European Internet Forum Breakfast Debate on “Technology and Innovation for Smart Publishing”

On 18 November, FEP attended a breakfast debate organised by the European Internet Forum in the European Parliament on “Technology and Innovation for Smart Publishing”. The event was hosted by MEP Sabine Verheyen (EPP, Germany), and was inspired by the TISP project. Piero Attanasio from the Italian Publishers Association (the project coordinator) presented TISP, stressing the importance of technology for book publishing and highlighting areas for collaborative innovation in the sector such as big data, accessibility, rights information management and the internet of things. Dorothee Werner, from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, presented a series of initiatives carried out by her association in order to foster innovation, such as experimental labs and start-up incubators. Finally, Dr Hylke Koers from Elsevier described their ‘Article of the Future’ initiative meant to “bring the scholarly article into the 21st century”. FEP led the organising committee for this event.

Mrs Verheyen introduced the event with a description of the TISP project as a collaborative effort of the publishing and ICT industries to foster business and policy innovation, as well as to address challenges presented by technology through technological solutions, also explaining that some examples of innovation would be provided by the speakers.

The first speaker was Piero Attanasio, Head of Research and Development and International Affairs at the Italian Publishers Association. Mr Attanasio illustrated the TISP project, highlighting its role as a platform for dialogue between the ICT and book publishing industries. He recalled that technology and book publishers had been closely associated for decades, quoting the fact that the first online journal appeared in 1992 and the fact that the book identification system, the ISBN, had been created in 1965 – and had been the basis of the birth of e-commerce, since at that time book pubishing was the only industry with a complete, sophisticated, standardised data infrastructure. He quoted a survey conducted within the project regarding R&D&I needs of publishers to show the wide range of areas of interest for book publishers in terms of innovation, which include new products (apps, multimedia and interactive content) and new ways of promoting them using social media, but also elements that are relevant behind the scenes: authoring tools, content management systems, distribution platforms, licensing services, user friendly DRM, etc.

He argued that this had implications when designing policies to support R&D&I in the sector, recommending, rather than focusing on particular technologies to be applied in the book industry, to look at the content value chain and promote innovative initiatives in all its phases: creation, production/editing, internal reuse, distribution (including licensing for reuse), and marketing of products and processes. He listed several topics on which innovation was needed at industry level and could be stimulated via cooperative efforts, also supported by the public sector: big data, accessibility, rights management information and the internet of things.

On big data, Mr Attanasio recalled the long history of collaboration by the industry on sharing data, once again stressing how e-commerce had been born with books due to the availability of data in the sector; he said the challenge was now to move this approach to the big data field, while maintaining its openness, as currently all players, including SMEs, can access such data for their business. Regarding accessibility, he made the example of the Italian initiative LIA (Libri Italiani Accessibili – Italian Accessible Books), which had allowed putting in place a system thanks to which now 35% of Italian e-books are produced in an accessible format from the start. In stressing the importance of rights information management in the digital era, Mr Attanasio mentioned two projects based on bibliographic data and aimed at opening market opportunities, ARROW and RDI. Finally, quoting the slowing down of the e-book market in more mature markets like the US, he said the challenge was to connect the potential of the web to books in order to bring them into the internet of things domain.

Mrs Werner, Head of Corporate Development and the Chief Executive Office at the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, explained how her organisation, due to its membership, always took into account the whole book sector in its projects; the association has had a committee dedicated to e-commerce and one on digital publishing for 25 years now. Mrs Werner mentioned the latest German fruitful collaborative project, Tolino, a very successful e-book platform based on an openness and interoperability principle.

She then stressed the importance of innovation and disruption, saying they often came up in niche areas and then grew and transformed existing markets; hence the creation by her association of the Future Forum, an initiative to foster these niches and protect them from the pressure of time and the need for immediate success and thus allow them to develop and try new ideas, especially in the areas of digital publishing and the internet of things.

Mrs Werner made three examples of initiatives undertaken under this comprehensive approach to empower all their members to benefit from innovation: a crowdsourcing competition organised to select ideas about the presentation of digital content in physical spaces (since personal contact is still very important for sales); the protoType project, dedicated to collaboration and exchanges of ideas for applied innovation, in which innovators conceptualise new products and dedicated teams develop prototypes and are invited to present them to publishers (Mrs Werner expressed the dream of having a similar project at European level); and the Start-up Club, which allows start-ups to get to know publishers, thanks to seminars on publishing and mentors from publishing houses, and also allows traditional companies to learn more about innovation and invest in new ideas (ice-breaker events have been organised in 10 cities).

In terms of results, so far more than 50% of start-ups involved have found partnerships, and more than 60% of participants in protoType are leading a project. Mrs Werner stressed again the importance of their collaborative approach, involving all kinds of stakeholders, from students to CEOs, all kinds of entrepreneurs, in order to provide niches to protect and incubate innovation, to provide an ecosystem, where to establish connectivity and enable inspiration (10% of participants come from other industries). She explained that in the book industry, which mostly applied rather than developed new technologies, people had to be empowered to innovate; so the idea was to stimulate an open innovation approach. She then expanded on her dream to see this kind of initiatives scaled up at European level, since incubators and accelerators are booming but are still relatively rare in the publishing sector, calling for a true innovation culture in the EU. As her association will actually launch an incubator for start-ups next year (starting with some 50 of them), this would be a perfect starting point for a European initiative.

Dr Koers, Head of Content Innovation at Elsevier, described his company as innovative and data-driven, having embraced digital opportunities and moved to be an online information solutions company. He briefly described their activities, resulting in the publication of some 400,000 articles per year, in subscription as well as Open Access journals, providing peer review, archiving and other services, and also a series of smart functionalities, to serve researchers and the world of innovation. He explained how research output had evolved and boomed in recent years, moving beyond text and image, generating huge databases and thus creating challenges in terms of accessing all this and making an impact. He argued that paper supports, while still quite present, could not support certain features of cutting edge research and introduced the ‘Article of the Future’ initiative as a way to “bring the scholarly article into the 21st century”, to give powerful tools to authors, valuable access to readers and overall to deliver solutions to work smartly and more efficiently. He described the initiative’s three dimensions as encouraging researchers to include their data in their articles and allowing their navigation (also via interactive 3D viewers), connecting articles online as part of a networked world of researchers (via data repositories, for example) and bridging the gap between science and society via a series of short videos made to promote articles to a wider public; all of this, he explained, was done in collaboration with researchers and through substantial investments.

The Q&A session was opened by Peter Linton, Advisor at the EIF, said he was energised by the presentations, and recalled how many stories circulated about Europe falling behind on digital and innovation, whereas it could be seen that Europe was instead very strong downstream, so he called for this news to be widely disseminated. He also asked for clarifications on the connection of publishing with the internet of things. Tim Stok (Elsevier) remarked that innovation also came from large companies and asked about the disruptive influence of start-ups. Emiliya Hubavenska (DG CNECT) asked about the role of social media in collecting feedback about innovative projects.

Mrs Werner confirmed that she knew many stories about the integration of publishing and innovation (she mentioned workshops organised by her association, and an investors’ lunch at the Frankfurt Book Fair), and acknowledged that communicating about these stories was quite an issue, and maybe the real field in which Europe was lagging behind the US. She explained that her association had also reflected upon the internet of things and provided some examples (cookbooks or medicine books that exchange data directly with machines, also receiving feedback to improve their own content). She said theirs were open innovation projects for which feedback was collected and analysed and stated that proper regulation and incentives to innovation worked well to bring the necessary level of disruption.

Dr Koers maintained that the European academic publishing sector was doing well in terms of innovation, bringing the example of Elsevier having moved many innovation activities to London to profit from the start-up scene there, and also mentioning innovation coming from the European Commission, such as the initiative on Open Access to research data. He said the best approach was to recognise domain-specific needs and set up appropriate workflows. He acknowledged that a lot of innovation was happening in start-ups, arguing that in a way they were facilitated by having fewer restrictions also in terms of responsibilities (he made the example of his company’s responsibility in preserving articles); and added that cross-stakeholder interest groups (gathering start-ups, publishers and decision makers) could also stimulate innovation greatly. He finally stressed the importance of coming up with sustainable models.

Mr Attanasio acknowledged that there was a European leadership in innovation, explaining that it focused on the application rather than frontline development of technology and that it relied on our capacity of collaborating. He expanded on the example of the Italian initiative on accessible books, pointing out that US stakeholders had announced in 2014 that they would reach similar results in 2017 (while in Italy these had been achieved already in 2013). He mentioned again rights information management as an interesting area for investment; he recalled that while the EPUB e-book format had been created in the US, its main tool development centre (for DRM, reading software, etc.) had been recently established in Paris. He then argued that possibly what had been lacking in all these cases, evolved at national level and industry-led with possibly some government support, had been the European support; he lamented that European support for innovation programmes focused on the development of new technologies rather than in innovative applications of existing technology.

A representative of Yahoo asked the speakers what they expected from the upcoming copyright reform as anticipated by the DSM Strategy. Mr Attanasio stated there was a strong link between innovation and copyright, expressing the hope for the Commission to propose a reform that took into account the potential impact on the incentive to innovate in the publishing sector (and the cultural and creative sector at large); he made the example of the many innovative models of e-lending being offered in many countries by many new companies, which would be stifled if the situation were to be frozen by some sort of legislation. He said that innovation should be the answer to problems. Mrs Werner said she’d like to see an incubator like theirs at EU level, calling for a system of incentives to stimulate collaboration; she added that she also wished for a wide marketing project at European level to showcase the European excellence in innovation, as well as for further research on the correlation of data. Cosmin Mircea (Elsevier) said they awaited for the Commission’s proposal, hoping there was awareness of how exceptions could weaken copyright and thus the incentive to invest.

FEP stated that linguistic diversity was one strength of Europe and recalled that many languages constituted quite small markets that were all many publishers had, arguing that copyright was about protecting and supporting this cultural diversity, by protecting the work of authors in their original languages. MEP Verheyen then asked whether copyright was a barrier to innovation, like many argued.

Dr Koers said it certainly did not block his company. Mr Attanasio said that, on the contrary, it was their incentive to innovate, and made the example of the French project ReLire, which thanks to its being based on the value of copyright had become the only example on Europe of a large scale digitization project for out-of-commerce books; he stated that starting to see copyright as an enabler of innovation would yield visible results.

To learn more about European Internet Forum events and activities, visit EIF website

DOI: 10.17400/SB-2016-01-01

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