Presenting the Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2009 at the Frankfurt Book Fair

The Global Ranking portrays the industry’s top companies in a truly global perspective, highlights change and continuity, and the forces that drive it. The editors in chief of the leading professional trade magazines analyze how the economy and technology as well as globalization re-shape publishing today.

Speakers: Fabrice Piault (Livres Hebdo), Nigel Roby (The Bookseller), Thomas Wilking (buchreport), and Brian Kenny (Publishers Weekly). Rüdiger Wischenbart, moderator.

Where: Hall 8.0 Clients’ Lounge L993
When: Wednesday, 14 October 2009, 11:00 – 11:45 am

Hot new books? Here!

I admit that I would go a long way only to find a reason to put up this unique picture featuring comic legend Dennis Patrick in his hay day as a pop culture icon likened until today by his fans to Elvis Presley or Lucille Ball.

patrick_dennisBut I don’t need to be original myself. It is good enough to do my humble job as a chronicler of current international book bestseller lists.

To my great surprise, this month’s top Italian charts are headed by Patrick’s famous “Auntie Mame” (“Zia Mame”), an unlikely winner as the book was originally published in the 1950s in the US, reprinted in many languages and editions ever since, yet without much of a fuss.

But at once, it rings a bell with Italians at this moment. Of course one may point to the co-incidence with another juicy title, “Papi” – refering to Italy’s Prime Minister as a much admired hero of young girls and, once again, of political havoc recently – so perhaps one more time, those damned bestseller lists are more telling about what is going on than most of us would suspect.

Which is why, for more than four years now, we are analyzing them. And you can find our reading of those lists, and what they reveal, in many of the leading international book trade magazines, like the Bookseller, Publishers Weekly, Livres Hebdo, buchreport, Svensk Bokhandel, China Publishing Today or, speaking of Italy, in Informazioni Editoriali. And you find back issues of our insights here.

It is about tracking all the diversity in books across markets and languages. And one thrilling aspect is to identify possibly interesting new writer’s talent as it appears first in its original cultural environment. This is why from next month on, we will highlight a “title of the month” together with our analysis – in our partner magazines as well as here on this blog.

Skeptical about e-Books? Here is the solution!

ebook-smell1With the enthusiasm and the energy we are so fond of, and thanks to a hint from Sabina, we found and hereby proudly present THE solution for all those who regret that with e-Books, book sniffing may come to an end:

Tested with all available e-Book formats, comes in 5 flavors, with attractive (yet a bit surprising) pricing, and easy to use.

Spread the word! Feel the sensation! Be happy at last.

Google, Europe and Us. On some oddities with regard to the Google Book Settlement, Europeana and a reader’s perspective.

Following the controversy around the Google Settlement and European publishers’ and author (and collecting) societies, one could assume to witness a battle between a bunch of European Jedi knights against that Dark Vader from Mountain View, California. From a more detached reader’s point of view, things are clearly more complex.

While Google chose to digitize works from libraries at a massive scale since 2004, European representatives of copyright holders call on lawyers and legislators to fight the US settlement between the industry giant and stakeholders such as author and publishing representatives in a stand off that, in Germany or Austria in particular, has taken on the forms of cultural wars.

If things were so simple though.

A good moment of research in the database of Europeana, the European digital library network opposing Google, generates rather puzzling results.

First of all, pictures by far outnumber texts. Take Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955), the German Nobel laureate of 1929. We find 152 pictures and 45 text files, out of which only 10 are works by Thomas Mann. 9 of those are in Hungarian, 1 in Greek which can’t be opened. The Hungarian files include major works of Mann in full text, such as the Tonio Kröger, published initially in German in 1903.

The digital collection of modern classics of the Hungarian ‘Széchényi‘ National Library is impressive indeed. It includes such master pieces as the collected short stories of the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges, or the novel  “La Peste” by French Nobel laureate Albert Camus, all in Hungarian translation.

A copyright note to the digital collection, identifying the “Hungarian Electronic Library” MEK as the “administrator” of the public site, indicates:

The copyright and other privileges are owned by the author/owner of the document (if he/she is known). If the author or owner expressly specifies conditions regarding the distribution and usage somewhere in this text, then those terms overrule the limitations stated below. Furthermore he or she is responsible for that too, that the distribution of this document in electronic form doesn’t hurt some other person authorship rights.”

And it furthermore allows a stunning set of free usages of its pages , clearly disregarding any copyright restrictions on the original works which it puts on display in Hungarian translation (for which, we hope at least, they have acquired the digital rights):

This document can be freely copied and distributed, but you can use it only for personal purposes and non-commercial applications, without modifying it, and with proper citation to the original source.”

Another good example is French modern classic Paul Valéry, whose digitization by Google from US library copies was one of the starting points for the rage of France against the Anglo-dominated cultural effort of bringing books onto the Internet in the first place (with Europeana being one of the most direct results of the case).

Looking up texts by Paul Valéry (1871 – 1945) in Europeana results in 10 links to digital texts, none in French, and most from the Slovenian National and University Library of Ljubljana, including “The Crisis of the Mind”, a key text of Valéry’s. The two letters – “Kriza duha” in Slovenian – have been published initially in 1919 in English by Athenaeum in London, and then reproduced, in French in August of the same year, in “La Nouvelle Revue Francaise”.

As the Slovenian National Library provides no clues as to the printed sources (aside from a bland “From the collections of Variteté A.D.”), nor the translator nor the copyright, I found those details instead on the original publication of Valéry’s letters with another digital version , put up onto the web by a Massachusetts based organization, “The History Guide“,  which aims at giving students and teachers good content to “revolutionizing education in the spirit of socratic wisdom” and issuing, as it goes, its own ‘creative commons’ kind of conditions of usage with its site.

In fact, this is not the only online ressource for Valéry’s seminal pamphlet. The Université du Québec à Chicoutimi is so proud of its digital (French) version of “La crise de l’esprit” that it not only places it in a nice layout, but even adds the name and Email address of the person who did the digital version so nicely, Pierre Palpant. Thank you very much for your help indeed!

In return, “La crise de l’esprit” cannot be retrieved from Europeana, or its source, “Gallica“, the pride of “La Bibliothèque nationale de France”, BnF, for copyright reasons.

As for Thomas Mann’s “Tonio Kröger”, I can find it full text at Scribd, a generally ‘legal’ portal, yet with lots of copyrighted, not so kosher reading stuff uploaded by and for students as well, and – my favorite finding by far – anpther copy at the most popular Italian dating site, “Amore Infinito“, in a bi-lingual version as a translation exercise and promo sample for its translator Heinrich F. Fleck who even claims a copyright for his translation, and refers to “casa Fisher” (recte Frankfurt based Holtzbrinck daughter S. Fischer) for the original rights.

At Google books, I find most texts by Mann and Valéry with only their bibliographical data, yet no quotes, but an English collection of Valéry’s “Writings“, including some of his poems in French, in a still available edition of “New Directions”, the famous house of Ezra Pound, William Carlos William, or more recently, Robert Walser and Roberto Bolano.

“Tonio Kröger”, of course, is also available as an e-Book for legal download, for instance at Mobipocket at Euro 1,20.

It is all a big mess indeed.

This by far non-exhaustive research of only a few titles of two writers, a French and a German modern classic, neither one a bestseller for their rights holder, Holtzbrinck’s S. Fischer for Thomas Mann, and Gallimard for Paul Valéry, are good enough though to provide a glimpse on the many mirrors reflecting books and related copyrighted material (or, even more so, so called orphaned works with no obvious rights holder to ask for permissions) onto the web. For good reasons, I excluded any notorious piracy sites in this research.

As a reader, I have serious doubts that at this stage, a good solution for me can evolve out of a legal battle between author or publisher organizations, and the likes of Google. And yet, of course, I want rights to be respected, and writers and others who are adding value to be paid.

It certainly must not be rewarded that one actor, in this case Google, decided to move first forcefully, and than, reluctantly, may comply to questions asked later. And I share the deep skepticism towards Google’s growing clout on the “world text mass” (“Welttextmasse“), the wonderful term coined by the ever good intuition of Peter Glaser. Furthermore it is not acceptable to simply apply US law to Europe.

This said, I must add that I don’t see either any reasonable perspective in expecting the same committees of stakeholder organizations who so far did not produce a lot more than angry calls for a silly “battle for our culture” may come up now with anything more meaningful or productive than over the past five years, since Google started its digitization of libraries on a grand scale.

Instead I consider some European version of a “fair use” formula a desirable perspective, and a European equivalent of the Google settlement is most likely the best and the most realistic way of developing a balanced system for handling copyrighted content on the Internet – with the creators AND the readers in mind. With no such settlement, all that we get is huge bills for lawyers, and little rewards (yet a huge chaos) for everybody else.

Interestingly, the outgoing Commissioner for the Information Society at the European Commission, Viviane Reding, has had the most clear words in this respect recently, as she said: “If we do not reform our European copyright rules on orphan works and libraries swiftly, digitisation and the development of attractive content offers will not take place in Europe, but on the other side of the Atlantic.”

As a footnote, I want to add that even if one doesn’t buy into the argument of Mrs Reding’s statement (which I consider as highly appropriate though), it is to be noted that she at least speaks about that process in a perspective for the future  – while most self appointed defenders of the endangered book culture speak of it only in the past tense.

The Jedi knights and Dark Vader are certainly great fun in a movie, or a novel. But they do not provide a valid blueprint for what needs to be done for us readers, or for authors or publishers.

Deutsche Fassung hier.

Invitation: On Translation conference and Diversity Report 2009

Following up on the very successful and fruitful debates at last year’s „On Translation“ conference at the Vienna book fair Buch Wien, we prepare for a next move with the “On Translation” conference and “Diversity Report2009 and want to encourage your participation and involvement.

Presentations and debates will focus on reliable information sources and professional tools for analyzing and better understanding translation markets, and on the relevance of publishing to cultural diversity.
A new “Author’s and Publisher’s Exchange” will link between the general debate and the requirements of publishing professionals.

The goal is to have, with the conference, a professional platform for organizations and for publishing professionals interested in translation and cultural diversity, while the report is meant to provide data and insight as a starting point for a well informed debate.

When? November 13, 2009
Where? Buch Wien 09 Messe Wien
Full details, registration and preliminary program: here

More about Buch Wien 09: here

As for the “Diversity Report 2009” please find a detailed preview here.

Please circulate the information about both the conference and the upcoming report and/or link to from your website, blog or twitter!

See you in Wien in November

Chinese novel “Wolf Totem” to be made into a movie by Jean-Jacques Annaud

Tracking significant milestones of how Chinese literature and publishing interacts with the West, we can refer to reports in the Hollywood reporter and The Bookseller that Jiang Rong’s novel “Wolf Totem” is going to be turned into a major movie by French director Jean Jacques Annaud.

As The Bookseller reports,

The film will be made in China, with backing from the Beijing Forbidden City Movie Co, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Annaud plans to plans to breed wolves and train them from birth to take part in the story of a Chinese student who goes to Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s and captures a wolf cub to raise.

The book which had been high up in China’s bestseller charts for years, was the first major acquisition of Penguin’s newly established Beijing bureau chief Jo Lusby ca. 3 years ago, and was then successfully presented in translations across Europe and the USA.

Understanding and critically (yet openly) discussing the Google Settlement

With the debate on the Google Settlement and its likely meaning for various groups (and countries) turning into a strange confrontation of hidden interests and pure ideology in some places, notably in Europe, I want to invite anybody interested in the matter to check out this site and the possibilities for a meaningful and differenciated debate:

The Public Index

Heidelberg! A German controversy on books and culture in the digital age.

Is our culture threatened by Google and by the Open Access movement for freely accessible science publications? Are Google’s library scanning programs and the so called “Google settlement” with the US Author’s Guild a menace against the freedom of expression in Germany?

Such is the opinion expressed by the “Heidelberg Appell” made public by Roland Reuss in March 2009 and since then endorsed by 2600 publishing and literary people throughout Germany, and heavily promoted notably by most of the German mainstream media.

I rather guess that the ensuing debate is more of a – pretty belated – realization for many that things around the book, publishing and the readers are in fact changing dramatically, even if many tried hard to ignore it so far. This resulted in a memorable re-emergence of the old pattern of controversy confronting modernists and traditionalists.

I tried to sort out arguments and perspectives in two lengthy articles in German (initially published by Perlentaucher) and in English (initially published by Publishing Perspectives and documented at my own website as well.

Bringing Arab Books to New York @ BEA

Long time not write – but frankly, May and June so far have been a frenzy time (but now I can relax). One main cause was the ambitious project of preparing the Global Market Forum: The Arab World for BookExpo America. After test runs in previous years on the ‘global English reading’ in 2007 and on publishing in China in 2008, we had our first really broad international grip on BEA – and it was a really great success by all measures.

Amr Moussa of the Arab League and othe Dignitaries discussing the Arab World at BEA i New York

Amr Moussa of the Arab League and othe Dignitaries discussing the Arab World at BEA i New York

We had exhibitors from most of the core countries of the Arab world, including Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah), an opening ceremony with Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League,

a very substantial and well attended professional program (both in number and profile of the attendees) covering topics from translation, editorial issues, childrens books, to distribution to copyright,

Arab and US book professionals listening to Sheika Budour of Sharjah presenting her children's book program

Arab and US book professionals listening to Sheika Budour of Sharjah presenting her children's book program

and for the first tim ever, a cultural program outside of the professional fair, with “New Eyes on the Arab World” at the New York Public Library,

New Eyes on the Arab World at the New York Public Library, with Raja Alem, Tom McDonough, Joe Sacco, Peter Theroux and Suleiman Hatlan

New Eyes on the Arab World at the New York Public Library, with Raja Alem, Tom McDonough, Joe Sacco, Peter Theroux and Suleiman Hatlan

bringing together a Saudi woman writer – Raja Alem – who had written, in English, with a US colleague – Tom McDonough – about Mekka, a pretty famous graphical novelist from Portland, who had extensively published in his art on Islamic countries and issues – Joe Sacco – plus probably the most renowned translator of Arab fiction in the US – Peter Theroux – with a Dubai based TV host – Suleiman Hatlan – as a moderator.

Allow me to say that rarely I was attending a panel debate that was really so lively, so personally involved and inciting so much curiosity (this is what the general audience said, not me). Oh, and you can see a live stream – here.

Die Vielfalt der Bücher

Es ist bemerkenswert, dass all die heiß umstrittenen Themen in der aktuellen Debatte rund ums Buch – seine kulturelle Stellung als Kulturgut, das Urheberrecht, die Rolle der Verlage und des Handels – in so gut wie allen gängigen Standarddefinitionen des Buches seit dem 19. Jahrhundert nicht einmal angesprochen werden. Und viele kolportierte Thesen über Trends und Entwicklungen der Buchkultur – etwa über die Homogenisierung und Verflachung des Angebots durch den übermächtigen Konkurrenzdruck von englischsprachigen Bestsellern, oder die Vormacht weniger angelsächsischer Konzerne – werden zumeist nicht nur ohne empirische Evidenz vorgetragen. Sie sind in ihrer simplen Argumentation schlicht falsch. Wenn nun die Bedrohung der Kultur insgesamt durch Digitalisierung und Aushöhlung des Urheberrechts ausgerufen wird, sind die Evidenzen bei näherer Betrachtung zumindest fragwürdig. Mehr

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