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On 24/25 January the congress for the future of publishing will take place in Berlin - future!publish. The emphasis lies on new technologies and AI algorithms, on the relationships between publishing houses and their authorship and fundamental challenges in digital times. We spoke in the apron with Mathias Voigt, the managing director of literature test and organiser of the meeting.
CCB Magazin: Mr. Voigt, you are organising the future!publish congress on January 24/25 at the Mercure Hotel MOA Berlin, the congress for the future of publishing. It is the fourth of its kind. Digitalisation is currently turning the entire publishing industry upside down and confronting authors with entirely new challenges. What is the most frightening development for them?
Mathias Voigt: To begin with, fear is an absolute foreign word to me. Seriously: Digitalisation turns our whole lives upside down - or it simply enriches them and adds a new note to them. The book industry is the oldest cultural and creative industry - and one of the most successful in terms of sales: 500 years of success story with printed texts between two book covers. Now it’s time to create new offerings that respond to changing user needs. And that’s exciting - not frightening.
No, digitalisation doesn’t scare me. And I am sure that the majority of literary and non-fictional production will continue to be taken over by “real” authors.
CCB Magazin: When forecasts come true - I’m exaggerating - neither authors nor translators will be needed in the future. Content is already being created using algorithms. There are already commercials, such as the car manufacturer Lexus, which is created entirely using Artificial Intelligence. What positive effects does digitalisation have for the publishing industry and authors?
Mathias Voigt: One of the positive aspects of digitalisation is that, obviously, more people are reading. Of course, good technology also allows texts and content to be produced “artificially” in general. But I am sure that the majority of literary and non-fictional production will continue to be done by “real” authors. But it will continue to be the task of publishers to curate this and keep authors free for their actual work, writing. Publishers today only have to prove more than in the past that they have the authors’ backs, and that they create the right products and enable access to the readers, mediated by the trade or directly.
CCB Magazin: One focus of future!publish is on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on literature. A keynote lecture by Ralf Winkler and Gesa Schöning, for example, will deal with the question of how innovative technologies and AI algorithms can help the book industry to counter the optimisation of both content and economic aspects? What is your answer? And what are the consequences if innovative technologies and AI-driven algorithms increasingly determine the publishing industry?
Mathias Voigt: With the new technologies, texts can be re-analysed at different levels - for example, with regard to reading behaviour. And, of course, the knowledge gained can then be incorporated into considerations about the production, marketing and sale of books. In addition, good metadata on books is a very important topic for publishers. The preoccupation with it not only interest people in the sales department, but also already begins in the editorial offices where books are “born”. Finally, KPI measurements allow conclusions to be drawn about the success of certain products and services. Here, too, technologies and algorithms can be valuable helpers.
CCB Magazin: But won’t this result in a loss of the so-called gatekeeper function if robots and systems replace human work in the future? One workshop will deal precisely with the question of how the loss of the gatekeeper function, which publishers have held for centuries, has changed the relationship between publisher and author. How has the relationship changed? What advantages and disadvantages do you see?
Mathias Voigt: In this case, too, it’s true that publishers must prove themselves as partners of the authors more than probably ever before. And this has to do with the possibilities of self-publishing, with the opportunity to produce electronically, but also - this is a real revolution! - with changed possibilities in the printing sector: Today, print runs can be printed marketably from just one copy. In addition, there are options for direct sales of books. In this environment, publishers have to really make points with comprehensive market knowledge - from production to marketing/PR to sales. They have to be so strong in their internal relationships with authors and in their external relationships with the press, influencers, dealers, librarians, etc. themselves, even as brands, that the authors continue to say: I can’t do what they do - and perhaps I don’t want to do it because I want to concentrate on writing.
CCB Magazin: But the number of authors that are self-publishing is increasing. According to Gerd Robertz of Books on Demand, by the end of 2017 every third first edition had already been published - and the trend is rising. And even if the average income of a self-publisher in Germany has increased over the years - in 2018 it was 1,048 euros per month - still a good third of writers earn nothing at all, according to the results of a survey by the journalist Matthias Matting on self-publishing (selfpublisherbibel.de). Does digitalisation represent greater opportunities for publishers and authors, or just greater instability at the digital level?
Mathias Voigt: It’s true that the possibilities for publishing have become more diverse - for authors and publishers. And publishers and self-publishers alike have to be able to diversify and play the entire keyboard in order to have entrepreneurial success - from the classic distribution channels in the still very diverse and strong, stable book trade in Germany to the digital “outlets”. In this respect, I would say that digitalisation is an opportunity!
Publishers must prove themselves as partners of authors more than ever before. And that’s a good thing
CCB Magazin: Finally, a tip for those in a hurry who don’t know where to go tomorrow. What should we make sure not to miss on January 24-25 at future!publish?
Mathias Voigt: Personally, I’m definitely looking forward to many great encounters with interesting people again. To highlight something from the programme, however, is such a thing: After all, we as organisers have curated it all and are accordingly fans of all speakers and their topics. But I always find side-glances exciting, for example. That’s why I’m looking forward to Philipp Reinartz’s keynote address on gamification and possible derivations for the book industry.
CCB Magazin: Last question: What do you actually read yourself? Do you prefer e-books or haptic books?
Mathias Voigt: Of course I read digitally, but I also appreciate the printed book. And yes: I’ve not really thrown any books out of my private library so far. For me, books are simply still the perfect “container” for fantasy and knowledge, but also for excitement and entertainment. They offer first-class access to very different worlds. The format in which they’re presented doesn’t really matter.
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