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Posted by Tom Wilson for Elena Maceviciute

A conference on the ancient subject of book studies took place in a suitably romantic Florentine villa on the outskirts of Florence. It was a surprise to discover that it belongs to a the Sorbonne Paris Cité Université. A summer school for publishing students from all over Europe had just taken place and they were taught by a team of English, French, Slovenian, and German teachers. Some of both stayed to take part in the conference By the Book.

Some 40 researchers and scholars came together from several European countries and South Africa to talk about books. However, there was little talk of history; mostly the future of the book was discussed in the light of present events and turbulent changes in publishing. Most were researching the field of publishing studies, but there were some from reading and library studies.

Elena with the conference organizers

Elena with the conference organizers

Quite a lot of attention was paid to the digital phenomena intruding into all sectors of book production and transforming the traditional book trade. Alexis Weedon (University of Bedfordshire) presented the disruptive effects of e-books on production of books and outlined further possibilities of the development of enhanced e-books. Claudio Pires Franco (University of Bedfordshire) took this topic even further looking into creation of a typology for e-books on the continuum axis from “traditional book” to story based games. Laura Dietz (Anglia Ruskin University) explored the feelings and experiences of users comparing e-books and printed books. Louis Wiart (Sorbonne Paris Cité Université) looked into the evolution of readers’ communication about books online and social reading developments in France. Yours truly provided a short account of the e-books project emphasising the latest empirical findings from the survey of Swedish publishers. Frania Hall (London College of Communication) immersed the publishing studies into the wider context of creative industries and examined their structures and influence of digital technologies on their convergence. Stevie Marsden (Stirling University) talked of the experience of dealing with books and e-books or/and e-copies of printed books in the selection process by literary award organizations. It seems that literary judges are affected by the physicality of the book and see more cultural value in printed books than in e-books

There were many interesting presentations on the situation of printed publishing production as well, though very few managed avoiding digital aspects altogether. Mary Ann Kernan (City University London) presented a fascinating case study of Arden Shakespeare scholarly editions series published by Methuen from the beginning to the present. Melanie Radarshan-Bold (Loughborough University) talked about an investigation of Midland publishers in the UK, and Daniel Boswell (Anglia Ruskin University) painted a picture of the troubled history of Catalan publishing troubled history, which reminded me of the Lithuanian historical situation to some extent. Iain Stevenson (University College London) demonstrated lovely book tokens and talked about their history. Nick Canty (University College London) provided a fascinating account of bibliotherapy that was one of my passions when I was still a student. What a superb remedy for all ailments – a book. Heiko Hartmann (HTWK, Leipzig) explored the possibilities of the publishers to build their competitiveness on exploiting the functions of books that cannot be replicated in the digital environment (e.g., aesthetic satisfaction, prestige of ownership, etc.). Rachel Noorda (University of Stirling) concentrated on books as souvenirs in tourism and the heritage book market, dealing not only with publishing, but also with exploitation of stereotypes and symbols in the tourism business.

It's not all work

It’s not all work

An amazing presentation by Anke Vogel and Corinna Norrick-Ruhl (Mainz Institute for Book Studies) dealt with the issues of the printing industry’s impact on the environment. They presented the overall situation and green publishers of children’s books in Germany, and some comparison of environmental impact of printed an digital books. To my greatest surprise they did not know of Swedish investigations by the Royal Institute of Technology.

As the gathering was composed mainly of university lecturers, no wonder that quite many of them were discussing educational issues. Rose Leighton (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) presented an idea of a shared learning objects repository for publishing and book studies during the very first session. Two very interesting papers were presented by Liam Borgstrom and Elisabeth le Roux (University of Pretoria). The first talked about teaching publishing courses using the metaphor of architecture. The latter provided a broad picture of publishing business in South Africa as well as the formation of publishing studies within the Department of Information Science. Ausra Navickiene (Vilnius University) introduced the Lithuanian system of publishing studies at the Faculty of Communication in Vilnius. Despite problems with a computer, her presentation invited interest and the possibilities of publishing doctoral studies at Vilnius University were envied by many participants. Anna Faherty (Kingston University) presented a paper on the educational methods designed to strengthen student-centred studies and the responsibility of the students for their own learning.

Finally, some methodological issues were presented and discussed by the participants. Sophie Noël (Université Paris Cité) presented a social science approach to publishing studies that in France comprise the history of book, cultural economy and some art disciplines. From Croatia, Zoran Velagić (University of Osijek) and Franjo Pehar (University of Zadar) talked about methodological approaches to modern publishing and identified three discourses: physical book that you can hug and sniff is dead; practical discourse of the markets; academic discourse that is difficult to define. Benoît Berthou (Sorbonne Paris Cité Université) presented a paper by his absent colleague Bertrand Legendre on a socio-economic approach to book industry research in France.

There was enough time to discuss the presentations in sessions and during breaks and overall impression is that there are very few research areas as exciting as publishing studies in modern social science and humanities.