Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 11 December 2002
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IT Report from the Field
The World's Largest Book Fair
A 1-day tour of the Frankfurt Book Fair provided a quick overview
by Jim Ashling

My mission was to spend a day at the Frankfurt Book Fair, get a general picture of the state of the industry, hear the latest announcements, and discover the new technologies just waiting to be applied in the information business. It sounds reasonable when you say it quickly, but it certainly wasn't a casual stroll.

The Frankfurt Book Fair occupies about a dozen floors of five huge halls. This year, the space housed 6,375 exhibitor booths from 110 countries. More than 300,000 titles are on display, and about the same number of visitors will attend in a good year. In 2001 the fair was held only 1 month after 9/11, and fewer than 260,000 attended. This year the exhibitor numbers were down by 4 percent, but the final visitor count was reportedly up by nearly 3 percent. On my arrival at Hall 4, about an hour after the fair opened, the aisles were certainly buzzing, and exhibitors were keeping busy.

Media & Information Library Forum

Given that it's impossible to cover more than a fraction of the exhibits in 1 day, my aim was to explore the Media & Information Library Forum in Hall 4. This area was described in the program as "a trail-blazing hub for content-oriented electronic products and services, and it is here that international companies and institutions will be presenting new ways of processing and supplying content." Billed as new for 2002, this seemed to be the place to see how the industry is developing.

The reality is certainly fascinating, but since nearly all publishers are doing something in the way of e-publishing or e-fulfilment, most of them continue to reside in their usual haunts in International Hall 8 or elsewhere in Hall 4. A handful of exhibitors cover both bases and have booths in multiple locations. Consequently, the variety of suppliers who regard themselves as relevant in an e-publishing venue is truly remarkable.

The forum featured data-conversion houses, subscription-management services, e-learning software suppliers, airlines, traditional A&I databases, financial institutions, and even an ink supplier for printers. I decided to just dive in and stop off wherever something caught my attention. But first, I had to maneuver by two ladies dressed as geological samples. (No kidding, they were wearing giant hats, one in the shape of a cluster of quartz crystals and the other a block of hematite.)


I first visited the exhibit from Giunti Interactive Labs. This unit is the new media design and development laboratory of Giunti Publishing Group, Italy's leading educational publisher and one of Europe's first established electronic publishers. The company creates and implements advanced multimedia and multilingual courseware for culture, history, art, and scientific/technical/medical topics.

In an economy in which lifelong learning is seen as a solution to unemployment, Giunti develops courseware and training solutions based on intranets/extranets, WebCD, virtual classrooms, digital TV, and video on demand. It has also created "learn eXact," a learning content management system. This offering provides a way of expressing content in XML that's independent of delivery device. Giunti Interactive Labs has coined the term "X learning" to describe this e-learning development.

Reeling from techno-jargon, I needed a caffeine fix. There are plenty of coffee stations around the halls where, in order to encourage the return of used mugs, you pay a half-euro deposit and receive a blue plastic token as a receipt. I don't know why you need the token. Perhaps it's to deter smugglers of cheap white china from bringing in their own mugs and getting rich on other attendees' deposits.

Back into the fray, I encountered a new trade association. Launched this year, the International eBook Association (IeBA) was created by Microsoft to "increase the awareness, acceptance, and future success of electronic reading among industry members, publishers, authors, and the reading public." It evolved out of the Open eBook organization for standards in 1998 and the International eBook Award Foundation. Intended as a neutral representative of the e-publishing community, the association's principal goal is to facilitate and accelerate the adoption of e-books. Those who are interested in joining can sign up at the association's Web site ( for a little more than $7,500.

I was attracted to Doctronic GmbH & Co. KG by its sign that advertised "Information Publishing + Retrieval." Based in Bornheim, Germany, Doctronic claims core competencies in electronic publishing, database publishing, and information retrieval. All Doctronic products are XML-based. They include the Xaver XML data-preparation offering; SearX-engine software for intelligent, XML-based full-text searching; and DaisyHTML database publishing software for the Internet or CD-ROM.


Drawn by the sight of local TV cameras filming at one small stand, I found perhaps my most memorable product of the day. Datasound has devised a way of saving sounds, speech, music, or other digital data on paper for later retrieval. The "record" is an 18-by-55-mm printed strip with a two-dimensional dot-pattern code. It can store 12 seconds of music, 20 to 30 seconds of speech, or 24 pages of text. Playback requires a hand-held reader that can be used alone or as a source for a speaker or headphones.

The product was demonstrated in use with examples from children's educational books and a music textbook, but there is potential for applications in biographies, games, advertising, aids for the handicapped, and more. The company has some pretty hefty backing from the likes of BASF, Henkel, Siemens, and the Fraunhofer Institut. Datasound was founded in 1998 in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany. You canhear this product in action on the company's Web site (, which offers a sample 16-second recording from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as well as a whale song.

A European Perspective

I couldn't give a European view without visiting the European Commission stand, or so I thought. The size of the exhibit made me think I could be stuck there for the rest of the day. Instead, my cunning plan was to ask a staff member for details of any new announcements that would be of particular interest to a U.S. audience. I was handed a half-inch-thick folder containing details of every project being undertaken within the European Commission's Education and Training IST Programme. My best crestfallen look and a plea for details of "just the good bits" fell on deaf ears. I was instantly dismissed with the information that this was an excellent summary of each of the 70 R&D projects that are currently underway.

Well, I haven't read them all yet, but according to the foreword the aim of the Information Society Technologies Programme is the development of new open platforms for e-learning and applications for schools, corporate training, universities, and lifelong learning in general. The projects fall into six categories: Open Platforms and Tools for Personalised Learning, The Flexible University, Advanced Training Systems, The Learning Citizen, School of Tomorrow, and Consensus-Building for Education and Training. The projects involved with the creation of pan-European learning tools and a federated virtual university (and that have a budget of 3.6 billion euros) may be of some interest to European tax-paying readers.

One of the fair's many slogans this year was "Think global, act Frankfurt." This is good advice for anyone connected, however remotely, with the world of publishing. Next year the event will be held October 8­13. If you're planning to attend, bring your very best walking shoes and try to devote more than just 1 day.


Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy for the information industry. His e-mail address is

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