FYI France

File 3: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler,

January 15, 2010 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on January 15, 2010.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to:

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:

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French e-books & e-libraries?


France will have e-books -- and digital libraries & information overload & all the rest -- does have, already -- and, like the rest of us, France is about to get lots more --

-- understatement --

-- Hachette is not "typical", of the French publishing industry, no -- Hachette is not even, by many measures, "French" any longer, but "Global", as so many firms left standing after the recent business-cycle débâcle now are -- but, too,

-- (see more on this last point below) --

-- I am of the generation that does not look for "firefights" and "interviews", son et lumière, within or even surrounding a "book" -- I remember, somewhat fondly or maybe just nostalgically, texts which "stood on their own", authors who painted pictures and created entire universes, using only their words and your imagination -- Tolstoy, Tolkien, so many others -- all changed, changed utterly, now, harrumph -- --

-- well, I'll take "firefights and interviews, son et lumière" over "What to Drink with What You Eat", personellement, altho without "la cuisine" it wouldn't be French -- the point being here that it all must shrink to fit playing-card screens now, but then I confess am writing this on one of those myself --

-- they're kidding, "tutorials on flavor balancing"? -- my wife, who is the world's best cook, throws things together in/at the pan, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but the secret is never to produce exactly the same taste twice --

-- so that is the New Publishing Economics, perhaps -- but how does a bookstore clear its stock, then, of the $35 volumes which didn't sell? -- not much room left for "remainder" pricing, if Amazon already is peddling the text online at 40-50% off -- so maybe the bookstore does _not_ clear its stock... -- and that $4.99 means it's time to buy more Apple shares --

-- and an important warning follows, for distributors, even very big ones, on trying to "game" the New System -- to divert the river you don't build a dam, you drop in a pebble --

-- small merchants forever have known this truth well, avoiding the high costs of "security" and "litigation" by focussing ferociously, instead, on sourcing and selling new product -- large firms which forget this just make their lawyers rich.


And now from the non-commercial (formerly) angle -- libraries apparently are merging with l'édition, or at least are wobbling over in that direction, even in France, sacre bleu... --

-- the most interesting thing here, to me, is that once again the French are a bellwether -- this will be the dream of more than just them, as quite a few nations around the world will want to "have their cake & eat it" too, here --

-- that's the cake --

-- and that's the eating -- there is an extraordinary, if insistent, naïveté about the money-making process, in all of this -- there being "no free lunch", available in any of it -- as someone, sooner or later, taxpayer or private risk capital investor, and eventually the consumer, is going to have to pay --

-- therein lies another rub, "quality" -- although GoogleBooks sceptics should know, or admit, that there never has been an errors-free database, never has been & never will be --

-- leaving far more un-said than he says --

-- and ditto --

-- so all roads still lead to Paris, in some French imaginations -- also though in many other imaginations around the globe, if not necessarily in the always-untypical multi-polar USofA -- most folks everywhere worry, if their "control" over something new is not "centralized"...


How all this current sound & fury will evolve, and crystallize, into some New Digital Solution, as digital technique soars up & away from its US-based Age of Incunabula, nobody knows.

It does appear, however, that the Outside World may not adopt the US Model for digital, at least not in toto. Certainly the Foreigners love the bits & bytes as much as we do -- in some cases even more, if household penetration statistics are to be believed -- urban myths / Net legends would suggest that there are more Internet servers, in some non-US places on the planet, than there are people...

But in dealing with the Global Internet there are some differences -- we're not in Kansas any more, welcome to globalization's Oz. Our Friends the French are giving us indications of what to expect: and the French are more like us than others are -- we would do well to be patient, and study the differences carefully, the differences will be more numerous and far bigger when we get to Lagos, as they already are in Shanghai.


Notes on the French e-book model:

* Government roles

France and the US, for all their many similarities, are different -- France among other differences favoring a stronger role for central government, particularly regarding industrial policy.

This is an old issue: nothing so recent as the business-cycle recession of the last few years, or even the decades older and longer-lasting Neocon Revolution, or the terrible first half of the last century, or the Agrarian France and retard français of the previous.

France has favored, or been saddled with, a stronger central government throughout most of its long history, in fact -- since the early French kings began pulling the country toward Paris -- just as "states' rights" and "federalism" issues have driven US decentralization since our Colonial-era beginnings several hundred years ago.

** Government's role: the theories

The underlying ideas, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been subject to exceptions. Just as modern French policymakers have worked hard on "décentralisation", so US policymakers since 1789 have embraced some of the virtues and evils of strong central government.

** Government's role: the cartoons

But the caricatures tell much of the story: "Colbertisme hi-tech", "l'état c'est moi", "Paris et le désert français" -- as late as the 1960s a telephone call across a provincial French valley, to a neighboring village actually visible on the other side, might have gone up to Paris and back again along trunk lines radiating out from la capitale like the spokes of a great wheel.

The US, by contrast, has been "e pluribus unum / out of many, one", at least in theory. One governmental result has been strong US regional centers, multi-polar governance -- individual "states", state capitals, scattered cities far larger and in many ways more powerful than the national capital itself.

To this underlying difference in governmental structure, then, have been added some very different attitudes toward industrial policy -- US capitalism has undergone an evolution very different from that of capitalism in France.

Paris has had a Bourse, yes, and great industrial empires -- and vast and proud "nation(s) of shopkeepers" have roamed the French townscapes and society for some time, but nowhere near the way they have in the US.

The balances struck long ago, between entrepreneurial activity and government control -- both systems have such balances -- are very different, France for example favoring far more central government control of that activity, and the US favoring far less.

Again there have been exceptions: the New Deal of the US, for instance, shocked some French conservatives perhaps as much as the occasional antics of large French companies shock some US liberals. And "conservative" and "liberal" labels themselves can mean very different things in both places. So things commercial on each side of the pond are different...

* Scaling up, and out

The question of the hour being which system is more typical of The Rest of the World, however...

* China v Google

It is tough making global generalizations about globalization. Among the safe statements though is that "one size fits all" is not a safe assumption: no one model, US or any other, for ebook or any other industrial growth, is going to suit all situations, as digital information techniques scale up and grow globally.

Just this week Google is facing this in China: all those headlines, about the US firm closing up shop there, apparently defeated by a combination of central government intervention and duplicity, and a very un-American Chinese interest in repressing its own citizen's civil rights -- plus the availability of a sophisticated homegrown competitor, Baidu, to take Google's place...

And in the same week the French, of all people -- after all their own noisy contentions with the same US firm -- offer Google their olive branch of "some" participation in a French national digitized-texts database, one to be built specifically to rival Google's own... Heads must be spinning in Mountain View...


The dilemma is not so hard to figure out if certain assumptions get dropped:

All are lessons in inter-national / trans-national relations most easily learned from Our Old Friends the French, who are so similar to us -- moreso anyway than our New Friends the Chinese or the Indians or the Yemenis or the Nigerians, none of whom are.

At least the French, for all their loud protests over the real policy differences which do separate us, haven't thrown us out the country, yet, the way the Chinese apparently just have.

Trade does need to be tough -- commercial competition needs to be brutal -- our New Economic Order for Globalization's era needs to accommodate some measure of "creative destruction" to be true entrepreneurial capitalism, which still is the "worst system except for all the others" as one version of that old adage goes.

One hopes, though, that some multi-national / trans-national "rules" for governing all of this current Globalization commercial mayhem will appear soon: another old adage, that "trade is war by peaceful means", does work both ways.

Time, then, to see and hear better, to listen and to learn: China and the US may be made to share again, hopefully -- as, this week anyway, France and the US once again are doing, or at least are trying to do.


Jack Kessler,







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