FRANKFURT – Organisers of the world's biggest book fair has warned against the domination of Internet giants as the publishing world grapples to blend old and new forms of reading.
American giants Amazon, Apple and Google – whose entry into the world of online sales and digital books is threatening the traditional publishing industry – are "logistics magicians but are not publishers," said on Tuesday Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
"There's no passion there," he told reporters as the giant German book fair prepared to open on Wednesday.
Boos warned it was essential to maintain diversity in what people read and publish.
Doing so, he said, meant that technical standards that influence the way people read and access content, such as payment systems, should be designed to serve customers.
"Technical standards are tools. They must be designed to serve people and their needs, not the other way around," he said.
He called companies such as Apple and Amazon "machines for customer retention."
But he insisted international publishing was not "paralysed with fear" and was fighting back with innovations, while smaller, independent book shops were also developing new ways to entice customers.
Asked about a bill approved by French lawmakers last week to prevent Amazon from offering free deliveries of discounted books, Boos said: "We look at France actually in many matters as an example."
He said France's support for its independent book trade through measures such as tax relief showed "esteem" for a sector that is part of the country's culture.
"I think there we can actually learn from France," he said.
Despite pressure from the US Internet giants, publishers were upbeat about the industry's future as it adapts to embrace the digital age.
"The much-heralded digital revolution is no longer on the way, it has arrived," Stephen Smith, chief executive of US-based Wiley publishing company, told reporters.
"It's here, and it is now, and it is causing publishing leaders around the world to radically re-think what they do," he said, adding there were "plenty of reasons" for optimism and confidence for the future.
Gottfried Honnefelder, president of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, said sales from book stores, e-commerce and department stores grew this year by 0.8 per cent until end-September compared to 2012.
Taking book store sales alone, the growth was 0.9 per cent, he said, adding that although the figures were small, they showed a "trend," with book stores projecting a "new self-confidence" in Germany.
Authors, writers, publishers, literary agents and translators from around the world will gather for the five-day fair, with Brazil as guest of honour.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Brazil's hosting of the football World Cup next year and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro two years later "offer an important chance to present Brazil to a wide world public."
"At the same time, we know from our own experience the challenges that are linked with it," he told the official opening ceremony Tuesday, the day before the festival was to open its doors.
Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, and several editions of the Olympics have been held there.
Brazil, which was hit by massive street protests earlier in the year against the billions being spent on the sporting events, is represented by around 70 writers during the fair.
The country is a "cultural heavyweight," Westerwelle added.
Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer said that as a young boy he had to walk six kilometres to the public library in his small town, which had no bookshop, and that he had discovered the "larger world" through reading. AFP