Arise and get connected

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
29 August, 2017
Editorial: 128
Fecha de publicación original: 14 julio, 1998

Tighten the lathe out comes the muscle

Cyberspace in the Spanish language is about to experience a big shake-up. The resurrection of the memory buried in thousands of books – from those that disappeared long ago to those that exist today- will be one of the promotion strategies of a new project destined to penetrate all the corners imaginable, and unimaginable, of the Spanish speaking digital nervous system. The German company Bertelsmann, the world’s largest publishing company, are getting ready to create a Virtual Bookshop that will open its doors at the end of this year with 200,000 titles on their digital shelves from their own publishing company and others. This is just the beginning of a strategy which will have widespread repercussions. This first step opens the way for an ambitious project which includes electronic sales in Spanish, a far-reaching multimedia production, penetration in the cultural market with their own or exported (translated) products and broadcasting on interactive channels through IP networks, especially T.V. This enterprise will cover Spain, Portugal and all Latin America. The business objectives of this massive “landing” in Cyberspace are, among others, to set up a barrier against the successful expansion of and bring the publishing industry back to life with regard to Spanish publications, as one of the pivots of Internet development. However, this is only one of the pieces in the company jigsaw. Bertelsmann is designing a similar operation for the German, English, French and Dutch markets with an overall investment of 50 million dollars.

The printed memory in these languages will be magically brought back to life in the digital world. In the case of the Spanish language, the final aim is to place more than one and a half million titles on the web . For the moment, only 8,000 of them will belong to the company. From the first to the last page, the latter will be entered into a database which is being created in Spain and Germany. Little by little, as the publishing fund expands, more books will follow the same path. Those books that are out of stock or have disappeared due to the ever growing difficulty of book shops maintaining their stocks, will be retrieved in preparation for a future project: “print on demand”. If someone asks for a book that no longer exists, not even in stock somewhere, and the rights are free, a copy of it will be printed for them, or it will be sent to them by e-mail or the most appropriate digital means (a direct delivery to their home book-printer for example).

Bertelsmann’s entry into this market is a “broad spectrum” operation which will shake up many things in cyberspace, both in form as well as content. Investment in the Virtual Bookshop in Spanish will amount to over 7,500 million pesetas. This figure certainly does not tally with the sparseness of the actual internaut population in Spain and Latin America. Not even an aggressive electronic sales policy and a general dramatic rise in the standard of culture would allow this investment to be recovered in the three or four years which the company has proposed. The Virtual Bookshop is really only a flagship for a much larger enterprise which plans an incursion into other territories, such as becoming an Internet Service Provider, the enhancement of contents in Spanish on the Web with massive translation of the content and technologies currently existing on the Internet and the development of ad-hoc networks (poorly defined as Intranets) with tailor-made services for users so they can be served through Internet or TV interactive channels.

If there is a company in the publishing world that is particularly prepared for this strategy it is this German company. In recent years, Bertelsmann, apart from continually extending its presence in many of the most important publishing companies on the planet, has invested in numerous Internet products. Its two most significant acquisitions in this line, are the Licos browser and American On Line-Europa (AOL), which so far has barely survived, especially in Germany. However, it seems that together with books, AOL will also be revamped and turned into one of the battering rams of the German company’s operation. Through AOL, the publishing groups can offer massive access to the Internet in segmented packages depending on each campaign, and with conditions untenable for their competitors.

Furthermore, the success of AOL in the USA (in total more than six million subscribers), especially among the Hispanic population, seems to indicate that a new life is being breathed into an operation which was designed in 1996 and did not prosper: the Hispanic On Line Channel. The idea was to generate content in Spanish which would support the massive translation to Spanish of AOL’s English content. Their aim was not only to penetrate the Hispanic market in the USA, but also to land with bed and baggage in Spain and Latin America. The project fizzled out because of the lack of a clear sales operation to support it, amongst other things. Now its the other way round, there is more than enough sales muscle and what’s lacking are means to put it in motion. Just a few days ago, AOL, Bertelsmann and the French group Vivendi, a subsidiary of Canal+, announced a final agreement to offer services through the Internet in France. The translation into Spanish of AOL current content is being studied. “The saints are marching in” and they are heading South.

The other strategies of the German group to halt the progress of in the Latin American market are more conspicuous. Bertelsmann is not only the owner of a host of publishing companies (it has just acquired Random House in the US, Sudmericana in Argentina, Lumen and Debate in Spain and the Portuguese publishing group Bertrand founded in the XVIII century, etc.). It also owns numerous newspapers and TV channels which make up a dense corporate network in the communications sector. The Virtual Bookshop, for the moment, seems to be the most visible window in the creation of this new emporium of knowledge and information, digitally distributed and broken down into a host of services which support this vast sales operation. A project of this scope will, without doubt, decisively affect many of the basic suppositions on which the Internet has developed (or stopped developing) in our languages so far. The emergence of the German company into the world of content, placing such a complex and diverse pie on the table intermingled with company power, information from many different media products of their own, the culture push and the massive dissemination of knowledge, makes a number of serious challenges arise which will propagate throughout all the digital tissue. We will keep close watch on them in future editorials.

Translator: Ruth Belcher.