Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 11 — December 2001
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IT Report from the Field •
Frankfurt Book Fair and IBLC Symposium
This huge event and offshoot meeting offered an abundance of information
by Donald T. Hawkins

Here's a quiz question: Germany's Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) is a) huge, b) amazing, c) overwhelming, d) awesome, or e) all of the above. If you chose anything but e), you need to go to the fair. Then you won't be able to help but agree that e) is the only possible answer.

This year's Frankfurt Book Fair was held October 10–15, and it was indeed "all of the above." It's truly an experience that everyone in the information industry should have at least once. It's said that the FBF is the largest trade show in the world (based on the number of exhibitors), and I wouldn't disagree. It's certainly the largest trade show I've ever attended. The site is the second-biggest exhibition center in the world. (The largest is a similar facility in Hanover, Germany, that's used for trade fairs featuring industrial equipment and similar products that need huge display areas.) Shuttle buses and moving walkwaysconnect nine halls; each hall is itself the size of a large convention center such as those found in many U.S. cities. The FBF filled seven of these nine halls.

Such a huge exhibition can easily overwhelm its attendees, and one marvels at the organization needed to keep it running. Excellent signage, a number of directional stations maintained by knowledgeable guides and furnished with a database of exhibitors, and attention to a myriad of other details do much to help the visitor. Even so, simply walking the aisles of the various halls and remembering what you've seen is impossible. Fortunately, exhibitors' booths are grouped together in a somewhat logical fashion, either by country or subject, so that attendees can efficiently make fruitful contacts. And a comprehensive catalog of all exhibitors makes finding a specific one easy.

The FBF is concerned with all aspects of book publishing. Publishers, of course, make up the largest contingent of exhibitors, but other areas are represented as well: paper manufacturers, binderies, printers, typesetters, software producers, libraries, and distributors. One entire hall is devoted to electronic media, and I was delighted to discover several European e-book companies that I hadn't known about. "Book" is interpreted quite loosely; I was fascinated by the wonderful displays of maps, globes, and mapping software, for example. And the ancillary activities are intriguing, too. Many booths offered food and drink, and one publisher of books about wine had a wine tasting at its booth, complete with an oenophile on hand to discuss the vintages being sampled. It's understandable why this booth often generated nearly impassable aisles in its vicinity.

If you're planning to visit the FBF (next year's dates are October 9–14), the following are some helpful hints:

  • Take comfortable walking shoes. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. The distances to be walked and the halls are enormous.

  • Don't even think of trying to see the entire fair in 1 day. It's physically impossible, and you'll only become frustrated. Instead, limit your activities to your areas of interest.

  • Do take a little time to explore a new area or an area in which you have a personal interest. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

  • Plan your time carefully. Make a list of booths you wish to visit and go to them first. Check out the fair's Web site at

  • Be prepared for high hotel rates during the FBF if you stay near the exhibition site. Hotels in Frankfurt routinely raise their prices significantly during trade fairs. Save money by staying outside the city and traveling to the fair by train (stations on the exhibition site grounds make this very convenient). Book early.
Enjoy the fair. It's an experience.

The IBLC Symposium
In cooperation with the FBF, the Frankfurt City and University Library (Stadt- und Universitätsbibliotek Frankfurt am Main) sponsors the International Booksellers' and Librarians' Centre (IBLC) and has an exhibit area in one of the halls. (The IBLC's Web site—mostly in German—is at This area, devoted to library-related materials and databases, was a haven of retreat from the main exhibition's crowds. Last year, the IBLC held a very successful Academic Symposium and repeated it again this year. The second annual symposium was entitled "Competition and Cooperation: Universities, Libraries, and the Commercial Sector at the Beginning of the 21st Century." (I went to the FBF because I was invited to speak about e-books at the IBLC Symposium.)

The symposium was an excellent event within the FBF. To promote networking, the audience was limited to 80 information professionals. The provision of simultaneous translation between English and German was a nice touch and was greatly appreciated. In the remainder of this article, I'll summarize some of the presentations from the first day of the symposium.

Andrew Odlyzko, formerly of AT&T Research Labs and now director of the University of Minnesota's Digital Technology Center, led off the symposium by discussing the "stealth revolution" aspects of scholarly communication. He noted that there's intense competition and cooperation in the publishing industry, but having outstanding content isn't enough to assure marketplace success. The content must be inconspicuously force-fed to users (hence the "stealth" nature of the content business). Scholarly communication is changing rapidly, and the available information drives usage patterns. Attracting users' attention is the key to future success.

According to Odlyzko, most of the costs associated with scholarly publishing are borne by libraries, not publishers, because print is cumbersome and expensive to handle. Books and journals often account for one-third of a library's budget, and this point is not often recognized. Technologies such as electronic publishing and print on demand will go a long way toward lowering these costs. Odlyzko also noted that (except for Web browsers) it takes a decade for a new technology to be widely accepted. For example, PCs were developed about 20 years ago, but it took at least 10 years before they had a major impact on the mainframe computer industry.

Scientific publications are only valuable if they're easy to access, and accessibility is now beginning to affect academic careers. Easily accessible papers receive more citations, so academic institutions will insist on having papers freely available. This will be a threat to librarians and publishers. The "war for eyeballs" is therefore spreading from the e-commerce world to scholarly communication.

Michael Keller, publisher of Stanford University Press and HighWire Press, discussed the current economic decline and the demise of the dot-com boom. The boom was the climax of the largest-ever expansion of the world economy. A tremendous amount of capital was accumulated, and a risk-taking mentality became prominent. The following three fallacies led to the dot-com boom and bust:

  • Early innovation will predominate over well-established technologies.

  • Consumer behavior will change quickly, and consumers will readily adopt new technologies.

  • Business models built on hope will define the new economy.
The success of all new ventures must be weighed against these fallacies.

According to Keller, scholarly communication flourished in the dot-com boom, and it still has a significant impact on the Web. It was one of the earliest Web applications, and although content creators are still competing for revenues, it's important to remember that returns are only incremental. All of the following players in the value chain must make better use of information technologies:

  • Publishers competing for authors and readers must offer timely publishing processes, market themselves better, and develop new features for their services.

  • Booksellers and information agents have created databases and used the Web to improve their ordering procedures. Some have even used EDI (electronic data interchange) to improve the entire e-commerce function.

  • Document-delivery and aggregator companies are highly focused competitors to secondary publishers, and their business is very fragile.

  • Aggregators existed before the Web, but they have been slow to fully exploit its capabilities. Their offerings are fragmented, their databases are scattered, and there is no single search engine that can retrieve information from all of them.

  • Libraries are close to aggregators and provide access to their services. The development of digital libraries shows that libraries' involvements with publishers are becoming more creative. They are developing innovative ways to reduce costs through consortia, and they are also fostering increased competition in the publishing industry via initiatives like SPARC. But libraries have underplayed their hands as change agents and should move forward more aggressively.
Colin Day, formerly publisher at Cambridge University Press and now publisher at Hong Kong University Press, examined the 1960s and 1970s, when libraries and publishers co-existed much more peacefully than they do now. His presentation, entitled "When the Lamb Lay Down With the Lion," noted that the academic library market was relatively small in the early 1960s, and then it grew rapidly as funding was poured into research. Some of this funding appeared as increased library budgets, so publishers' revenues also grew, and there was little pressure to increase prices. A large portion of the scholarly publishing market in those days was done by university presses that could offer many services to their customers at low cost because they were subsidized by the university. Soon, however, the increased prosperity of universities caught the attention of commercial publishers, and prices began to rise.

A second phenomenon, a decrease in the number of academics who amassed private collections of journals, was occurring concurrently in that era. As the archival functions of university libraries lessened and publications began to be available through document-delivery services provided by libraries, the need for private collections diminished. Younger academic faculty with more modest financial resources had no funds available to buy large numbers of books and journals. The result of this was that books and journals began to be regarded as reference works, not collections, and the market for them shifted from individuals (who are quite price-sensitive) to library purchasing departments.

In response, publishers raised prices because of increasing demand from libraries, while developing discriminatory pricing schemes: one price for individuals and another for libraries. Commercial publishers entered the scholarly publishing market, and they were much more focused on the bottom line than the university presses. The end result of these events was the situation we have today, with sharply escalating prices for commercially published works along with difficulties faced by libraries as their budgets shrink.

Without competition at the individual level, conditions for a well-functioning market are absent. Technology doesn't solve the problem, but it can help reshape the system. According to Day, the characteristics of a desirable scholarly publishing market are the following:

  • There must be a free flow of ideas, even if they are not popular. Many diverse voices must be heard, so there should be a variety of independent channels for publication.

  • The serious and unorthodox must be in balance. There must be a ready outlet for unconventional works or for those espousing controversial ideas.

  • Pricing moderation will allow for individuals to purchase materials again. Publishers that focus solely on revenues will inevitably set high prices, which is not what the market wants.

  • We must learn from the past. Academic publishing is not the place for a single-minded focus on profit.
Ann Okerson of Yale University Libraries made the interesting observation that although universities compete in many areas—scientific discovery, faculty and student recruitment, sports, and ratings in the news media—their libraries tend to cooperate much more frequently than they compete. The reason for this is because librarians tend to identify themselves more with their profession than their institution. They build collections specifically with the thought of sharing materials, and when they have unique collections, they generally share materials from them. Okerson feels that cooperation among libraries, especially in the area of digitizing and preservation, is vital.

Although several of the presentations on the first day of the symposium were given by representatives of the academic community, the commercial sector was not ignored. Manfred Antoni of John Wiley & Sons listedthe following eight ways the Internet has changed information dissemination and the information marketplace:

  • Geographical boundaries have been blurred, and time zones are no longer relevant. Everyone is a global player.

  • More efficient markets have been created as searching has become free. Every search can be customized, and the intermediary can be eliminated.

  • Value chains have had to be revised. Because content is no longer housed as physical media, new services can be developed, and existing ones can be integrated or expanded.

  • Networks of affiliated portals have been promoted, such as business-to-business vertical markets and horizontal markets like Yahoo!.

  • Customers are driving the market as products have become more user-oriented and competition is only a click away.

  • Time cycles have become compressed because electronic distribution is much faster than physical distance.

  • Competition is unbounded. Entry costs are low.

  • Knowledge is valued when it's scarce, and we now have the capacity to use technology to manage resources.
Udo Zimmerman, general manager of EBSCO Germany, focused on the changing landscape and role of the subscription agent. With the advent of e-journals and new intermediaries, roles for existing intermediaries have had to change. EBSCO moved rapidly toward electronic distribution earlier than many other agents. These agents' roles have shifted to include full text, and as databases of this material have accumulated, subscription agents have also become aggregators. They now provide many administrative services for libraries, such as acquisition and licensing assistance, and they even help in developing general information-access solutions. Publishers are both partners and competitors to agents, so flexibility and innovation are keys to success. Partnerships are essential to meet customers' needs.

The IBLC Symposium featured excellent speakers and presentations. I found the time I invested to attend worthwhile. The efforts of the organizers to provide for the needs and comfort of the attendees were widely appreciated. The FBF offered a suitable background for the symposium, and I hope that the IBLC will see fit to continue it in future years.

Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online, both published by Information Today, Inc. His e-mail address is

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