The Frankfurt Book Fair commenced yesterday, and with a special focus this year on technology. A new digital initiative, called Frankfurt SPARKS, was launched at the fair, and aims to “provide an initial ‘spark’ for for future publishing projects” and bring “together providers of innovative technology and those working with creative content- thus breaking traditional industry boundaries,” according to Director Juergen Boos.
Set apart from all the technological presentations and conferences is the rare and antique book pavilion, in its own separate space for the first time this year. Described as “an oasis of calm, with not an iPad in sight”, the rare books dealers may be physically detached from the digital pandemonium, but the subject of digitalization and the possibility of how it may impact their business is still on their minds. ProQuest is a company whose current project is to digitalize all early European books published between 1475 and 1700 and put them online. Come November, 4,000 texts from the Florence library, all dating before 1600, will be published online, including some books owned by Galileo.
While acknowledging that they do most of their business online, rare booksellers seemed to balk at the idea that digitilization would truly impact their trade. “Look, the people who buy my books are not really interested in ebooks,” said Moritz Backhaus, from the Antiquariat im Hufelandhaus book firm. He continued on to say that if one was interested in the text itself, they could probably already find it online, but “if you’re a collector, you need to have the physical copy.” Another dealer, Marc Daniel Kretzer from Antiquariat Kretzer, concurred, adding that “you simply can’t replicate the character of an old book in an ebook.”
I think most of our members would undoubtedly agree that an ebook could never be a substitution for a rare book, and possibly take that statement further to include any kind of physical book (as I would). I wonder, however, what, if any, the impact of digitalization in publishing will have on future generations, specifically in regard to book collecting. A recent study by Scholastic found that children want to read on digital devices, and would read more often in a digital format. This has interesting implications not only for publishing, but also for education. Perhaps there is not much to fear in regard to collecting, however; the same study found that two thirds of the children would not want to give up their traditional print books. (More concerning for those inside and outside the rare book trade is the fact that 39% of children ages 9-17 believed that information they found online was “always correct”.)
Frankfurt 2010: Fair OCmment: Juergen Boos, Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair [Publisher's Weekly]