Literature | 28.09.2011
The e-book revolution gives rise to a social network of bookworms
We spend a lot of time reading online - the news, reviews, the weather and even academic papers. But now, more and more people in Germany are turning to a wealth of book portals that have sprung up - to read about reading itself.
It's not just the young who are logging on. Some book portal organizers say the average age of users is about 40.
Take Arno Sanders, for instance - a pensioner who only recently learned how to use a computer. He says his son got him hooked because he had told his father he would be able "to talk to other people about books." And since then he has even made contact with an author online.
Finding what you want
It all started with a group of people who were angry about the state of book reviewing in the cultural pages of Germany's newspapers - it was out of touch with reality, they said, and the selection was too small.
Compared to traditional print media, the Internet offered unlimited space. You could review as much as you liked. And the feeling was that people prefer to get book recommendations from friends and like-minded people - of which there are plenty online.
And so the readers became the critics.
Perhaps it's not the same as professional literary criticism. But the often short and emotional reviews that can be found online are proving very popular.
E-book readers are changing the way we "commune" with authorsValue-added books
In their relatively short existence, e-books and e-book readers have created new possibilities for the ways in which we interact with books as a medium.
The web designer Karla Paul works for lovely-books.de. It's a German book portal that aims to use the latest in technology to "add-value" to books.
The site is heavily networked with the reader community – via existing social media, with authors, bloggers, publishers and online book retailers. It offers extracts from books and pictures. And you can join reader circles lead by the authors themselves. You can get stuck into discussions, get tips and become a reviewer.
But its latest thing is called "Buchfrage" (book question). If you are using an e-reader and you get to a passage that you don't understand, "Buchfrage" allows you to send a question directly to the author.
"This feeling - to be able to communicate with authors from within their book," Paul said, "gives me goose bumps."
Publishers keep a keen eye on what's being discussed by readers onlineFrom vampire novels to Thomas Mann
There are so many book portals now that almost every genre is covered. And you can usually tell which is for you by the way it looks - some look cold and factual and others have fantasy-styled greetings, featuring knights on horseback and damsels in distress.
Lars Schafft is a former computer programmer who has built a series of book portals that are all linked by the word "couch." There is kochbuch-couch.de for cookbooks, kinderbuch-couch.de for children's books and histo-couch.de for historical novels.
Schafft says specialist book sites are the dominant trend.
"We reel in the readers," said Schafft, "who are looking for very specific things. We're generating a pool of experts so that we're not only able to offer information but also receive it."
But for the people who use these sites it is not just about reading. It is also about social contact. They debate and argue about books and they make new friends.
Tischer criticizes portals that sell adverting space to publishersNew marketing opportunities
Publishers have started to watch book portals closely.
Carsten Sommerfeldt, a press officer at Berlin Verlag, is glad it's now possible to reach readers directly.
"We used to send press releases out into the world," said Sommerfeldt, "without really knowing whom we were dealing with."
But he says it is now possible to position a book perfectly.
"No advertising is as powerful as people talking about books and this is exactly what these book portals reflect," Sommerfeldt said.
But not everyone is happy about the development.
Wolfgang Tischer, the founder of the literatur-cafe.de, says book portals have lost their innocence. He's annoyed that lots of sites present authors as part of special campaigns, without telling their users that these spots are bought by publishers.
"People are often oblivious to the fact that certain books are only on a site because its publishers have paid money," said Tischer.
But readers are only tricked once. If the book is bad - despite its special treatment - word gets around in the reading groups. German readers may have become more calculated in their choices through social networks, but they have also just become a lot more powerful.
Author: Sabine Korsukéwitz / za
Editor: Cyrus Farivar
Literature | 06.10.2010
Frankfurt Book Fair merges literature and technology
Star authors like American Jonathan Franzen and Briton Ken Follett, and not one, but two German Nobel Prize winners - Guenter Grass and Herta Mueller - are expected to attend this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, which runs from October 6-10. Those names may be the literature fair's trump card, but organizers say they also hope to showcase new concepts for the future of publishing.
"The biggest trend is that various media are merging," said Frankfurt Book Fair's director, Juergen Boos. "When people sit at their computers, they often have news pages open, as well as their e-mail and other programs. That shows how dynamic things are."
The worlds of film and publishing are coming closer together, he added. "People load all their preferred media onto one device, or have several different devices that they jump back and forth from."
Bridging lit and tech
In a program called "Frankfurt Sparks," the fair is to showcase new technologies which demand fresh content. With reading devices, apps, and Internet platforms beginning to edge out or at least alter traditional printed books, the program's intention in focusing on that trend is to spark debate.
"Frankfurt StoryDrive" is a cross-media conference accompanying the fair, where publishers, technology and software developers, game representatives and media users can brainstorm about developing "worlds" for good stories and continue the debate about literature trends.
"Device providers need content to arouse consumer interest in their devices," said Bernhard Rohleder, managing director of the Federal Association for Information Technology, a cooperation partner at the conference.
"The Frankfurt Book Fair provides that content, so it is a typical win-win situation for both the fair and the technology sector," he said.
Bildunterschrift: Not everything has gone digital
Growth in digital area
Rohleder anticipates growth of 20 percent in the next decade for the sector that merges literature and technology. A new German reading device is slotted for debut at the fair, for instance, since Internet book giant Amazon has been hesitant to issue its Kindle on the German market due to unclarified copyright issues.
Another continued challenge for publishers is that many Internet users do not want to pay for digital content, Boos said, but it's also a trend that offers potential for new developments.
"When 'Avatar' - the hugely successful movie - was created, the book, computer game and music were developed and marketed all at the same time," Boos stressed. "That was a first, and it shows that people are thinking differently."
Good news and bad
Boos aims to tap into this cross-media market, but has a few hurdles to leap at this year's fair. Bucking past years' trends of record participation, this year sees a five percent drop in exhibitors, bringing the number to around 6,900. There are also 100,000 fewer new publications.
But there is some good news, too. With Argentinia as the focus this year, 216 new translations are coming out of the country. The children's literature market is likewise buzzing, and the education sector can boast 11 percent more exhibitors this year.
The book fair is advancing its campaign for literacy and human rights, while the Literary Agents Center is bursting at the seams.
"That is the most significant record we can report - that the licensing sector is been growing steadily, with more agents than in previous years so that they don't all fit into the hall intended for them. That's the growth to be proud of at this year's fair and is its backbone," Boos said.
Author: Ruthard Staeblein (als)
Editor: Kate Bowen
The fair is open to exhibitors and trade visitors from October 6-10, and open to the general public from October 9-10.