Jürgen Boos is the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, a major annual cultural event in Germany and one of biggest book and media fairs in the world.
Boos will be at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum from 25 to 27 June in Bonn. In an advance interview he spoke with DW about the future of printed books, copyright reform in the digital age and the digitization challenges posed to the publishing industry.
DW: Since the dawn of the printing press at the very latest, the printed word has been synonymous with the dissemination of knowledge and education. Is that still the case, given the many other possibilities now available?
JB: Since the mid 1990s education and knowledge have become less fixed to the printed form. Instead they are structured in the form of databases and software. About 80%-100% of today's scientific, technological and medical publications are already digitized. That clearly shows how quickly our contemporary knowledge is changing. On the other hand, print has so far still been the best way to archive knowledge and record it for posterity. CD-ROMs from the 1990s are now no longer readable, and today's copy-protected digital files probably won't be accessible five years from now.
DW: With today's audio books, e-books and even whole libraries being made network-compatible, doesn't the trend toward digitization pose formidable competition to you as director of the Frankfurt Book Fair?
JB: The fact that books are becoming more and more electronically accessible is good for the international publishing sector and in turn for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Digitization increases the opportunities to hear, read and see stories, ideas, information and images. Of course it also turns the traditional business models of publishing on their head, but at the same time it opens up new possibilities of financing and re-financing creativity. Libraries and publishers alike aspire to make knowledge accessible. In that sense, the digitization of libraries, like the Europeana project, are likewise a challenge for publishers, but a positive one. The more that people gain access to education, the more they train their reading skills, the better that is for publishing houses - and by extension the Book Fair.
DW: The upswing of online media has unleashed contentious debate about copyrights. In an open letter authors, artists and creative professionals spoke out for their rights. Can the Book Fair be a lobby for them?
JB: Financing creativity has been a big issue revolving around the Book Fair ever since it was founded around 550 years ago. The origin of the German word for publisher, "Verlag", stems from "Geld vorlegen", which means to advancemoney. The publisher made funds available to pay for printing. Nowadays, royalties to the author finance creativity, with copyright as the basis. I think it’s the Frankfurt Book Fair's job to bring all the stakeholders together - creative professionals, copyright holders and "regulators", in other words technology companies and political actors alike - and get them talking with one another to sound out the parameters for financing and re-financing creativity. Adjusting copyright to the digital age is the cornerstone of generating and proliferating creative works. We have to think about this new restructuring because content - in other words knowledge, ideas, information - form the glue that holds societies together. One thing is clear: the political parameters for financing creativity have to be negotiated openly. We want to have an open discussion with all parties: authors, pirates, Net activists, political parties, publishers, the newcomers and citizens.
DW: This year's Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum is about education and sustainability in a global perspective and how the media address those contexts. Taking a look at the book - regardless of its form – how can the Book Fair as an international forum contribute to achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals for education?
JB: The UN Millennium Development Goals aim to enable more people to live lives of dignity. The realization that poverty can be avoided - not least through education - is initially shocking because until now it has spawned so little consequence. On the other hand, for the publishing industry it means their products, i.e. media, can very practically improve many people's lives.
From the premise that media competence and basic education are the foundations of a stable society, and also for the publishing industry, the Frankfurt Book Fair launched its literacy campaign, LitCam for short, in cooperation with the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and the German Association for Literacy and Basic Education. It aims to provide basic life skills to disadvantaged children and adolescents through various projects such as "Football meets Culture" and "Reading and Learning Rooms". There’s more about it at: http://www.litcam.de/.