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.

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