinean publisher Ana María Cabanellas, and myself.

At the time I was a board member of the Mexican Publishers Association (CANIEM) and Chair of the Iberoamerican Chapter of the International STM Association. We were trying to set up a collective management organization in Mexico and I had the chance to speak in one of the sessions about the importance of copyright and the role of CMOs.   

It had indeed been a memorable Congress and Alexis recalled the words of His Majesty, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, during the opening of the Congress:

Every book you publish is a vehicle of culture, but the whole of all of them and the work you dedicate to disseminating them goes further, since it expresses the values and needs and, ultimately, the image of the character of our time.

Books are, and must continue to be every day more, one of the key players that improve and facilitate understanding between peoples, by establishing lasting ties of relationship between different geographical and cultural areas. Publishers promote knowledge and cultural exchange.

While Alexis Koutchoumow was recalling his memories IPA’s last Congress, newly elected IPA President, the French publisher Alain Gründ was in his Paris office, making plans for the future of the organization. He had taken over from Fernando Guedes on 1 of July 1996, and felt fully energized with the support of his Vice President, Charles Ellis from the USA.

Alain had taken over his grandfather’s business, Editions Gründ, from his father in 1963. He began participating in the IPA in 1972 and very quickly had become an advocate of the French fixed book price system, known as the Lang Law. It was enacted in 1981 and named after Jacques Lang, the French Minister of Culture behind the law.

Alain had also been President of the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) from 1990 to 1992. The FEP had been founded in 1967 and is, like other valued regional associations, an IPA member. It is a trusted ally, especially in Brussels and in Strasbourg, where the plenary sessions of the European Parliament are held.

Charles Ellis was President and chief executive of the venerable family-owned publishing house John Wiley & Sons, a position he held from 1990 to 1998. From 1992 to 1994, he had been chairman of the Association of American Publishers.

Alain remembered the Executive Committee meeting of April 1996, held in Barcelona, right before the Congress, under the presidency of Fernando Guedes. After consultations with all EC members, Fernando, Vice-President Philip Attenborough (UK), past President John Boon (UK) and Alain himself had formulated the priorities for the future work of the IPA.

They all agreed that if the IPA did not exist, it would need to be invented. They also re-iterated two key priority activities:

  • The promotion, protection and defence of copyright;
  • The promotion, protection and defence of all publishers’ legitimate freedom to publish and to disseminate their works.


Alain was a visionary. He and Charles both agreed the IPA needed to be a more international organization, having been mostly Eurocentric for all of its history. After its foundation in Paris in 1896, the International Publishers Congress, as IPA had been named until 1954, had endured and survived two world wars, thanks to the efforts of people like Wilhelmus Petrus van Stockum (Netherlands) and Sir Stanley Unwin (UK).

In its first 100 years of existence, all of IPA’s Presidents had been European, with the exception of the Americans Storer Lunt (1965-1968) and Andrew Neilly (1988-1992). Although membership from other parts of the world had grown, IPA remained mostly European-centred, and Alain and Charles, as well as many members of the Executive Committee, thought it was time for this to change and for the IPA to become truly international

IPA also needed to adapt to the times, to modernize. Technology was advancing fast, and Alain and Charles knew it would impact the industry. They had both seen Akio Morita, the CEO of Sony, give a speech during the Mexico City Congress in 1984. Mr Morita, as the audience watched in disbelief, had unveiled a CD-ROM and said it could contain the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. It promised to be the future of reference publishing.

In July 1994, Amazon had been founded by Jeff Bezos. In June 1996, the Nintendo 64 had been released in Japan, along with its most popular title: Super Mario 64. In July, Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell, had been born in Scotland. 

Sometime later, in January 1997, Madeleine Albright had become the first female Secretary of State of the United States. In March, the DVD format had been launched in the United States. In May, IBM’s Deep Blue had defeated Garry Kasparov in the last game of the rematch, the first time a computer had beaten a chess World Champion.

In June 1997, Bloomsbury Publishing had published JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in London. Later that year, in October, the first colour photograph would appear on the front page of The New York Times.

Such was the pace of change around the world.

Technology and the digital environment would have a profound impact on our industry and present a challenge to the copyright system.

Therefore, one of the first decisions of the newly elected IPA leadership, in September 1996, had been to hire a new staff member to strengthen its legal capabilities and help them modernize the association. The chosen candidate was a bright young Swiss lawyer, Benoît Müller, who was offered the position of Legal Counsel of the IPA.

Benoît used to arrive at the IPA office in his little Fiat. One of his first assignments was to paint the office, which was in dire need of maintenance. And then, a few weeks later, he was to attend his first Frankfurt Book Fair.

The IPA had decided, since 1969, to hold the meetings of its supreme governing body, the International Committee (IC), during the event that had gained the status of the world’s most important book fair: the Frankfurt Book Fair. 

The previous year’s meeting of the International Committee, which in time would become known as the IPA’s General Assembly (GA), had taken place on the 5 October 1996, with the participation of 69 people representing 38 member associations. It had been the first meeting of the IC for Alain to chair. 

In his opening remarks, Alain paid homage to their dear colleague, IPA President from 1972 to 1976 and honorary member, John Boon, who had died suddenly in July of that year. John had remained very active, participating on the Executive Committee and sharing his knowledge and experiences. He would be dearly missed.

Sadly, his was not the only loss to be mourned that year: past President from 1976 to 1980, Per A Sjögren from Sweden, would pass in December.     

Back to the proceedings of the International Committee meeting, new Executive Committee members were elected: for Germany, Wulf von Lucius replaced Andreas Langenscheidt; for the Netherlands, Herman Spruijt replaced James Kels; for Spain, Pere Vicens replaced Germán Sánchez Ruipérez; and Ana María Cabanellas was elected to represent the organizing Committee for the upcoming Buenos Aires Congress in 2000. Three of these newly elected members would eventually become IPA presidents.

At the time, style was as important as content. Most international trade associations resembled old gentlemen’s clubs. And there is no surprise why. In the case of the IPA, many of the publishers who devoted their time and energy to strengthen the IPA were owners of longstanding, traditional publishing houses.

It was customary for international trade associations to hold their meetings at exclusive and lavish places, the Executive Committee meetings used to be held at one of Geneva’s landmark hotels, the Beau-Rivage. It was, and still is, considered one of the most luxurious hotels in Geneva. Today, it is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.

Dinners of the Executive Committee would be held in the fancy, Michelin-starred, Le Chat Botté restaurant, which serves French cuisine. Cigars and cognac used to follow such sumptuous dinners.

Back at his desk, Alexis was making preparations for Frankfurt 1997. The largest book fair in the world was always a challenge. There would be, as there was every year, meetings of the International Committee and the Executive Committee, among other committee meetings.

A lot a work had to be done. He counted on his right-hand man, Jean-Claude Viatte, and on the new team member, Benoît Müller. Jean-Claude had been Managing Director of Larousse Suisse in Geneva from 1970 to 1988 and had come to the IPA in 1988 as Alexis’ assistant. 

1997 had been a year of change at IPA headquarters. Alain and Charles knew the office needed to modernize and had therefore authorized desktop computers, which were quite expensive at the time, to replace the old Olivetti typewriters. Alexis had one for himself, but he still preferred to dictate letters to his assistant. Benoît had bought himself a small Toshiba laptop.

The IPA had just launched its website and Alain wanted e-mails to replace the old system of pigeonholes as soon as possible. Until then, correspondence to IPA members had been processed by regular post, and at the office they used small boxes on one of the walls, one for every member association, to sort out the mail. It was a rather cumbersome system, but it had worked well for many years.

Alexis was thinking about all the preparations for Frankfurt, especially sending out the invitations to all members to attend the different meetings taking place at one of the busiest weeks during the year for publishers.

They all knew the drill. They would pack Alexis’s Toyota Crown station wagon with boxes full of documents, and then begin the six-hour drive to Frankfurt. He wasn’t looking forward to it. He wasn’t keen on driving, so it was Jean Claude and Benoît who drove. 

A few months later came the 4th IPA International Copyright Symposium, held in Tokyo from 22 to 24 January 1998. There had been three previous Copyright Symposia, in Heidelberg in 1986, Paris in 1990, and Turin in 1994.

The Tokyo Symposium, which was organized by the Japan Book Publishers Association, presided at the time by Takao Watanabe, attracted 308 participants from 40 countries.

As was usual during IPA congresses and other conferences, there was an Executive Committee meeting before the opening of the Symposium.

At this meeting, President Gründ reminded everyone that two UN delegates, respectively from UNESCO and WIPO, would address the conference at the opening ceremony, and stressed the vital importance for IPA to collaborate in confidence with both organizations.

There was yet another interesting update on a project IPA’s legal counsel, Benoît Müller, had been working on with IPA’s Vice-President, Charles Ellis.

From Charles’s report at this EC meeting: ‘We know that it would be impossible to publish over the Internet without some means of identifying units of information and without, at the same time, some means of directing potential users and customers for the information we publish to ourselves, the owners of the information.’

‘Recognizing the importance of this new development for the industry and the fact that within the XXI Century that may become the principal means of publishing, the IPA, together with the International STM Association, formed a joint committee—The Information Identifier Committee.’

And indeed, Charles was right in thinking that publishing over the Internet would become so substantial in the first 20 years of the 21st Century. 

In September, Google, Inc. was founded in Menlo Park, California, by Stanford University PhD candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin.