December 15, 1998 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on December 15, 1998.
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In the fascinating article which follows, Dominique Nora tackles a topic of increasing interest to all of us who work in books, libraries, and "information": "Cyberpublishing" -- here as it is developing, rapidly and in unique ways now, in France...
Dominique Nora has made a name for herself in France as one of their leading writers on things digital and the effects thereof: she writes for Le Nouvel Observateur, and her recent books include --
[All may be purchased online at www.fnac.fr, who interestingly say the following: "Le taux choisi (1 = 6,60 francs) correspond à une moyenne des valeurs de l'euro ces derniers mois. Son taux définitif sera fixé le 1er janvier 1999." Brave New World / Europe -- JK.]
* Les Conquérants du Cybermonde : l'épopée du multimédia
* Le Hold-up Planétaire : la face cachée de Microsoft
"Quel mélange de crétinisme technologique et de servilité intellectuelle fallait-il pour laisser Bill Gates bâtir en toute impunité une position de monopole absolu, en détruisant bon nombre d'entreprises dont les produits étaient de qualité supérieure ? Comment a-t-il pu amasser une telle fortune en vendant des logiciels médiocres sans obligation de résultats et sans crainte de poursuites, à un coût unitaire quasi-nul et à un prix public qui ne baisse jamais ?
"Comment est-il parvenu à piéger les consommateurs en kidnappant leurs informations dans un format propriétaire en constante remise en cause, qui les oblige à acheter tous les ans une mise à jour de toutes les applications pour pouvoir simplement continuer à lire leurs propres données ? Comment a-t-il piégé les compétiteurs, en introduisant des variations arbitraires dans le seul but de ne pas permettre aux produits qu'ils développent de fonctionner correctement ? Comment a-t-il usé de l'intimidation auprès des distributeurs et de l'intoxication auprès des médias pour se présenter comme le chevalier blanc de la démocratisation du savoir alors qu'il organisait méthodiquement la servitude de tous ?
"Au moment où la France s'apprête, comme nombre de pays voisins (Microsoft a déjà acquis le contrôle total de l'informatique dans l'éducation suisse), à céder au chant des sirènes de Microsoft, alors que l'Amérique elle-même combat par tous les moyens légaux la boulimie de son ogre national, un tel cri d'alarme tombe à point nommé.
"Il existe des alternatives technologiques viables à l'hégémonie de Microsoft les défenseurs du logiciel libre, issus pour la plupart de la communauté scientifique, se regroupent en association pour plaider la cause de cette autre voie qui permettrait à la fois de diminuer la dépendance européenne et de rapatrier en Europe les emplois que noter complaisance à l'égard de Microsoft financent aujourd'hui de l'autre côté de l'Atlantique. La France est en retard, plaident les esprits chagrins ? Justement, expliquent les auteurs, le retard français est notre meilleur atout; nous avons certes raté un train, mais c'est cel..."
* Les Conquérants du Cybermonde
"Vous qui croyez n'être pas concerné par ces bouleversements, détrompez-vous la révolution de l'information promet au XXIe siècle ce que la révolution industrielle fut au XIXe. À travers des aventures, des anecdotes, des personnages hauts en couleur, cette épopée du multimédia vous propulse au cur d'un gigantesque western techno-économique qui est en train de changer aussi concrètement notre vie et nos valeurs que le firent en leur temps l'imprimerie, l'électricité ou le téléphone."
* Les Possédés de Wall Street
* L'Etreinte du Samourai
* Les Possédés de Wall Street
There is nothing more, for now, than a few indications:
-- Editions a la Carte will provide, on demand, the older works held by the Bibliothéque de France;
-- the last book of Pierre Bourdieu, for which Le Seuil had surrendered electronic rights, becomes available on the Internet at the same time as it does in the bookshops;
-- on this global information spider's web, an increasing number of cyberpublishers now sell original manuscripts in the form of electronic files, and "virtual bookshops" multiply, using direct - sales techniques.
Anecdotes? These first steps only involve, of course, several thousand books -- against the 342.5 million sold last year by French publishers. These could very well be, however, the early tremors of a larger earthquake: the explosion of publishing's traditional economic model. For the development of the Internet will lead, in the final analysis, to the recomposition of all of the links of the chaîne du livre: the creation of books, their editing and publishing, their distribution... and even their means of consumption!
"You can recognize pioneers by the number of arrows planted in their backs," they say in the US. This maxim applies very well to Jean-Pierre Arbon. In spite of a rain of ironic and sceptical commentary, the former general director of Flammarion has in effect dared to cross the Rubicon by co-founding, last June, a publishing house on the Internet. Its name? 00h00, or "Zero Heure", because he knows very well that he is taking off into new, uncharted territory.
"In publishing as it works today," explains Jean-Pierre Arbon, "distribution has the power: it eats up more than half of the price of a book, one reason why print-runs now must be of at least 2500 copies. Publishers thus are forced to offer only what they know can be sold in large volume."
Under this warped system, book inventories need to have turnover rates like yogurts in a supermarket! Result: works which interest only a smaller public are able to find publishers only more and more rarely.
The original idea of Jean-Pierre Arbon, and of a handful of explorers on this new frontier -- such as, in France, Olivier Gainon of CyLibris and Patrick Altman of Edispher, or, in Great Britain, David Getmann of Online Originals -- is to reverse the logic: to resuscitate, via Internet, the offering of "niche" cultural products, in literature and in science fiction as well as in genres in decline such as the humanities, philosophy, poetry, and theater.
So 00h00 offers on its W3 site a catalog of 120 titles, of which 7 are entirely unpublished. One finds there, for example, La Citrouille Fêlée, a collection of stories by an Algerian author trying to escape the censorship which oppresses his country. The reader, wherever she or he is on the planet, can obtain these texts in the form of electronic files, or in paper form.
In contrast to the pioneer CyLibris, which concentrates on creating new works, 00h00 also re-publishes great classics now in the public domain, such as Le Grand Meaulnes of Alain-Fournier, or Jacques le Fataliste of Diderot. It also buys the digital files of the small firm "Bibliopolis", which has undertaken the issuing of the national "patrimoine littéraire" on CD-ROM for an erudite public.
Jean-Pierre Arbon also has acquired the electronic rights for new editions issued by Le Seuil -- La Domination Masculine of Pierre Bourdieu, and La Mort Opportune of Jacques Pohier -- and also recent works of Denoël, Julliard, Robert Laffont, Calmann-Lévy...
"These are contracts for derivative rights, comparable to those made for 'pocket' editions," says Jean-Pierre Arbon. In this case Internautes and Internauts also may, at their option, order a paper version of these works or -- for about 30% less -- download the fulltext, finishing on their own printer, if they wish to read the text on paper.
For cyberpublishers the idea is to return to the sources of their trade, which after all consists of the editing and publishing of texts and not necessarily the producing of ink on paper!
"We are opening a complementary market, and also attracting a younger public, one which after all is seen less and less in the bookshops," says Jean-Pierre Arbon, who now receives one manuscript per day.
Treason! After the free giveaways of libraries, and "photocopillage", the electronic book will de-stabilize the noble art of publishing and bury the bookshop, insist a handful of publishers who complain of these developments to the Ministry of Culture.
Some new entrepreneurs, such as Patrick Altman, push to the limits -- selling an electronic book for half the price of the work on paper.
From which springs another debate: are electronic publishers violating the spirit of the "loi Lang" on the uniform price of books? ["loi Lang": 1981 national law -- named for the Minister of Culture of the time, Jack Lang -- which seeks to protect small bookshops against large chains by guaranteeing a uniform price for a given book. JK]
Should we impose, for certain types of works, a minimum "floor" price for the sale of electronic files, or establish an official "delay" between the release of a printed book in the bookshops and that of the electronic version online, as suggested by Professor Pascal Fouche'? (in Le Monde, September 24, 1998.)
Still others fear that authors simply will use the new technologies for self-publication...
Jérôme Lindon, of Editions de Minuit, fears that the Internet menaces literary creativity:
"The profusion of texts, the lowering of prices, the increased speed, create a kind of 'Zap' culture which works against literature," he asserts, "The bookshops are at risk of being deprived of entire levels of publishing which today are an important part of their fragile economy."
Also, without the bookshop, and the filter of literary criticism, how to discover a Beckett or a Proust?
One encouraging sign, however: an electronic book published by the British electronic publisher Online Originals, The Angels of Russia of Patricia Le Roy, was selected for the prestigious Booker Prize competition. [see the fulltext online at -- ]
Claude Cherki, the head of Le Seuil and an ardent defender of the bookshop network, feels in any case that one must look to the future: "The world evolves -- publishers and booksellers must change with it... so that it will not change against them..."
Claude Cherki explores the possibilities of "the book on the Internet" the way one has any general "experience": to see whether or not an interactive debate on the networks stimulates sales in the bookshop, to familiarize the editors of his firm with this new medium, and also to get to know the readers better.
"Publishing is the only sector in the modern era in which the producer knows absolutely nothing about his ultimate customers," he emphasizes.
A task force, "Livre Numérique" -- launched before summer by the Ministry of Culture and presided over by Alain Cordier of Bayard Presse -- is supposed to cover the entire field, for all of these questions, in a report to appear in March, 1999. But -- surprise -- there is no electronic publisher on it...
One thing is sure: it would be pointless to raise a Maginot Line against the change, at the risk of seeing France's literary patrimony exploited and sold by servers situated overseas. In addition, the very idea of "the book" can evolve. The Edispher site already offers to its visitors the downloading of texts into a personal electronic calendar, such as the PalmPilot.
"The sale of works as electronic files will not take off until the receptacle for the texts is as portable as a book," asserts Patrick Altman.
Two small American firms have made the same bet: they are preparing to launch electronic tablets, dedicated to reading, in the US market. Selling for between 1500 and 3000 francs, SoftBook [http://www.softbook.com] and Rocket eBook [http://www.rocketbook.com] allow the reading -- on a high-resolution screen -- of the equivalent of a suitcase-full of printed works. Their promoters have developed agreements with mainstream publishers to assure a steady supply of content.
But the most certain evolution, although one that is somewhat muted, is that affecting the technologies of printing. With new IBM or Xerox systems -- which include a scanner, a database of electronic files, and a sophisticated digital printer -- it becomes possible to reproduce on demand, in very small quantities, rare or ancient books or even out - of - print works.
The quality improves and the costs drop. "We sell this service for 2.5 francs per page for a single copy, the price falling to 1 franc per page for 50 copies," explains Henri Le More, former head editor of Flammarion, who has joined Jean-Georges Etter at Editions a la Carte.
Having helped to develop a scanner which is kind to damaged or precious books, their firm offers to furnish visitors to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France -- on demand, although of course with the permission of the librarian -- a copy of any work in the collection which is in the public domain.
Editions a la Carte, which includes Presses Universitaires de France and Editions Odile Jacob among its partners, also offers to reprint out - of - print editions for publishers themselves. "In the US, a subsidiary of the wholesaler - distributor Ingram already offers this type of service to its publisher - clients, cutting into the printer's professional role," explains Jean-Georges Etter.
But French publishers, tied by exclusive distribution contracts, for now are dragging their feet. And the distributors, who are tied into much larger corporations, do not have a really independent outlook on their own profession. Still, the re-printing of a small series of out - of - print works would respond to a real demand.
As for the assembling of public domain works which normally are difficult to reach, this presents an awesome possibility: already the Electre database of books available in booksellers' stocks includes 380,000 titles -- the entire French "patrimoine culturel" might count... 20 million!
In one of the ironies of all these changes, in the US the leading client of Ingram for the re-printing of out - of - print books is... the "virtual" bookshop, Amazon.com.
In France, the direct sale of books via Internet site must confront, along with booksellers' sites such as Furet du Nord, two giants: La FNAC, and Books On Line / BOL, a new subsidiary of Havas and Bertelsmann which will open its site before the end of the year.
The W3 site www.fnac.fr gets 200,000 hits per month -- and, since April 1998, it outperforms the FNAC direct-sales services via telephone or Minitel.
"Our monthly figures are ten times what they were last year," emphasizes François-Henri Pinault, head of La FNAC, who has decided to reinvest to improve his "virtual" shop.
No one, however, has yet developed the economic model for the cyberbookshop: the two American pioneers -- www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com (of which Bertelsmann just purchased 50%) -- lose plenty of money still. But as direct-sales could, in the end, represent 20% of the French book market, the distribution giants cannot ignore it.
So what will the final landscape look like for these changes in the chaîne éditoriale?
"One can see, little by little, a publishing process emerging which will run at several speeds," forecasts Henri Le More. "The 'best - sellers' will be sold in La FNAC and Les Centres Leclerc [generic for "supermarkets". JK] But, at the same time, a myriad of books, covering the entire spectrum of special interests, will be published and re-published in paper or electronic form by a great variety of small publishers."
Will these mutations accelerate the decline of bookshops? A few among them, such as Le Furet du Nord in Lille or Tschann in Paris, already are launched into cybercommerce. Decitre, in Lyon, has chosen to ally itself with Books On Line. The others will suffer.
But the landscape, thus reconstituted, also offers opportunities to the most creative among them. One proof: the initiative undertaken by Editions a la Carte in partnership with Les Librairies du Savoir. At Clermont-Ferrand, an editorial committee -- composed of representatives of the Librairie des Volcans, the local library, the journal La Montagne, and the president of the Academy [the region's university and schools. JK] -- has drawn up a list of works concerning the region and judged worthy of being re-published. At the top, Le Voyage à Clermont, of Chateaubriand...
The idea is to distribute this virtual catalog very widely -- via Les Volcans, of course, but also through the educational institutions and the libraries of the region, as well as various networks and clubs (why not also the "bougnats" of Paris?).
The ordered books are then printed on demand. The ambition of Editions a la Carte is to expand its collections: on theology, with La Procure and the Bibliothèque de Saulchoir, art, anarchist movements, and -- why not? -- "la chasse à la bécasse"...
Problem: this system, pushed to its extremes, also permits the publication of incomplete extracts, of literary "compilations". The US already foresees, in this case, the application of a model of copyright payments similar to that used for music... But then what becomes of the very French "droit moral" of authors?
[A la fin: How to translate the very un-translateable "'droit moral' of authors"? In France, "copyright" may be sold or surrendered or may expire, all as it may elsewhere, but an author's "droit moral" is, "perpétuel, incessible et inaliénable" -- copyright to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is one thing, Victor Hugo's personal and enduring "droit moral" is another -- and the latter is a notion very strange to American lawyers, and American intellectual property negotiators. Let it perhaps best be said that the "droit moral" simply is "very French". But then, increasingly and inevitably, a lot which is online will be: "very French", that is -- or "very Indonesian" or "very Chinese" -- not, in other words, "very American"... JK.]
[Box which accompanied her original article.]
The Magazine of 'Inter-lecteurs'
"Yes the Frankfurt Fair looked a little like the 'Titanic', this year. And francophone publishing found itself in the drink -- are we waiting for the lifeboat?" demanded the editorial in Pagina, in mid-October.
Irreverent and impertinent, this literary magazine on the Internet was created in... 1996. An ancient creature, on the time-scale of the Net! Salon du Livre, Temps du Lire, Lire en Fête: Pagina is one of the events which count, in the "landerneau" of publishing.
"For Lire en Fête we put up, online, 80 original sites," recalls Philippe Di Folco, editor - in - chief and Webmaster of the site along with the site's founder, Alexandre Rosa.
Independent of all the "known" group, Pagina depends above all on the good will of a volunteer network of collaborators and contributing authors.
"The publishers looked at us, at the beginning, with great scepticism. We had to do a lot of envangelizing," recalls Di Folco. Now the site gets 5000 users per day, who come looking for un-published texts, thematic "dossiers", and author interviews.
[Links provided in the original article follow, less a couple which currently do not work -- the "ephemera" threat is persistent online (est-ce qu'on peut dire "l'éphémèrisation"?), in spite of the great promise in all of this -- the links which appear in the text above have been added. JK.]
A Few Links...
The above article appears here with permission -- it was first published in Le Nouvel Observateur, 12-18 novembre 1998, p. 52 -- the printed edition. The fulltext may be read online, in the original French, at,
Happy Cyberpublishing, and Merry Christmas!
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