The Book Ecosystem – German version!

At the Leipzig Book Fair, which closed yesterday, a colorful meeting ground for authors, readers and other book people (plus thousands of Manga lovers disguised as their favorite characters in play), the “book” was supposedly the real thing, as opposed to the *e*. And yet, there was, probably for the first time in Germany, a broad consensus about ebooks to have started their journey with readers, in “real”. While in opening addresses, there was still talk about the “end” of book culture as we know it, it may be more interesting to understand what this means, practically. So I added a few thoughts on the “ecosystem of books and reading” in my column “Virtualienmarkt” at Perlentaucher. In case your German is rusty, try Google translation, it works good enough to get a read.

eBooks: Kleine Verschiebung, grosse Wirkung!

Natürlich ist die Suche nach eBooks noch ziemlich mühsam, zu unberechenbar ist das Angebot, zu willkürlich, was von Verlagen digital zum sofortigen Download angeboten wird, und was nicht. Und die Wirrungen enden nicht mit der erfolgreichen Suche. Die fangen mit dem Fund erst so richtig an.

Das Auffälligste ist gewiss, wie durchgängig hier, auch bei deutschen Angeboten, plötzlich über den Preis geworben wird. “Jetzt kaufen. Print Ausgabe 31,00 Euro – durchgestrichen. eBook 26,99. Sie sparen 5,01. Sofort lieferbar (Download)”. Darunter wartet schon der “Warenkorb”.

Weiter lesen hier.

EBooks unterm Weihnachtsbaum – eine schöne Bescherung!

“Schatz, legst Du schon mal die eBooks unter den Weihnachtsbaum?” Der Satz wird diesmal noch nicht ganz so häufig ins Wohnzimmer gerufen werden, aber es wird ihn geben. Er wird sich diesmal noch eher auf kleine Kartonschächtelchen mit den Lesegeräten darin beziehen, denn die Bücher selbst, jeweils gerade mal eine kleine elektronische Datei, in ein paar Sekunden aus dem Netz geladen, benötigen keine Verpackung, sondern nur ein Preisschild – zum Beispiel für einen Weihnachtsgutschein.

Aber das Preisschild wird verwirrend sein und vielen aus der Branche erhebliches Kopfzerbrechen bereiten. Und das hat erst einmal gar nichts mit den festen Buchpreisen zu tun, sondern mit der neuen digitalen Welt.


The Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2010: Join us at the Frankfurt Book Fair for a debate with industry leaders on facts, trends and outlooks

The Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2010:
Facts, Trends, Outlook.
Industry leaders discuss the business of publishing today

Wednesday, October 6, 2010, 14:30 – 16:00
Frankfurt Book Fair, hall 4.2, Room Dimension
Organiser: Livres Hebdo with buchreport, Publishers Weekly and The Bookseller.

What is the state of the publishing industry? What are the powerhouses, what the strategies and the perspectives for winning the game of change? How is the complex relationship between publishers and retail evolving in a landscape of changing roles?
Based on the empirical evidence as presented by the Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry for the fourth year in a row, top representatives of leading global trade publishing and retail groups discuss where the business is going.
Two years into the financial crisis as well as into the take off of e-Books, the consolidation and the globalization of the business, as well as the challenges and opportunities from digital innovation are on top of everyone’s agenda.
But what does this mean, really?
Initiated in 2007 by the French book trade magazine Livres Hebdo, and co-published by buchreport (Germany), Publishers Weekly (US), and The Bookseller (UK), the Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry is updated annually and has been researched by Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting.
In cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Jesús Badenes, Managing director books, Planeta
Peter Field, CEO Penguin, UK
Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO, Simon & Schuster
Pascal Zimmer, Managing director, Libri, Germany

Moderated by Fabrice Piault and Rüdiger Wischenbart

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.

It’s the Crisis, stupid! But what does this really mean?

Tracking news about how the crisis affects publishing over the past two months produces some strange findings. Almost instantly, starting as of  November 2008, we saw predictions about how the crisis would hit the industry. Then in December – and now again, with the year’s end reporting – we are told that notably in the US, UK and France, XMas 08 was pretty dark in various segments of the book trade. In Germany, it was not so bleak, but all of the rest of 2008 was not terrific in the first place.

Between these notes, we also heard quickly reports about imminent job cuts (notably in the US, with Simon &  Schuster, Macmillan), restructuring measures and (at Houghton Mifflin) an instant freeze in the acquisition of new titles.

But frankly, these are all pretty dumb, unspecific measures and reactions. What does this mean for a publishing company to stop buying new titles? (And Houghton had build its Himalaya of debt well before the crisis was on the horizon!)

But most amazing is how little we hear about the deeper – structural – trouble in the industry.  Only in France, in Livres Hebdo and in Le Monde, I found some pieces addressing the huge rise of advances over the past years, or more detailed observations about distribution and consolidation.

I didn’t find any well informed reflections about the overproduction (the flood of titles); or the internationalization of the trade, of trends and of author brands; or the probably new dynamics (and competition) between imprints of large conglomerates and independents with regard to the crisis.

Most of all, I would expect that this crisis will trigger digital change, because if you can dramatically reduce the cost of production, storage, distribution and also marketing by doing it all in an integrated digital environment, it is not all too difficult to predict that at least some actors – from within the industry, or some new entrants – will go down that path.

Well, I will do my best in the weeks and months to track information and thoughts along those lines and discuss it on this site.

Change in publishing: Yes, we can! Can we?

A brief visit to the Netherlands parachuted me into an interesting university seminar at Leiden – a lovely city with an outstanding and historically long tradition both in book printing and in gardening and an impressive brand new public library.

After spending a few hours in the botanical garden, where they had planted those very first tulip pulps in the 17th which led to one of the first really severe stock market break downs of modern history, I sat down in an auditorium and listened to three gentlemen from the Dutch book trade, as they rolled out their views on digital change ahead.

Interestingly enough, they seemed to be pretty confident about what was going to happen.

One (who runs a kind of consortium distribution agency for books owned by all the publishers collectively?!) said that they needed only to adapt their fulfillment to the new kinds of electronic books.

The second, a librarian, had visions about how libraries would become agents in turning those digital documents into Print on Demand (POD) books – yet did not seem to be very much aware of the complexities in dealing with all the copyrights and commercial interests  involved.

The third, who was with an e-Book facilitator, saw a good business in helping probably independent publishers in going digital.

All three were kind of sure that e-books will be just a new kind of paperback or audio book subsidiary right of  books as we know them.

As these gentlemen spoke, 4 different kinds of e-Book readers were passed to us in the auditorium, the Amazon Kindle (which kind of froze, and it was impossible to me or anyone else to get it back to life), a Sony Reader (which was clearly my favorite in terms of look & feel), and two others.

Surprisingly enough for such a specialized set of speakers and listeners, money, business models or rights issues – aside of direct piracy, which everybody disliked, of course – were hardly addressed.

I did my best in expressing my suspicion that the paths into the digital future of the book will be less linear than expected by the present practitioners.

Still, I feel an urge to repeat, once again, this old joke:

Remember this debate about how we need to imagine God? Someone from the audience stands up and says: “First of all, She is black!”

I suppose that e-Books will mean real change, and not just more of the same.

eBooks: It’s about reading and access, not gadgets

At the Frankfurt Book fair, I was amazed that a pretty much technical panel debate could draw a crowd of some 100 people for almost an hour.

I had the pleasure to host the talk with UK consultant Mark Bide, Piero Atanasio of the Italian Association of Publishers, and Simon Juden of the British Publishers’ Association about some pretty dry outlooks into the digital future. Everyone agreed on 2 things:

1. There is a lot of change ahead (not a surprise)

2. Things may be much less controversial than expected, because much of the hassle could be sorted out by technical innovations, instead of lawyers and litigation.

Today, various news wires bring the confirmation that the legal showdown between Google and the US publishers’ and authors organizations has been avoided and replaced by an out of court settlement (here is the release of AAP), opening doors, libraries and screens for tons of digital books online, and certainly encouraging Google to push even stronger in its digitization strategy.

A few days ago, I read – as it had been expected since one year – that Random House has signed an agreement with Google book search for all their  English language books.

In the meantime, all the hype about gadgets seems to cool off quite a bit as no release date for Amazon’s Kindle in Europe has been given in Frankfurt. No relevant Kindle 2.0 announcement has been made. Sony Reader is not available in many places in time for Christmas.

So I feel pretty much confirmed in my expectation that digital change is ahead, yet it is about access and reading, and it is much less about little plastic boxes of any kind.

Student’s research on e-Books, on translation and on literature and migration

I am time and again amazed to see what – even undergraduate – students can achieve when they are allaowed (and a bit encouraged) to do research on sometimes tricky subjects.

So I am proud to point to 3 essays which each summarize a topic where otherwise little consistent information can be found (alas, you need to read German for getting the best out of it):

e-Books: If you want an overview of e-Books in a historic context, and a decent overview of the major current trends, go here.

Literature and migration: A key topic with regard too cultural diversity, and yet hardly researched, at least for German speaking countries – here.

Translation and the Austrian book market, a nice summary here.

And an overview of more student’s research here.

French Nobel Le Clézio – the financial crisis – e-Books: Weird reflections on a puzzling day

These are pretty weird days, and I have some difficulty in finding some coherent thoughts about what that means in a perspective of books.

The Nobel prize was given to the French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. This was a surprise, for sure, but I thought at first: “Hein, c’est interessant”. I had read “Le désert” many years ago, a novel in praise of the clarity of desert life and the virtues of Tuareg nomads, perhaps a bit too thick in descriptions of that sound of nothingness, but not only did I like it and, decades later, still have the flavor of the book, and a few images. It was obvious – and even none of those nasty instant critics of the past 2 days contested this point -: Le Clézio knows what he is talking about. He talks about many countries, many people, many flavors, and this is, I suppose, something important and valuable which writers can bring us, provided their language is up to the job – and this is the other quality that hardly anyone questions. And yet, in Germany at least, several of the “grands pontifs”, or the big wigs of literary criticism, instantly threw at Le Clézio: The fact that they had never read one of his books. How weird! Critics who blame their ignorance on the writer whom they did not bother to read.

Earlier today, I also read a few quotes from European publishing executives about how the global financial crisis might affect books. And I learned a cute thing: It won’t affect books a lot, someone remarked, because people will eventually re-consider buying a new TV set, or a car, but not a trade paperback for 5 Euros. However, this does not mean that publishing *companies* would not be affected. And even very much so they are already, I learned from today’s Publishers’ Lunch newsletter where Michael Cader posted the losses of various US publishers’ and retailers’ losses (including some 31 percent for Amazon since September 19 – details for subscribers only).

Two thoughts slowly emerged in my mind, and I write them down at the risk of being wrong once again, in the short term: For e-Books, this crisis is a huge opportunity, because in the end, they offer publishers (and writers) possibilities to cut down on their costs, in terms of production and distribution, but even more so in communication with the readers. That can open doors, specifically in difficult (and in soul searching) times. And it can do so for very specific writers, who, like Le Clézio, at the same time, are both main stream (in their rather traditional approach to story telling and to humanity and their generic values) and marginal, or peripheral (in the choice of their topics, and their following), but who can find great significance by exactly their stubborn ways.

Since reading “Le désert”, I had, time and again, said to myself that I should read a few more books of this writer. I never did – nor did I ever meet him, despite of a certain, if unspecific desire to try.

Over time, I had been friends with two other writers who, as unexpectedly as Le Clézio, had ended up winning the Nobel: Gao Xingjian, the first Chinese, yet naturalized French, and Elfriede Jelinek, my Austrian compatriot. Each has a very strong sense of telling an unwanted story which, even later on, as the topic itself at some point becomes wildly welcome and prized, remains, in their specific telling, too violent, or too personal, or too awkward, or all of this, to make the writers really popular. Gao turned the catastrophic Cultural Revolution in China into a personal tale of such subtlety that, despite of all the cruelties mirrored, remained so private, that most of the critics turned it down. Jelinek does the reverse thing as she turns violence against normal, middle class girls and women and, probably more importantly, men’s fantasies into such public nightmares that they remain utterly indigestible, or unconsumeable, even against all of today’s movie and game fantasies.

Le Clézio, in my memories, has much milder things to say; perhaps he could be blamed for being the backpacker’s ultimate poet and soul mate. But this does not only explain why he is hated by capital literary honoraries – who always dislike those stray dogs who just drop their borrowed and torn paperbacks for the next traveling peer, instead of accumulating their private little library fortress in a middle class home. In fact, this stray dog’s writing can, perhaps, be very much what we may want to read now, after all those capital fund dogs got rid of much of our savings, plus our future tax payments, and that of our kids as well.

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