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.

E-book Lit Awards

Also at Frankfurt, Microsoft made an e-investment announcement of a different sort--that of a lucrative literary prize. The Redmond company has established the Frankfurt eBook Awards for the best digitized books available electronically and formatted according to the Open eBook standard.

Prizes will be awarded at the next Frankfurt fair and will include a $100,000 grand prize for the best book originally published in e-book form; four $10,000 prizes were also announced for e-books originally or eventually published in electronic form. Two more $10,000 awards will be given for best spoken-word or audiobook title delivered in digital form, as well as a technology achievement award for the advancement of electronic publishing. Questions remained, however, regarding who would receive the prize money; even a positive development like this may result in contract squabbles between author and publisher.

At Frankfurt, Microsoft's Dick Brass noted that the prizes' goal is to give more incentive for electronic publishing. In addition to money, the company is also trying to bring some much-needed literary credibility to the form by naming Alberto Vitale as chairman of the organization that will select the winners. (Eligibility rules and more will be available on the Web at sometime next month.)

Other e-book pioneers, NuvoMedia and Softbook, have contributed unspecified dollar amounts for the prizes. "While there are developments in the future that we might need to be concerned about, we're working closely with Microsoft to help build the market," Tom Morrow, a spokesperson for Softbook, told PW.