As I visited the Frankfurt Book Fair last week, Ebooks and Ebook services seemed to be omnipresent. From E-readers to E-publishing experiments and from POD and software services to E-braries, the publishing value chain finally seems to have lost its fear when it comes to the embracing of the Ebook. This has lead to the rise of new digital service and platform providers, which I will reflect upon in a later post.
The opening speeches of the book fair can now be found online here. Two of them, one by Prof. Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder, the Director of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association and one by the famous Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, specifically talked about Ebooks. Interestingly enough, both of them see it as inevitable that in the future digital book content will be available for free. As Professor Honnefelder states:
“The existing business model doesn’t apply any longer. The publishers, who have worked with digital content for some time now, know this of course. The others have to learn how to handle it and accept that “Open Access” prevails time and again, and that Internet users don’t have any patience when the “free flow of information” runs into walls. A development towards this new openness is the future job of publishers and bookstores. In doing so, one must be ready to adopt new financial and publishing models and not always insist on copy being paid for. We are talking about new book-minded financial models which reward the publishers’ work in new, perhaps indirect ways. “
Paulo Coelho envisions a similar future:
“There’s an important element to this which most people are not fully aware of: people are sharing what they deem pertinent in a free way and they expect the same thing to occur in all systems of mass communication. (…) Yet, given that books as media are still widely used, why not share the whole digital content of books for free? Contrary to what common sense tells us – and common sense is not always a good guide, otherwise publishers, booksellers and writers would probably be doing something more profitable – the more you give, the more you gain.”
However, although Honnefelder thinks free will eventually prevail, he does seem to be afraid of the exploitment of online digital content, fearing piracy and copyright infringements:
“Education, knowledge, content – these are the resources of a modern society. But how do we keep it this way? These resources must be protected! Anyone who steals a book out of a bookstore can expect consequences. Why should there be different laws on the Internet? Simply because this book is not printed on paper and bound?”
On the other hand, Paulo Coelho (or his alter ego “The Pirate Coelho”), sees more creative (and economic) possibilities in the sharing of content and information on the net:
“Yet, there are still two problems to tackle: copyrights and the sustainability of the publishing industry. I don’t have a solution, but we are facing a new era, so either we adapt or we die. However, I did not come here to share solutions, but my own experience as an author. Of course, I make a living out of my copyrights, but at this very moment I am not concentrating on this. I have to adapt myself. Not only by connecting more directly with my readers – something unthinkable a few years ago – but also by developing a new language, Internet-based, that will be the language of the future: direct, simple, without being superficial. Time will tell me how to recover the money I myself am investing alone in my social communities. But I am investing in something for which every single writer in the world would be grateful: to have his texts read by a maximum of people (…) The Internet has taught me this: don’t be afraid of sharing your ideas. Don’t be afraid of engaging others to voice their ideas. And more importantly, don’t presume who is and who is not a creator – because we all are.
This discussion clearly reflects how important it is to think about new ways to create revenue from free and in this respect the book business has a chance to create a progressive system, learning from the experience of the other digitized media (music, film). Before giving pirates the overhand, we should try to create a system that creates value of and that benefits from free, at least we should strive to do so. At least to me this seems better than fighting a movement that claims to follow the main mechanism of the Internet, based on the free sharing of information, and in this respect has already won beforehand.