By Amanda DeMarco
“A yearly class reunion for the internet community” is how the Spiegel characterizes Berlin’s re:publica conference. The seventh iteration of the dual-language, German/English conference attracted 5,000 visitors from Germany and abroad this week. Though anxiety about the cultural significance of the book pervades discussions within the publishing industry, re:publica’s netizens showed their continuing enthusiasm for the form at talks dedicated to library digitization, the essence of the book, metadata, and how the internet is changing literary writing.
Publishing communications consultant Wibke Ladwig gave a talk to a packed auditorium about what makes a book a book in the digital age. UNESCO might define it as a “non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers,” but the discourse surrounding books today tends to be emotional, with nostalgia for “the myth of the book” competing with desires for freedom and accessibility. The energetic audience discussion that followed — Ladwig remarked that it felt like “a red-wine conversation” — underlined the fact that while publishers may be obsessed with format, readers love books, in whatever format.
re:publica is also documented in book-form: supported by the self-publishing platform epubli, Students from the German School of Journalism (Deutsche Journalistenschule) in Munich covered events each day to produce an ebook, the re:publica Reader, about the conference ready for purchase the next morning. Participating journalism student Victoria Reith said that this kind of experience is “definitely” relevant to the work she and her peers will be doing in the future: “Some of us will probably end up in print journalism, but everyone should be prepared to work digitally and quickly, but with depth.” Reith emphasized that digital reporting has to maintain high editorial standards, and that the experience revealed the challenge for journalists to “stay critical” while working under great time pressure. If you’re looking for an example of how the internet is changing writing, and of how the book as a form is taking on new and previously impossible relevance, look no further.