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Magazines > Information Today > December 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 11 — December 2003
International Report
Frankfurt Book Fair 2003
By Jim Ashling

The number of visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair increased for the second straight year, with 288,887 attending during the event's Oct. 8­13 run (an 8.7-percent increase from 2002). With the number of exhibitors also increasing by 4 percent to 6,638, book fair director Volker Neumann expressed satisfaction with the industry's growing optimism.

Several publishers weren't quite so ecstatic about the new show hours that kept the halls open until 8:30 p.m. on Friday evening. In an attempt to revive a flagging German book market, event organizers changed the hours to allow the sale of books directly to the public. Representatives from several English-language publishing trade organizations, including the U.K. Publishers Association and the Association of American Publishers, met with Neumann to complain about this issue as well as about the costs of Frankfurt hotels. Many hotels demand minimum-stay reservations for the entire duration of the fair.

These discussions will probably continue well up until next year's event, but one cost certainly will be reduced for 2004: stand-rental charges. They will drop up to 12 percent, with the best reductions going to those who signed up for 3 more years during the 2003 book fair.

This year, the event introduced new technologies that enabled visitors with PDAs to schedule their own tours. Computer points located at fair entrances facilitated wireless downloading of exhibitor, Who's Who, and event information free of charge. Sounds like a bargain when the show catalog alone runs more than 1,000 pages and costs $23, but I didn't see a single visitor use the service.

Although the fair attracts many celebrities for signings, interviews, and readings, who else but Muhammad Ali could fill Hall 4.0? Appearing in a full-size boxing ring, he was there to promote the book Greatest of All Time: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali, published by Taschen (and rather oddly abbreviated as GOAT). It's an 800-page, 75-pound tome of photographs, articles, and bout commentaries that will retail for $3,000. The first 1,000 copies will be published as a Champ's Edition and sold for $7,500!

The Big Read

In Britain, the joys of reading are being heavily promoted by the BBC. In April, its Big Read project ran a nationwide poll to determine Britain's 100 best-loved novels. The list is on the BBC Web site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml).

The 100 titles were narrowed to 21 on Oct. 18. The voters' choice for Britain's best-loved book will be announced this month. Although this initiative provides a major boost for bookstores during the holiday shopping season, it also promotes other worthy activities. The BBC Web site features links to resources such as reading groups, charities for distributing books, and educational tools and activities in local libraries.

Publishers Win Prizes

While on the topic of prizewinners, the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) held its annual awards ceremony on Oct. 14 in London. When AOP was launched in July 2002, it took over the awards from the interactive arm of the Periodical Publishers Association. AOP was created to present a unified voice to industry and government for addressing the issues and concerns of all sectors of online publishing. It says its primary purpose is "to drive standards and revenue across all sectors of online publishing to raise the credibility and profile of the industry."

The association's membership comes predominantly from both the online divisions of major U.K. broadcasters and newspaper and magazine publishers. It also includes strong representation from those that provide paid content for the consumer market. However, AOP offers several awards of interest to business information users too.

Reed Chemical Group, a division of Reed Business Information, won the best Online Publisher­Business award for its suite of services for the chemical industry. These resources include Chemical News and Intelligence (http://www.cnionline.com); ICIS-LOR (http://www.icislor.com), a petrochemicals pricing-information service; and OPDsearch.com, a database of purchasing information for chemicals and chemical services.

ABC Electronic, the e-media division of the Audit Bureau of Circulations that verifies Web site traffic data for advertising statistics, won best Service Provider or Supplier to Industry. Reuters picked up the Innovation award for its Reuters Raw Video service. Raw Video was introduced at the start of the Iraq war and provides unedited sound and video without voice-over or commentary.

The AOP Chairman's Award was presented to the Financial Times for its FT.com site. In announcing the award, AOP chairman Bill Murray said: "I have given the Chairman's Award this year to a company who has faced up to one of AOP's key challenges head on: that of educating consumers that good content is worth money, and so generating revenue through content sale and subscription. During the last 9 months, 50,000 users have subscribed to this service and are spending at a rate of some [$119] per year. Despite that, traffic figures and advertising revenues have continued to rise—proof, were it needed, that top-quality content, sitting beneath established brands, can and will justify consumers paying for it."

World Summit Gets Contentious

In the months since I described the theme for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in May's International Report, a Draft Declaration of Principles and Draft Plan of Action should have been made ready for endorsement by the heads of state at the Dec. 10­12 event in Geneva. While September's third Preparatory Conference made significant progress, there are still unresolved issues, including financing, Internet security, and Internet governance.

The Draft Plan of Action contains many laudable targets to provide information and communication technologies (ICT) around the world, with special attention to the needs of developing countries. But there's concern that some governments will interpret the wording of the plan as allowing them to censor or shut down sites that express views they don't agree with. Naturally, activists for press freedom are among those most worried.

Reporters Without Borders finds it particularly troubling that the WSIS second-stage meeting in 2005 will be held in Tunisia, a country that the organization believes represses its own Internet users. Similarly, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) expressed doubts about the intentions of many Latin American summit attendees when it met for its 59th General Assembly in October. As reported in Editor & Publisher Online (http://www.editorandpublisher.com), IAPA journalists fear newspaper censorship or closure, or even imprisonment in some countries.

Other interest groups are having preliminary meetings to hammer out policies or recommendations to take to WSIS. In order to represent scientists, the International Council for Science, the third World Academy of Sciences, UNESCO, and CERN created the Role of Science in the Information Society (RSIS) conference to be held Dec. 8­9, immediately prior to WSIS. An eight-point RSIS agenda for action (http://rsis.web.cern.ch/rsis/02Declaration/Declaration.html) includes a demand for legislation to guarantee full and open access to data created with public funding. It also calls for the promotion of electronic publishing, differential pricing schemes, and appropriate open source initiatives to make scientific information broadly available.

Evan Leibovitch, president of the Linux Professional Institute, is concerned that the WSIS Draft Plan of Action is shifting focus away from the role of free and open source software in expanding ICT globally. In an open letter to all WSIS organizers and delegates (http://www.linuxworld.com/story/34291.htm), he complains that by making no reference to open standards, the plan puts data under the control of the owners of proprietary formats and protocols, thus stifling innovation and competition.

The library community has not been idle either. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has submitted three policy documents: "Role and Position of Libraries," "The IFLA Internet Manifesto," and "The Glasgow Declaration on Libraries, Information Services, and Intellectual Freedom." Between them, they describe how libraries are key in providing unhindered access to essential resources for economic and cultural advancement. In doing so, libraries contribute effectively to the development and maintenance of intellectual freedom, safeguarding democratic values, and universal civil rights.

I'll leave the last word to Yoshio Utsumi, secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union, the lead organizing agency of WSIS. In a Sept. 26 WSIS press release (http://www.itu.int/wsis/newsroom/press_releases), he said: "The summit will be successful if it achieves three goals: raising awareness among world leaders of the implications of the information society, getting their firm commitment to tackle the injustice of the digital divide, and developing new legal and policy frameworks appropriate to cyberspace. The importance of communications and access to networks is no longer just a technical matter but a fundamental policy goal for every nation."

For a conference that was initially described as another governmental gabfest with little likely to come out of it other than the usual platitudes, the World Summit on the Information Society looks to be more interesting than was previously thought. Since it's sandwiched between Online Information 2003 and the holidays, you could easily miss it. Check the Web site (http://www.itu.int/wsis) for the final outcome.


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