Welcome to the VUCA World! The Frankfurt International Book Fair 2019. Part 2

This post is by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies, and Sarah How, European Studies Librarian at Cornell University. 

The Frankfurt International Book Fair is a trade event that attracts professionals from many countries and nearly all segments of the publishing and information science worlds.  This includes academic librarians from the US. Every year members of the  European Studies Section of the American Library Association (ALA) team up to get as much out of the Frankfurt Book Fair events as possible; they spend evenings pouring over the programs, and record what they want to report back to colleagues at the next ALA conference, including recommended readings published during the fair. For 2019, the responsibility for this task was assumed by Heidi Madden (Duke) and Sarah How (Cornell), both of whom attended the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair and who have collaborated on the writing of this blog post.

Trade publications issued around the fair provide excellent reading for librarians. Expert White Papers  (free, but registration is required for download) help visitors familiarize themselves with issues and trends before the Fair. What follows below are a few examples of our required reading for 2019.

As is apparent from this list, digital publishing was one of the overarching themes of the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair.  Those fairgoers who attended the sessions on publishing in the digital age were invited to enter the “VUCA World.” The VUCA world is not some happy, imaginary planet, but rather the confusing information landscape in which we all currently find ourselves: the letters of the acronym stand for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Visitors to the 2019 Fair had many opportunities to hear international experts speak on issues connected to this theme, which ran like a red (read) thread through many of the presentations. For this blog post, we have decided to focus on two of the more substantial “hot topics”: the availability of new subscription models for journals and e-books and the concept of e-books as an accessible digital ecosystem.

Library administrators and researchers from across Europe presented on Plan S, an initiative launched by Science Europe in September 2018 for making open-access science publishing a foundational principle of the scientific enterprise. There was also discussion of Project DEAL, an initiative by a consortium of German university libraries and research institutes to re-negotiate large contracts (“deals”) with the major publishing houses of e-journals, which are usually the biggest line item in any research library’s acquisitions budget. In another forum, e-book vendors approvingly noted that newspaper publishers have created innovative business models that work on the Internet by devising formulas for offering just enough free content to trigger a sale of premium content. These vendors suggested that e-books, both fiction and nonfiction, could potentially be marketed using the same sort of model, that is, by offering a preview on the Internet extensive enough to trigger either a sale of an entire volume or a “subscription” to individual chapters, one chapter at a time.

Just when publishers appear to have figured out how to monetize premium content based on the free content that appears in an Internet search, legislation triggered by the new European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market appears to complicate matters once again. Certain aspects of the EU directive are popularly referred to as the “link-tax,” because they effectively mean that the makers of search engines can be fined for showing too much free content in the result list under a link to a content provider, especially for news content. The link tax issue is playing out in real time in France, where legislation based on the European Directive has already been introduced, and where a fierce debate between Internet giants (like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) and legislators will influence how the EU Directive is incorporated into the cyber-laws of other EU countries.

One of the most discussed topics at this year’s fair was the implementation of the European Accessibility Act, which was written on the basis of a directive by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO has 192 member states, and administers 26 international treaties, including the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled,” which was adopted in 2013. The European Union signed the European Accessibility Act in March 13, 2019. This act directs EU member countries to incorporate WIPO’s accessibility requirements into their national laws, and to be compliant by 2025. The European Accessibility Act applies to a suite of digital services, like computer hardware and operating systems, payment terminals, websites, and e-readers. In the context of accessibility, e-books are considered a service, and the act requires that the entire publishing chain, i.e. content producers, digital distributors, catalogs for searching, and e-readers participate in making content available to Print Impaired People (PiPs). In effect, the Accessibility Act creates a vision of e-books as part of a larger and more accessible digital ecosystem.

Exemptions are planned for art books, comic books, children’s books, and smaller companies with under 2 million Euros in revenue. The print segment of the market will continue to exist, but it must align with a digital edition. For this reason, there is a provision for third party “authorized entities” to produce accessible-format copies of non-compliant publications on a non-profit basis. The work of these entities will be instrumental for foreign publishers who market materials in Europe. Organizations like Fondazione LIA, the Daisy Consortium, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), EDRLab, and EDItEur  are working to understand the implications of this act for the publishing industry and for libraries in Europe, and are helping to develop standards for born accessible publications and for converting non-compliant publications and back files.

Fondatione LIA presented their research at the 7th International Convention of International University Presses at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019. The full report, co-authored by Gregorio Pellegrino, Cristina Mussinelli, and Elisa Molinari:  “E-BOOKS FOR ALL.Towards an accessible digital publishing ecosystem,” can be downloaded (with free registration) at the LIA website.

In sum, although we continue to live in VUCA world, the Accessibility Act, along with advances in digital publishing, search and discovery (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, algorithms, complex metadata, voice search) promise to make electronic and audio books more accessible and more functional for every reader. And American research libraries are actively helping their patrons to navigate through this changing publishing landscape. The creation of digital publishing services departments, such as the recently-founded Scholarworks at Duke or Scholarly Communications and Open Access at Cornell, is one way of engaging with the general trends and developments in the new digital publishing ecosystem. Another is to anticipate these changes by incorporating some of the proposed solutions into libraries’ strategic plans, as has been done, for example, in “Engage, Discover, Transform: Duke University Libraries,” 2016-2021. Last, but not least, is support for librarians’ attendance at international library fairs (like the one in Frankfurt), which allow librarians to stay informed about the latest developments, learn about the looming challenges, and discover innovative ways to overcome them, and inspire practical applications in their institutions.

Many organizations publish informative white papers around the time of the book fair. Pictured is the cover of ”The Universe of Books,” published by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels in the “The Frankfurt Magazine. German Stories, 2019,” which captures the global book market.

About the authors:

Heidi Madden is the Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies at Duke University; she serves as Chair of the European Studies Section of the Association for College and Research Libraries.

Sarah How is the European Studies Librarian at Cornell University, and serves as the Chair of the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections in North American Libraries (CIFNAL), a Global Resources Project of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), in Chicago, IL. Sarah and Heidi are happy to help colleagues prepare for their first international book fair visit; send us an email or find us at the ALA Annual convention in Chicago 2020.

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