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Paper or E-book -The future of the book is still written in the stars.

E-book or paper book ©


June 13, 2011

Experts at the international UNESCO Forum in Milan talk about a complementary relationship between e-book and paper book

The future of the book seems to still be written in the stars. Questions about digital authors’ rights, the price consumers are willing to pay for e-books or the financing of digitalization remained unsolved at the UNESCO Forum “The book of the future - the future of the written word” which ended on Wednesday, June 8th in Milan.

Asked about the future of the book, more than 160 publishers, authors, library directors and scientists from more than 35 countries put a question mark after their answers. While some years ago the printed book was already declared dead, experts now talk more about a complementary relationship between printed and e-books.

The future of the book does not seem to be digital.
“The future of the book is not digital,” says the director of the Harvard University library, Robert Darnton, a statement that is supported by the latest statistics: With more than one million new publications in 2011, the printed book is more alive than ever. But Darnton also argues that there is no simple solution for the future. Most likely it will fall somewhere between digital and printed books.

Currently the e-book still needs to solve some technical problems like incompatible data formats or insufficient e-reader technology. But experts believe that these problems will be resolved soon. With more than 5 billion cell phone connections worldwide, Santiago de la Mora, Head of Google Book Europe, sees the future of technology in the Smartphone and expects an increase of 50% in Smartphone sales in 2011.

Publishing industry
According to Riccardo Cavallero from Mondadori, Italy’s largest publishing company, not only the future of the book but also that of the publishing industry is still written in the stars. According to Cavallero there is great uncertainty in the industry about e-books. No concrete strategy or business models exist yet. The expert states that a price advantage compared to paper books is essential for the success of digital books. High sales taxes are therefore seen as the main obstacle for the e-book’s success and are also seen as a main disadvantage compared to non-European competition.

Although copyright protection and authors’ rights are no longer dominating the debate as they did two years ago, they still remain complex problems, says Maurizio Serra, Permanent Representative of Italy to the UNESCO. He also states that e-books will have to be more than just copies of traditional books. They’ll have to use their potential to offer customers multimedia content.

This opinion is also shared by Jürgen Boos, director of the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair). According to Boos the main point of contention is not the form of the book but how the story is told. E-books not only need multimedia marketing and distribution, but also must be written in a multimedia-friendly way. Authors need to keep in mind the usability of their book for other forms of media.

The end result, as UNESCO director Irina Bokova summarizes at the end of the Forum: the future of the book has not yet been written.