Old message in books, but new digital medium

“The medium has changed, but not the message,» said the vice president of the European Writers’ Congress, Maureen Duffy, voicing the majority view at last week’s (April 10-11) conference in Athens on the future of books and the book market in the enlarged European Union. The conference attracted figures from the whole of the industry, with more than 150 participants, including authors, translators, publishers, booksellers and librarians, and Culture Ministry and EU officials from the 15 member states and 10 countries in line for EU membership. The Greek Culture Ministry and the National Book Center (EKEBI) ran the conference during Greece’s presidency of the European Union in the hope of achieving consensus and hammering out a resolution on EU book policies to present to the next Council of Ministers meetings this May in Athens and Thessaloniki. What is a book? As what we know as books morph into new digital modes, the need arises for a new way to identify books, and this was the subject of the first workshop. Duffy argued for the need «to preserve the integrity of the text.» One way of doing that is a new system mentioned by several speakers, the Digital Object Identifier, which can scan and identify even the tiniest pieces of text or visual material in digital form for the purpose of enhancing copyright protection. Another workshop tackled the need to produce accurate, comparable statistics on the book industry. Emphasizing the need for reliable data, Socrates Kabouropolos of EKEBI noted that the book industry was the most important cultural industry in Europe, outstripping even the music industry. The third workshop discussed book policies for the enlarged EU, sparking vigorous debate on funding priorities, notably among translators and Eurocrats, a difference of opinion that spilled over into the concluding session of the conference the following day. Other speakers echoed the need to protect copyright, promote cultural diversity, deal with new technology, lower VAT on books, and clarify EU policy, especially in regard to developing relations with non-EU countries. The Greek organizers were keen to formulate a resolution that would enhance the impact of Article 151.5 of the Maastricht Treaty, which states that the EU «should take culture into consideration when undertaking action in other fields.» The closing session voted in favor of a resolution, saying, among other things, that the EU should have «a more ambitious program for books and reading and should not restrict itself to the modestly funded Culture 2000 program.» It calls for consultation with all stake holders, financing for skills involved in the book industry and the lowest possible VAT rates for books.