2015 Fall – Europe in Bits & Bytes

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2015, Vol. 39, No. 1

Column Editor: Kathleen Smith


Humanitarian Crisis
This fall, Europe is facing a massive influx of refugees fleeing the war in Syria. In addition to government initiatives, private individuals, national and international book groups are responding to this humanitarian crisis in a variety of ways:

  • The Frankfurt Book Fair is distributing free tickets to refugees for the final Sunday of the fair, and, in combination with the German Publishers and Booksellers Association and the literary campaign LitCam, coordinating events and reading corners designed to provide a welcoming space.
  • In France, a temporary library for migrants in the migrant camp in Calais has been overwhelmed with book donations and support. Recognizing the importance of access to information about safe travel routes and lodging, private individuals are turning to online resources and networks for information-sharing.
  • The Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute has created a website with current data and visualizations about the current situation. Their Eurobarometer representation of public perception demonstrates how “immigration has become the primary concern of EU citizens,” replacing unemployment and the economic situation.
  • A fundraising effort started by the British-American YA author Patrick Ness has raised, as of press time, over 1,000,000 British pounds. Authors such as Philip Pullman and Suzanne Collins, and publishers such as Hachette, Penguin Random House, and Candlewick Press, are contributing funds and matching donations.
  • In the UK, the bookstore chain Waterstones is donating the full purchase price of nearly 100 books to to the Oxfam fund for the Syria crisis. Authors such as David Nicholls, Hilary Mantel, Neil Gaiman, David Walliams, and Julia Donaldson agreed to donate copies of their books and to forego profits in order to contribute.
  • The Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir has started a Facebook petition to encourage Iceland to take in more refugees, and to draw attention to their plight.
  • Since this humanitarian crisis has been described as having the potential to dramatically redraw the demographic map of Europe, whether that is depicted as positive or negative, it is worth remembering that this is not the first time mass migration has played an important role in history:
  • The Pew Research Center has a visualization of U.S. immigration from 1850-2013, and how it has changed over time.
  • Going back even further, a study of genetic data has revealed how waves of migration were responsible for populating the UK.

Data Privacy, International Copyright, and e-books
In a landmark case, the European Court of Justice ruled as invalid the “safe harbor” agreement under which American and European companies routinely transfer the data of European citizens. Austria law student Max Schrems brought the original complaint, which exposed the inherent conflicts between European legal privacy protections and those in the United States.
In addition to this ruling, which will almost certainly have repercussions for Google and other U.S. companies doing business in Europe, Google faces a combined front as European publishers are working together to push for regulation on copyright and advertising, particularly where Google is concerned. European publishers are also lobbying the EU to advocate against reforms in copyright regulation worldwide. The proposed copyright reforms would affect library use, including the ability to copy works for scholarly and preservation reasons and to share works with other libraries.
In July 2015, the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) released the results of a global survey of Value-Added Tax (VAT) as applied to e-books and print books around the world. Standard VAT rates in Europe are 21%, with the highest rates in Denmark (25% on print books) and Hungary (27% on e-books). The survey did not include the United States, which does not have a federal VAT.
Rüdiger Wischenbart of Publishers Forum Berlin discusses the current status of e-books in Europe, noting that English-language works and genre fiction e-books are thriving, while foreign-language materials have not experienced the same growth. He blames technological hurdles such as overly-restrictive digital rights management (DRM) and frustrating user interfaces, as well as price regulation, for the increase in e-book piracy. For him, Amazon’s main threat is also its weakest point: its claim to reinvent “the future of books and reading.” As Chris Meadows comments, Amazon has other significant advantages, such as economies of scale in the English-language market.
In other Amazon news:

  • Amazon’s publishing imprint AmazonCrossing now publishes the most translations of any U.S. publisher, with 44 new titles in 2014 and an estimated 70 for 2015.
  • Self-published authors are among the hardest-hit by a new EU law designed to prevent Amazon from taking advantage of Luxembourg’s low VAT rates by applying VAT based on the country in which the e-book is purchased, rather than sold.
  • Amazon is expanding its Prime Now same-day delivery service to Munch, Germany, which will be the third European location after London and Birmingham to offer expedited delivery.


In France, Google has informally appealed a French order to apply the “right to be forgotten” ruling to search results worldwide, not just in Europe. The appeal was rejected by the French Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), and a formal appeal by Google is the likely result. On a related note, Google has been ordered to remove links to news reports about removing links by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK.
Already a popular genre, French crime fiction features many authors whose works have still never been translated into English; this article provides a useful overview of the genre’s subcategories, and why French crime fiction is poised to compete with the recent popularity of Scandinavian noir works like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


Netflix is expanding its streaming services to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, with plans to tailor its content for local markets with subtitles and dubbing. At present, Netflix is available in 50 countries but plans to expand to 200 countries within the next few years.
The independent publisher Europa Editions, founded in Italy in 2005, is receiving accolades for its literary translations as well as its “alluring covers” designed to appeal to reluctant readers.


A Spanish copyright law is primarily affecting publishers in Spain rather than Google, its intended target, according to a study commissioned by the Spanish Association of Publishers of Periodical Publications. The study concludes that the law “followed the interests of a particular group of publishers which, given the deterioration of their business, sought to obtain an additional source of income from one of the Internet giants, even to the detriment of other publishers, … and, ultimately, to consumers” and highlights the arbitrary and unreasonable nature of the fee levied against all news aggregators.


Thanks to Portuguese documents preserved in the South African National Archives network, researchers were able to locate the remains of a sunken Portuguese slave ship off the coast of Africa. Artifacts from the shipwreck, such as shackles and ballast bars, will be sent on long-term loan to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Lonnie Burch, the founding director of the NMAAHC, who was part of the effort to find such a shipwreck, emphasized the value of this find and the physical artifacts as a source of cultural memory: “I wanted to find a way for people to remember all those nameless people who died crossing that Middle Passage.”


This year marks the 25th anniversary of the re-unification of Germany; that same year, the Deutsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt am Main and the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig combined to form the German National Library.
Perhaps recognizing that overly-restrictive DRM can have an effect on e-book sales, Random House Germany is switching to digital watermarks designed to make e-books easier for readers to use while still protecting intellectual property.


Thanks to an agreement between the Springer publisher and the Austrian Academic Library Consortium, Austrian scholars will now be able to publish their work on an open access model in 1,600 Springer journals. This pilot program will run from 2016-2018; Springer is in the process of negotiating with other national entities in multiple European countries.


The Swiss National Sound Archives in Lugano, which began as a private foundation in 1987, will join the Swiss National Library in 2016. Their holdings include over 260,000 sound recordings, from Swiss music and commercial radio programs to scientific recordings.


At the Göteborg Book Fair in September, Anne Steiner presented her perspective on the Swedish book market, noting that the number of book stores is decreasing but overall sales of print books are increasing. The e-book market continues to falter, based partly on difficult-to-use user interfaces.
The online literary journal Books from Finland, which began in 1967, ceased publication in July 2015 and will transition to an online archive.


In Belgium, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which the French general Napoleon suffered a decisive defeat by the British and Prussian forces under the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshall Blücher, was commemorated on June 18-21, 2015, with a massive re-enactment with 5,000 human participants, 300 horses, and 100 cannons in front of over 200,000 spectators. The National Library of Ireland is commemorating this anniversary with a digital collection of portraits of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon.

United Kingdom

The British Library celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta with the exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, featuring two surviving copies, along with other artifacts such as the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, contemporary clothing and weaponry, and even the teeth and thumb bone of King John. As part of the event, the British Library sponsored the creation of a “Magna Carta for the digital age” outlining the rights of online citizens.
The British Library estimates that 92% of British radio production is not being adequately preserved; in response, they are starting an initiative called “Save our Sounds” to establish a national radio archive and to digitally preserve existing collections under threat.
The Welsh government is working with the library systems vendor SirsiDynix to institute a single library card for all of Wales, which would allow all Welsh residents to check out print and online materials from any library in the country.

Please send suggestions, news items, notifications, reviews, and announcements of upcoming events for inclusion in Europe in Bits & Bytes to Kathleen Smith.
NOTE: links are those in effect at the time of publication and are not systematically updated.