Report from Frankfurt

Virtually all of my time at the 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair was spent in meetings of other publishing associations, so I didn't spend much time on the floor of Hall 8, the main exhibition hall for U.S., Canadian, U.K. and Israeli publishers, and my impressions of the mood and pace of the rights business being transacted this year are frankly impressionistic and spotty. Certainly the nose dive in the markets was on everyone's mind. Some thought business was slower, while others seemed to think it was more-or-less business as usual, with one Director telling me his biggest problem was that he couldn't compete for the good stuff.

He had just lost a book to a commercial publisher who had offered five times what he was willing to pay. That there's too much cash chasing hot books is a perennial complaint, and not just at Frankfurt, but it doesn't appear to have dried up. At least not yet.

On open access, one interesting new development was the decision by the European Commission to fund OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) for a 30-month pilot project to the tune of €900,000, announced one week before the Fair. OAPEN is a coalition of six European university presses, spearheaded by Amsterdam University Press, seeking to "achieve a sustainable European approach to improve the quantity, visibility and usability of high-quality OA content and foster the creation of new content by developing future-oriented publishing solutions, including an online library dedicated to HSS [Humanities and Social Sciences], and new business models." OAPEN is looking for additional participants, and Eelco Verwerda of AUP, the main contact for OAPEN, was at the Fair to discuss the project with potential partners. OAPEN's current membership does include an English-language publisher, Manchester University Press; if you're interested in finding out more, you can go to their website at http://www.oapen.org/, or contact Eelco at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Since the vast majority of publishing still depends on the market for recovery of publishing costs, protecting copyright was a major item on the agenda at meetings of the publishing associations. A number of the specific issues had to do with the European version of issues also before Congress, such as how best to provide copyrighted materials in the appropriate formats for people with print and other disabilities. Others focused on the problems of developing nations: how to encourage the development of a local publishing industry and respect for both copyright and freedom of expression, for example.

There were also pubic sessions sponsored by the International Publishers Association on new opportunities, like a well-attended session on Web 2.0, and on new threats, like a panel discussion on online book piracy. In the latter, a representative of the Swedish Publishers Association gave a chilling presentation about Pirate Bay, a P2P file-sharing network based in Sweden. Billing itself as the largest file-sharing network in the world, Pirate Bay uses BitTorrent technology and offers unlimited downloads of movies, music, TV programs, sports events and, increasingly, books - all of it free, and none of it authorized.

Pirate Bay started with a free-spirited, Robin Hood ethos, liberating content from the shackles of capitalism for the benefit of the people, but it has become a capitalist enterprise it its own right, with advertising being handled by an agency in Tel Aviv and the money, €2 million last year, flowing into a bank in the Cayman Islands. What is unique about Pirate Bay, and uniquely discouraging, is that despite being blatantly illegal under Sweden's own laws, it has such popular support there that it operates quite openly and two successive Swedish Prime Ministers have declared it politically untouchable.

Are any of your books available on this site? I'm not going to give the URL here, but it's a snap to find: just head to your favorite search engine and look up Pirate Bay. Before you look, though, check with your IT staff about protecting your computer against malware. Ads aren't the only way pirate sites make money.

Peter Givler
Executive Director, AAUP