The Festival delle Citta Impresa in Padua invited Bob to speak on the Value of Books, and he kindly offered me in his place. The session took place in a meeting room overlooking the massive printing works of Grafica Veneta (see video). Here I saw conveyor belts of Jules Verne, Peanuts and Larsson being folded, sliced and bound. Sadly my camera failed as I was filming the best machines but this gives a taste. The debate included Cesare De Michelis, president of Marsilio Editori, Gian Arturo Ferrari, president of the Centro per il Libro e la Promozione della lettura , Fabio Franceshi, CEO of Grafica Veneta - and Christopher John Meade, codirettore dell’Institute for the Future of the Book. Journalist Stefano Salis who chaired the session introduced me as if the Institute was a defender of paper tomes against encroaching screens, so I feared I might get lynched when it became clear I’d come to celebrate the potential of literature online.
But Mr Ferrari, a major figure in publishing here, gave a detailed breakdown of the costs of conventional versus digital books, reckoning the ebook is around 70% cheaper to make and deliver, contradicting those UK publishers who aim to justify keeping the same price for digital. He believes economics mean the rise of the ebook is inevitable, and doesn't dread this, whereas De Michelis presented himself as the pessimist about our cultural future. Ferrari pointed out that the outcomes of revolutions are always unpredictable. Books in Italy were first created to catalogue donkey ownership, then to spread the bible. And when printing was first introduced, many argued that books needed to be handwritten by monks to truly work as literature. You can’t beat the look and feel of a good monk-book.