Frankfurt Report 2009

Everyone expected that this year's Frankfurt Book Fair would be slower than usual, but no one knew by how much. As it turned out, it was slow, but not nearly as bad as the 2001 Fair that took place a month after 9/11, when there were significant last-minute cancellations and many empty booths.

Attendance this year was down by 4%, according to the Fair management, and my general impression in Hall 8 (headquarters for U.S. and U.K book publishers) was that almost all the usual publishers were there, although perhaps with smaller stands and fewer people. The AAUP members I spoke with all felt the business they were doing was, if not great, certainly good enough. This was surely helped by the fact that the book trade in the U.K and Western Europe has been much less affected by the economic downturn than it has been in the U.S.

A few items of general interest. Each year the Fair designates one country as a Guest of Honor. This year it was China, which caused a certain amount of drama during the Fair because of the Chinese government's policies restricting freedom of expression. The New York Times has provided a good summary: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/19/world/asia/19books.html.

In April, I became Chair of the International Publishers Association's (IPA) Copyright Committee, and in that capacity attended a number of IPA and other publishing association meetings held during the Fair. One matter of general concern is how the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) so-named Development Agenda will play out. The Development Agenda basically instructs WIPO to give particular attention to the needs of developing economies. Under that directive WIPO is now considering the question of whether it should, by means of a treaty, mandate that its members implement copyright exceptions in their national laws to address the needs of Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs), and to permit cross-border transfer of educational materials.

According to the World Blind Union, 80% of VIPs in countries with developing economies live below the poverty line. No one disputes that low-cost or cost-free access to the written word in appropriate formats—large type, Braille, audiobooks, etc.–is a fundamental requirement for personal and social advancement. The only question is whether this goal can be best achieved by means of a WIPO treaty, which takes 5-10 years to create and up to an equal amount of time to be implemented by WIPO's member states, or whether there is a faster path to implementation through voluntary cooperation among stakeholders. Representatives of VIPs, publishers organizations, and reproduction rights organizations (RROs) have been making good progress on creating a framework for the necessary infrastructure.

The ethical imperative for an exception permitting cross-border transfer of educational materials is perhaps less clear. On the one hand, there is an undeniable need for low-cost access to educational materials in developing economies. On the other, educational publishing is the bedrock of local publishing in those same developing economies, accounting for as much as 90% of the industry. So what would be the overall effect of an educational exception on the local publishing industry and the development of an indigenous book culture? From a legal point-of-view, bringing something as broad as an educational exception into harmony with the Berne three-step test will present interesting challenges. This complicated issue is scheduled to be formally introduced at WIPO later this fall.

Finally, and on a completely different note, Saskia DeVries and Eelco Verwerda at Amsterdam University Press convened a two-hour meeting of interested parties to discuss the desirability of starting a European Association of university presses. 50 people attended, representing some 30 presses from 12 countries. The challenges are obvious, but there was great enthusiasm for the idea and a wonderful discussion of needs and possible joint projects. An organizing committee was formed, and there will be a follow-up meeting at the London Book Fair next year. This is a very exciting development; AAUP began with just such a series of informal meetings held in the 1920s at the ur-precursor to BEA, and I wish our European friends every success.

Peter Givler
Executive Director, AAUP