China, Digitization Issues Set Agenda for Book Fair

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

“The book fair can, may, and must be a lot of things, but it must never be boring,” said Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos on Tuesday morning as part of the fair’s opening press conference. With 400,000 books and 180,000 trade visitors from more than 100 countries on display at the Fair, there is surely something for everybody.

Of course, bringing so many people into one space means you’ll have a variety of conflicting opinions. Boos was implicitly referring not to the trade fair, but to China’s controversial stint as the Guest of Honor at this year’s Fair which promises to bring, along with the glare of the media, protests.

“China both irritates and fascinates us, but you cannot ignore it,” Boos said, adding that the Fair’s role was not to be a mediator. “We are not the United Nations, we can point to conflicts, but not solve conflicts,” he said. “We talk about literature.”

The other shadow hanging over the conference was the challenge digitization is bringing to publishing, and in particular, the Google Book Settlement. Prof. Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder, president of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association, set the agenda when he began by asking the question everyone will be trying to answer this year: “How can we earn money with digital content?” He also reasserted his organization’s opposition to the Google Book Settlement in its current format and said they were “relieved” that it had been postponed.

“We support digitization, but we are against the monopoly of a commercial company that would have control over which digital content is made public,” said Honnefelder. “Intellectual property owners around the world, without their consent, would suddenly be at the mercy of the arbitrariness of a single company, which is not even a part of the publishing industry.”

Honnefelder emphasized that copyright protections must be maintained. What’s ultimately at risk, he said, was “respect for authors, whose intellectual gifts are what provide us with the contents for our media world in the first place.”

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.