Embracing change and discussing the future of books – cheerfully! Publishers’ Forum Berlin 2014

Back from two days of rich – and entertaining! – debates on the digital transformation of books and reading at Publishers’ Forum 2014 in Berlin, one little remark still resonate particularly strongly in my memory. “Noone was discussing how many percent of revenues come from ebooks”, someone observed at one point. Instead it was all on how to think the future, or how to carefully organize a transition that allows to sustain quality, diversity, and new options. We even had a good laugh, like in this session:


The orange is the ‘new thing’ that the old tower needs to support – and we had to form teams in order to build a solid tower to do that job. (Session run by Béa Beste of Tollabox)

But of course, this fun exercise was well orchestrated between thoughtful key notes and good panel debates on a wide range of topics. I counted almost 40 sessions for the 280 delegates, and frankly, still need to digest what I have heard and seen, bit by bit.

I was really intrigued by the new model for a Social Book, as introduced by Bob Stein, the perhaps best humored visionary I’ve ever met. When you hear the argument that reading is a solidary exercise, by definition – then better think again, and check it out.

Or when you assume that the current consolidation of publishers into huge giants (like the Random Penguin, or more recently Harper’s Harlequin – I realize there is a clear name pattern involved in this buying spree!) comes as a kind of The-End-of-History with regard to publishing and good reading, again, open your eyes, as we were told – by analyst Brian O’Leary, for instance, who gently and smilingly suggested to review copyright, so that meaningful professional publishing can be sustained (!); or by deGruyter’s Sven Fund who simply stated: “We (as publishers; rw) are not on a mission, we are in a service industry.”

What I particularly liked, aside from the fun of tower building (our team came in second, topped by an investor – that’s how it is), was how the long shots were well founded in the practical, how strong ideas were backed up by practical experience, clear information, and common sense.


I will go back to many of the talks, and watch some of the presentations again – slides and videos will be posted soon at the Forum’s website.

I will do so by personal interest and pleasure, but also because I can report an exciting news: From 2015 on, I have been invited to curate the the Publishers’ Forum, following up on what Helmut von Berg has created as the conference’s founding director in over a decade.

He was cheered by everybody for this endeavor in standing ovations. I was moved, really, when some time ago, he had asked me if I would continue in what he had started. I’ll do it as good as I can.

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