still de­sir­able

An­cient books held their own at a multimedia-cen­tric book fair.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By RICHARD CARTER

An­cient books held their own at a multimedia-cen­tric book fair.

FAR from the head­spin­ning wizardry and talk of multimedia and e-books at the world’s biggest book fair that closed on Sun­day in Ger­many, the pavil­ion of rare and an­tique books stood apart as an oa­sis of calm, with not an iPad in sight.

Vis­i­tors leafed rev­er­ently through trea­sures such as a first edi­tion of Charles Dar­win’s Ori­gin Of Species, a beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated 13th cen­tury Bi­ble and orig­i­nal equa­tions scrib­bled by Al­bert Ein­stein.

For the first time, the “an­ti­quar­iat“, as it is known, had its own sep­a­rate home at the Frank­furt Book Fair (Oct 6-10), a world away from the hub­bub of the main show, with its high-tech dis­plays, snazzy pre­sen­ta­tions and fran­tic deal-mak­ing.

The pace here was a lit­tle slower. “I even sold a book,” beamed Marc Daniel Kret­zer, 30, from the An­ti­quar­iat Kret­zer, which sells an­cient the­o­log­i­cal texts. “It is an early Catholic text dat­ing from 1768,” he said, care­fully thumb­ing through dense Latin text in an exquisitely bound vol­ume.

Slices of his­tory like this, how­ever, do not come cheap. Kret­zer’s vol­ume sold for 480 (RM2,064). The ask­ing price for a first edi­tion of an early il­lus­trated Span­ish map of Europe dat­ing from 1588 was 85,000 (RM365,500).

De­spite the price, Kret­zer says, he couldn’t com­plain about busi­ness. “Most of our cus­tomers were pas­tors, teach­ers, li­braries and these are all pub­licly funded, so the re­ces­sion doesn’t re­ally af­fect our busi­ness,” he said.

But even in the musty sanc­tu­ary of the an­tique book tent, there was no es­cape from the sub­ject of dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion and e-books that has so dom­i­nated the 62nd edi­tion of the fair.

“Like ev­ery­one else in the in­dus­try, we don’t re­ally know how dig­i­tal will af­fect us. If all the books which have ever been printed get dig­i­talised, then it could have an im­pact,” said Kret­zer.

Dan Burn­stone, from ProQuest (proquest. com), is try­ing to do ex­actly that. His com­pany has launched a project that aims to get all early Euro­pean books printed be­tween 1475 and 1700 on­line.

“We don’t know how many books we are ul­ti­mately deal­ing with, but we think it’s some­thing like one mil­lion,” said Burn­stone dur­ing a high-tech pre­sen­ta­tion in the main fair halls. “Our plan is to dig­i­talise the hold­ings of sev­eral Euro­pean li­braries over sev­eral years.”

The project re­quires the la­bo­ri­ous and time-con­sum­ing scan­ning of valu­able and an­cient books from li­braries across the con­ti­nent.

Next month, some 4,000 books from be­fore 1600 housed at the Florence li­brary in Italy will be pub­lished on­line, in­clud­ing some cen­tral texts of the Re­nais­sance and books owned by the as­tronomer Galileo Galilei.

Moritz Back­haus, 30, from the An­ti­quar­iat im Hufe­land­haus book firm, was san­guine about the im­pact of the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion on his busi­ness: “Look, the peo­ple who buy my books are not re­ally in­ter­ested in e-books. Peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in the book it­self can prob­a­bly find a dig­i­tal copy on Google Books. But if you’re a col­lec­tor, you need to have the phys­i­cal copy,” he said.

Nev­er­the­less, he ac­knowl­edged some­what sheep­ishly: “We didn’t sell very much at the fair. To be hon­est, we do most of our busi­ness on the In­ter­net.”

Kret­zer was keen to draw the pos­i­tives from the clash of the 13th and 21st cen­turies: “Col­lec­tors can see the qual­ity of the book on­line and then come to us to buy the phys­i­cal copy,” he said. “You sim­ply can’t repli­cate the char­ac­ter of an old book in an e-book,” he added, lov­ingly flick­ing through a vol­ume more than 300 years old.

“And at the end of the day, peo­ple don’t ac­tu­ally read these books,” he laughed, point­ing to the il­leg­i­ble spi­dery writ­ing – in Latin. – AFP

Trea­sure: An­tique books were on dis­play dur­ing the Frank­furt Book Fair, and man­aged to hold their own amidst the buzz about dig­i­tal books.

The on­line site of Freako­nomics Ra­dio where you can catch the bi-weekly pod­casts by Stephen J. Dub­ner.

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