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
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
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 (http://www.vocalpaper.com),
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
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
Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy
for the information industry. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.