The growing importance of technology in the publishing industry was highlighted during the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, where news of alliances and investments in electronic publishing overshadowed traditional rights deals.

Pointing to projections that on-demand book printing could grow to as much as 30% of the book production market in the next three years, Bertelsmann Arvato, the German media conglomerate's printing subsidiary, announced an alliance with Xerox to supply on-demand printing technology to Bertelsmann printing plants worldwide. On-demand publishing allows texts (particularly out-of-print titles, review copies or specialty texts) to be stored digitally and quickly printed singly or in short runs after a sale has been made.

The alliance was announced by executives from both firms at the fair. Edwin Eichler, board member of Bertelsmann Arvato, said the deal was "driven by the growth of the Internet. The Web is changing the way books and other media are sold." According to a spokesperson for Xerox, Bertelsmann Arvato has 20 printing plants around the world, generating some $2 billion in revenues annually. The new deal takes the form of a letter of intent to proceed with the outfitting of Arvato printing plants. Bertelsmann Arvato has been using Xerox on-demand technology in four of the five U.S. plants for the past year.

Meanwhile, Microsoft made joint announcements with four leading European publishers to produce e-book versions to run on Microsoft's new Reader software for Windows.

Penguin Books in the U.K. will create e-books and Penguin and Microsoft will jointly distribute an e-book CD-ROM containing Penguin Classic titles through traditional bookstore and software channels in the U.K., the U.S. and other English-language markets.

In France, Havas and will create titles in French, with Havas's titles forming a new imprint, ePocket, to parallel its Pocket imprint. These will be distributed through bookstores on a CD-ROM, and downloadable from an "e-bookstore" that will be set up as soon as 00h00's titles are available on its Web site,

In Italy, Mondadori will produce e-books in Italian, to be distributed on a CD in bookstores and downloadable from a forthcoming e-bookstore site.