mercedes-bunz-christian-heise-future-bookAn interview on the future of the book with Dr. Mercedes Bunz and Christian Heise, who are researchers in the Hybrid Publishing Lab and part of the EU project Innovation Incubator at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University of Lüneburg.

Will we soon have to say good-bye to the printed book?

Mer­ce­des Bunz: The good news is that the prin­ted book has a fu­ture. As long as books are the best per­ma­nent me­ans of sto­ring know­ledge and e-books and iPads are in­ca­pa­ble of de­co­ra­ting the shel­ves on our li­ving room walls, we will cer­tain­ly not part from the for­mer. The fee­lings as­so­cia­ted with put­ting our know­ledge into phy­si­cal form and hol­ding it in our hands will not lea­ve us any­ti­me soon. You can see the pro­of in that we all take di­gi­tal pho­tos, only to de­ci­de in fa­vor of com­pi­ling spe­cial events into pho­to books.  The bad news is that the prin­ted book must ne­ver­the­l­ess take its di­gi­tal twin – the ebook – se­rious­ly.

How do things look for printed newspapers?

Mer­ce­des Bunz: If truth be told, news­pa­pers are now lo­sing cir­cu­la­ti­on at a rate of about four per­cent an­nu­al­ly. That is of cour­se a pro­blem. No­wa­days when we are all sur­roun­ded by in­for­ma­ti­on, the hun­ger for prin­ted dai­ly news is wa­ning. At lunch­ti­me you turn ins­tead to di­gi­tal sour­ces. Weekly news­pa­pers have bet­ter chan­ces. Some of our Lab col­le­agues who come from the news­pa­per in­dus­try agree with the rest who pre­dict that the news­pa­per will re­main, but in ano­ther form. Sur­vi­val, howe­ver, de­pends on the news­pa­per’s abili­ty to cope with the chan­ge.

Digitalization is bringing radical change to publishing in Lower Saxony too. You are examining this shift at Leuphana University Lüneburg. What is the biggest challenge?

Chris­ti­an Hei­se: We all rea­li­ze how di­gi­ta­liza­t­i­on is chan­ging our li­ves and this shift has spe­cial im­pli­ca­ti­ons for the pa­per and prin­ting in­dus­try in the re­gi­on. Thanks to Jo­han­nes Gu­ten­berg’s in­ven­ti­on of the prin­ting press, print has a very long tra­di­ti­on in Ger­ma­ny and book stores, print shops and news­pa­pers have a strong pre­sence in the ci­ty­scape of Lo­wer Sa­x­o­ny. Di­gi­ta­liza­t­i­on is brin­ging far-re­aching chan­ge to the ent­i­re frame­work of this in­dus­try.

Mer­ce­des Bunz: Sur­pri­sin­gly en­ough, prin­ting does not cea­se, but it chan­ges its role. Di­gi­ta­liza­t­i­on ma­kes it ea­sier for us to print; in ear­lier days ex­perts were nee­ded to make copy print-re­a­dy. The work of our Lab is to ex­ami­ne and shed light on the­se new pos­si­bi­li­ties. In other words – we are stu­dy­ing the con­ti­nui­ty in the chan­ge.

Which publishers are already pursuing good digitalization strategies?

Chris­ti­an Hei­se: The pu­blis­her who un­der­stands that he is no lon­ger ma­nu­fac­tu­ring a pro­duct but ra­ther is pro­vi­ding a ser­vice to cust­o­m­ers is al­re­a­dy on the right track. Ano­ther way to put it: pu­blis­hers with a good di­gi­ta­liza­t­i­on stra­te­gy see them­sel­ves more than ever be­fo­re as a cust­o­m­er-ori­en­ted in­fra­struc­tu­re ser­vice. That is not easy. Most pu­blis­hers who have long been spe­cia­li­zed in the pro­duc­tion of prin­ted books are con­fron­ted by a new and ever-chan­ging tech­ni­cal land­scape. We all see that in our cell pho­ne, which is chan­ging all the time. Small and Me­di­um-si­zed En­t­er­pri­ses have an es­pe­cial­ly hard time of it.

Your Lab is primarily concerned with studying the field of humanities. What is going on there?

Mer­ce­des Bunz: A lot. Di­gi­ta­liza­t­i­on is ma­king pos­si­ble com­ple­te­ly new me­ans of dis­tri­bu­ti­on and is promp­t­ing de­ba­te on free ac­cess to sci­en­ti­fic con­tent and to re­se­arch data. The catch phra­se is “open ac­cess”. That of cour­se chan­ges the ent­i­re sys­tem of re­se­arch and pu­blis­hing. At the Hy­brid Pu­blis­hing Lab in Leu­pha­na Uni­ver­si­ty of Lüne­burg, we are ex­pe­ri­men­ting with new busi­ness mo­dels. Our over­ri­ding goals are to tell pu­blis­hers what this shift ba­sed on free and open ac­cess to pu­bli­cly fun­ded re­se­arch might look like and to de­ve­lop re­com­men­da­ti­ons on how pu­blis­hing can re­main a via­ble busi­ness. That is, a busi­ness in which the broa­dest ac­cess to know­ledge is just as im­portant as pro­fit.

Disclamer: The Interview was first published in the CDC Newsletter. You can sign up for the monthly CDC Newsletter here.

Christian Heise


Research Associate at the Hybrid Publishing Lab and Member of Board of the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, currently working on his Ph.D thesis about Open Science. More about me...

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