Gothenburg Book Fair – Digital Square

The digital wave is sweeping in over the book business, just as it has done in so many other parts of the culture industry and with similar key elements: democratisation, disrupted value chains, copyright infringement and new formats. Digital books include audio books, e-books for e-readers and surfpads, and app books. The digital revolution is a big topic for the book business a focus area for many industry events. Netopia visited Gothenburg Book Fair and its new section The Digital Square.

Gothenburg Book Fair is Scandinavia’s top literature event with circa 100 000 visitors: book business, writers, media, librarians, academics, and the public. There is an ambitious seminar program in separate auditoriums, an international focus (this year on Romania), and of course the main attraction of the expo floor where book lovers find bargains and get signatures from their favourite authors. For this year, the organisers tore down one of the seminar auditoriums to make space for the new feature “The Digital Square”. It featured live podcasts, various digital book exhibitors, a tech school for newbies, and a four-day stage program. The program content included product presentations, interviews with actors on recording for audio books, panels on such things as digital libraries and self-publishing authors. The international guests caught Netopia’s attention.

Robert Levine

The American author and journalist Robert Levine, formerly an editor for Wired magazine and editor-in-chief at Billboard, is most famous for his 2011-book Free Ride which discusses the digital consequences for the culture business. At the Digital Square, Levine spoke about the origins of copyright and quoted a novel in Hebrew that he had come across by coincidence. The first page contained a copyright declaration of sorts, warning anyone who distributed the book without proper approval by the author that they would suffer the vengeance from God. Levine’s conclusion was that copyright battles are much older than the internet.

Santiago de la Mora, Google

Google got a bad start with the book business after its criticised book scan-project, in which books were scanned and put into a database without prior approval from rights-owners. At the Digital Square, Google’s Santiago de la Mora (Director Print Partnerships) showed a friendlier side when he spoke about cloud e-books and announced that Google will charge for the books on its service. That came as a profound surprise for Netopia, until now we have come to associate Google with free services. It seems information doesn’t want to be free anymore, at least not according to Google. Great news for the content industry. de la Mora also promised there would be no adverts in Google-distributed e-books (another exception from Google tradition!). To the question of monitoring users, the answer was that Google will use data generated by the users to improve the service “if the users allow us”. When asked if this meant an opt-out, de la Mora replied no, indicating the usual Google policy: using the service means accepting data-harvesting.

Paolo Coelho

The Brazilian best-selling author Paolo Coelho joined via video link from his home in Geneva and talked about how the internet has made him connect with his readers in new ways. He even admitted to having uploaded his books to file-sharing sites himself in order to spread them to readers in new countries. When prompted, Coelho said he supports copyright and that publishers are important. From his perspective, however the main purpose for the author is being read, money comes second. To Netopia, that makes a lot of sense, but is probably easier to live by if you have sold 180 million copies, than if you – like many authors – depend on royalty advances from publishers.

The four days passed quickly and a lot of people Netopia talked to wanted to see the initiative repeated in 2014. Netopia would however prefer an analog square and to have digital be the main focus of the whole show. Time will tell if that becomes the case already next year, or maybe at some later stage.

Full disclosure: Netopia’s Per Strömbäck hosted the Digital Square stage-program and was involved in developing it.