The recent publishing conference organized for the fourth time by our colleagues from Croatian universities was hosted and supported by Goethe Institut in Zagreb. As usual it was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of Croatia.
This time we had to wait till Bora wind will allow the bus with the participants and students from the University of Zadar to get through the long tunnel on the road between two cities. After some delay they have arrived safely and the house was full. The main organizer prof. Nives Tomašević with the Manager of the Institute Ostwald-Richter have opened the first session of the conference.
Over two days twelve papers were presented at the conference that looked at quite different issues and publishing areas.
Christoph Bläsi from Johannes Gutenberg-Universität in Mainz has characterized the market of schoolbooks for secondary schools (K12) that seems to be taken omitted by publishing researchers and mainly investigated by educational and didactic scholars. not worthy of investigation. Meanwhile, school publishing experienced great influence of state and is marked by great complexity of the products. It is also governed by very specific business model as the publishers know exact number of potential users and have a long-term perspective of its development. There is a large number of influential interest groups that follow their activity and assess their products. They have to take into accounts new competitors who arrive to the market after official approval, new practices in schools and cope with teacher generated content. Christoph has done an overview of existing research literature outlining specific features, advantages and risks of school publishing, the consequences of state intervention in different countries, and move of many publishers into provision of customized services and technologies. Digital learning era will change the positions of publishers quite significantly, though at the moment publishers together with teachers are criticized fro promoting conventional values.
Miha Kovač (University of Ljubljana) has presented investigation of bestsellers in European countries in 2008-2014 that he has conducted together with Ruediger Wischenbart (Vienna). They have examined the bestsellers’ lists in West European countries that have trustworthy information about them for the chosen period. They used certain coefficient methodology taking into account the sizes of different markets to produce comparable data. During 2008-2010 English bestsellers dominated European lists with 40 per cent and were closely followed by Swedish and Italian ones. Only translations from dominating languages could be found in the lists for this period. In 2010-2014, the list has change: translations from English shrank to 36 per cent, and the Nordic translations exploded, and new languages appeared. The bestseller list became more diverse, more bestseellers from non-European languages could be found. However, three first English language bestsellers (set in American contexts) were far ahead of the rest. Overall the diversity of the European list was not so big. The investigation also has shown that the generation process of big bestsellers has changed. Stieg Larsson (Swedish bestselling author) has arrived to it in a common way: was known journalist, had contacts in publishing, died at the right moment, was translated to German without success. Then the publisher of his French translation invested more in Millenium trilogy that sold better than their other books, here the promotion started and spread over Europe with English translation coming latest. Thus, the intermediating languages for bestsellers in Europe are French and German. The success comes in a traditional way through promotion. On the other hand E.L. James published through fanfiction, got peer reviewed and corrected the text. It came to the publishers after selling 250000 copies of e-book. Entirely new way to become a bestseller was established. In 2016, German Amazon has nine bestsellers and all are self-published, the same has happened in English and Italian, where at least half of bestsellers are self-published or produced by small imprints. It remains to be seen if it is a change of culture or two different cultures existing side by side.
Adrian van der Weel (University of Leiden) investigated the issue of authority in alternative scholarly publication. He noted that despite changing scholarly communication and move to digital sphere authors and institutions still want to produce authoritative works, users are looking for them, funding agencies want to invest in them, general public also is interested in authoritative works. The areas of change affect three elements of authority: infrastructure, function, form. Technology infrastructure has low authority effects, people do not take digital text as seriously as paper ones, which are produced using traditional infrastructure.
Function relates to research culture that consists of national and disciplinary tradition, certification, peer review, registration, research assessment, and authority demands. Form includes formal and informal output. At present, boundaries between formal and informal become slightly porous. Output becomes formal because of explicit criteria, such as, editorial filtering for object and quality, production of record for copyright and intellectual ownership. Paper connects author, object and text in a way, which does not allow taking them apart and this produces symbolic value. Publishers start experimenting with different publishing formats and become a little less formal. Creators outside formal publishing try to experiment with formal publishing ways of working, trying to become more formal and authoritative. So, we have to answer the question if digital substitutes can acquire the same authority as paper publications. It can be done in various ways, e.g., by replacing formal characteristic by assessment of the authority.
Zoran Velagić and Tomislav Jakopec (University of Osijek) gave an interesting overview of the used books market online. They have opened the discussion with the discussion of the term ‘used book category’, which is far from clear. In fact, it is everything what is sold in the certain type of sale channels, outside the usual market sales channels that are basically uncontrolled. Used book market is difficult to trace as a whole. The domains of it are: antiquarians, street peddlers, exchange between users, e-commerce and second hand trade online services, and exchange online. Reconstruction of the used book markets is, on one hand, easier to track online, but almost impossible to reconstruct as there are many unknown sales channels. Even the size of it is not established, though assumptions are made that it hurts publishing industry. It is out of the control of publishers and used to be so for a long time. E-books allow the control of the sold copies and of the whole book market. So, the question is if the used book market will survive, though it used to exist in different historical periods. At present publishers’ strategies vary: textbook publishers produce fragile products and republish them frequently. Exploring the used book market online requires special tools and skills: web crawling by the bots (no human intervention, gets only structured data from well known sites); manual input (the only way to get data about books not online and very time consuming). The possible tools for online exploration were introduced.
Franjo Pehar (University of Zadar) has looked into user experience and usability for digital publishing. Usability comes before user experience. It is connected with and is an expression of user interaction with the system. It helps to remove the obstacles for interaction and meet the standards. User experience refers to how user feels using the product and the emotions of the user. The main principles of printed book design are transposed to the digital world, but with significant elements of change. So far, complaints about digital products are many and relate to orientation, navigation, distraction, page layout and so on. The context affects usability and user experience and it is difficult to standardize different contexts. The author overviewed related research topics in publishing studies: user perception and interaction, usage of e-books and digital textbooks, usability of platforms, adaptive learning and social media, applications and formats. Many practical tips and approaches to design are employed in publishing, such as, readability vs legibility, serif vs sans serif, computer screen vs paper, line length and format, peripheral vs central vision, colour blindness and many more. Though there are different formative or summative testing methods, one right way to get usable products producing the best user experience was not found.
Ewa Jabłońska-Stefanowicz (University of Wrocław) examined the principles of book statistics and in particular e-book statistics in Poland. The legal deposit serves as the basis for the national bibliography. Digital documents and publications are sent to digital depository. E-books receive special e-ISBN in exchange for metadata. But the producers of e-books are on the whole quite different from traditional publishers. Variety of registries and methods to record e-books produce very different data about the output of e-books. Sometimes it is not quite clear what is actually registered – e-books, different digital documents, or other computer files. Therefore, the author has tried to carry out an independent research to find out how many e-books are available in Poland.
Elena Macevičiūtė and Tom Wilson (University of Borås) have explored the issues and forms of competition among the publishers of e-books in Sweden. Using the data from the interviews with Swedish publishers they have identified tensions between big and small publishers, competition between e-book retailers and new entrants, such as, subscription services, but also with public libraries. Swedish e-books compete mainly with their printed counterparts as well as with e-books in English and other digital media. This competition is felt in Sweden acutely because the most popular reading device is a tablet computer that also provides access to social media, digital films, TV, radio, and games.
Benoît Berthou (Sorbonne Paris Cité University) talked about book as graphic media, namely, about comic books in France. This sector is growing fast (up to 450 per cent) and comic books are read by one third of French population. The genres of comic books are quite different and there are differences between comics that are inventions of famous authors, series of publications, and comics based on specific characters. Benoît has demonstrated two cases: the author comic and the character-based comic. Comic landscape in France is at present quite international. Though the most popular are comic albums (France), but comics from the USA, mangas from Asia, and graphic novels from the UK are quite widespread. Most translations are made from Japanese and English. The quality of books is high and they are establishing themselves as adult books.
Josipa Selthofer (University of Osijek) has continued the topic on comic books. She presented comic book market in Croatia. This literature was thriving in Croatia as part of previous Yugoslavia, but was practically non-existent after the Independence war (1991–1995). At that period publishers did not get return on investment, best designers worked for foreigners, consumers did not accept high prices of the production. Josipa has introduced Croatian authors, comic characters and main features. Since 2002 the comic books started to revive on commercial basis and their popularity has returned.
Anita Papić and Domagoj Sajter (University of Osijek) have measured the financial health of Croatian publishing market in 2010-2015. It was an unusual economic approach to publishing market for this conference. Anita has explained how financial health of markets is measured and provided the main data. The economic data showed reclining trend of publishers revenue in 2010-2015. Biggest dip the market has taken in 2013. However, the losses from printed books are not taken up by revenues from e-books, therefore, it is obvious that e-books do not cannibalize the sales of physical books.
Two final presentations of the first day were transferred to the next morning due to the later start and flight delays of the presenters.
Michael Bhaskar (Canelo Digital Publishing) has talked about publishing as a specific form of criticism. This function of publishing becomes more and more important as the overwhelming abundance of text is produced and this is the greatest change from Gutenberg. Even before the printing press people thought that there is too much to read and since the mass of books was continually growing. At present the price of text production is close to zero, and literature publishing is huge (one million English books a year). One can regard publishing of books as the first instance of criticism on a book. Publishers are fundamental critics and interpreters of a book. They create the initial approach to an author and a book. Michael produced and example of Lee Child who is positioned as a thriller writer bought in airports. Despite his literary merits, his publisher does not want him to be compared with Camus or Servantes. Text editing is the ultimate act of criticism, but also cover design, pricing (Jane Austin may be priced as an object of study or a beach read), reviewing is specific outlets. Digital technology removes other functions and leaves the critical function in the centre. In the world of textual abundance the publisher keeps the filters that help to manage this overabundance of books. We are left with a system of interpretations helping to position the texts. Curation becomes the act of selection and evaluation. The publishers turn into librarians by executing critical function and managing the abundance.
Sophie Noël (Sorbonne Paris Cité University) looked into radical independent presses in France at the turn of the 21st century as a new form of political and intellectual engagement. She was interested how this influential minority publishing can affect the mainstream publishing. Sophie has investigated 35 publishers, that are independent, not militant, not connected to larger groups, and were created onwards from 1985 in the wake of anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements. They are in academic, trade, political and avant-garde sectors. The niche is small but very dynamic, characterized by political engagement. Most are small, but also established, publishing from three up to 50 titles. They compete with mainstream publishers in France, their books are found everywhere in French bookshops and on Amazon. They form a community of vision, are socially engaged, publish theoretical essays and academic texts, small formats and paperbacks (radical series have to be cheap and accessible). Their production filled in the gap as mainstream publishers did not publish political and revolutionary classics and translations. These presses put radical debate back on political agenda, and the mainstream publishers also started creating radical series. Still, these radical presses and mainstream publishing remain apart and different in many respects. Independent publishers and booksellers are working differently and go hand in hand.
The day was finished by a Round table with Croatian publishers. After the presentation of the COST E-READ action, the European Association of Publishing Studies, the situation of Croatian book market, the programme of Publishing studies in Croatia and the publishing projects of the students, Miha has provoked an interesting discussion about the economics and responsibility of publishers, the motives of their activities, the criteria for choosing authors and texts for publishing and the development of book sector in Croatia in general.
Posted for Elena Maceviciute