By Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
If the term "marketplace of ideas" were taken to refer to a specific place, that place might just be the Frankfurt Book Fair. Held annually, the fair reflects the prevailing currents of cultural influence around the world.
Frankfurt is home to the world's biggest book fair and the premier market for international publishing rights. Some 80 percent of all such deals are concluded here, experts estimate.
Electronic publishing was again a main focus at this year's fair, which concluded Monday. On the whole, the book trade remains rapturous in its enthusiasm for new media and their market potential, even though individual firms vary widely in their level of new media activity, and some big ones have pulled out of the CD-ROM market for now. "We're not betraying Gutenberg, we're widening his galaxy," is how Proska Draskoczy, head of the multimedia division at the Kossuth publishing house in Budapest answers criticizm that electronic publishing doesn't create "real books." This does not mean she's giving up on books, though. "The issue is appropriate form," Ms. Draskoczy remarked during a panel discussion at the fair, adding that when a book is the right format for a certain publication, her firm will publish it as a book. And the book people here clearly do not see electronic publishing as something just for giants serving the vast English-speaking (and English-learning) market. Operating in a country of 10 million, where the national language is a difficult, non-Indo-European tongue, Kossuth is nonetheless making a go of new media, with offerings such as a guide to Hungary's birds and butterflies on CD-ROM and a program on basic commercial correspondence in six languages. CD-ROM is "a medium of the future, perhaps not the medium," Draskoczy says. "We are in the midst of a third reading revolution," says Giuseppe Vitiello, special adviser to the Directorate of Education, Culture, and Sport of the Council of Europe. The first revolution was Gutenberg's; the second came in the 18th century, when people began to read less intensively and more extensively - and more superficially. …