All That's Fit to Print

floor salon du livre
With a panoramic camera, this shot could have been
much wider, but I don't have one.

At a Chilly 18th Salon du Livre - Part I

Paris:- Friday, 20. March 1998:- As the métro train leaves La Défense, it is nearly full. The first chance I get, I hop forward to the next wagon, but it is full too. Usually I can have any seat I want, but this métro is full of Spanish students.

I bet they will change at Concorde with me and they do. I get ahead of them in the tunnels while they are reading the direction signs, but end up sharing the wagon with them again on the way down to the Porte de Versailles. A lot more other students get on along the way.

At Paris-Expo the reason is apparent. Salon de l'Etudiant is to the left and Salon Du Livre is on the right. One year, when both salons were smaller, they shared the Hall One and I got to take in both of them. But I don't know where the Spanish students are going, because - starting out at La Défense - I don't know where they came from.

For this, the 18th Salon du Livre, I am a veteran. I already have my entry badge, I am dressed to be in a large and warm building, and the press service does not give me a large bundle of documentation to start the day with. It is the salon's first day, and there are not too many visitors yet.

From re-doing the magazine's 'links' page last week I know that Alexandre Rosa's Pagina is alive and doing well, and this is a good time to pay him a visit. Another reason is that this years' salon's 'country of honor' is Brazil and so is Rosa - so I am hoping to get all sorts of inside news about this.

His booth is about two kilometres away, at the edge of the salon, in the 'multimedia' section. Its four square metres are empty. It is also the first day of France's two-day Fête de l'Internet, androman d'un jour the Pagina site has been mentioned in this morning's edition of Libération - so he may legitimately be elsewhere.

A bit further along I run into a conversationalist by the name of Yv-Mari Séraline, who has a booth with a Mac and a PC, some brochures about the Carnaval de le Martinique - which is the name of a CD-ROM he has produced.

Libération has a big stand; looking like it has a birthday.

Mr. Séraline is apologetic about the crate full of CD-ROMs being detained by the French Customs authorities and the fact that it had not occurred to him to bring a spare copy in his pocket. The island of Martinique is considered to be an off-shore department of France, and today is also the 'Fête de la Francophonie,' which makes the customs boondoggle all the more ironic.

In Martinique, Mr. Séraline is a busy guy. He has a small shop where he runs a variety of audio-visual services and he also teaches local prisoners how to use the equipment, so that they will have something to do when they get out of, what Mr. Séraline says is a very new and modern prison.

Mr. Séraline's aim is to promote Martinique, and all the Caribbean islands. Besides producing CD-ROMs he also intends to put Martinique online and is dreaming of an all-island Caribbean Web network.

I make a note to return next Wednesday to see if he has managed to pry his CD-ROMs out of the customs lock-up, and I also note his email address so I can find out who wins the trip to Martinique.

In case you are at the salon, the drawing takes place next Wednesday, 25. March, at the stand 'L 142,' and anybody who has ordered the 'Carnaval de le Martinique' CD-ROM for a special 'salon' price, can take part.

While Alexandre Rosa and Yv-Mari Séraline are on the fringe, both are pioneers in the riskycybermomes business of being small operators with certain dreams; dreams which perhaps do not have huge piles of money in the foreground.

The same cannot be said of huge operators such as Hachette, Havas and Ubisoft - all who have very large stands somewhat distanced from the fringe, somewhat closer to banks and shareholders and their publishing partners.

Lots of elbow and headroom at the area set aside for the 'Cybermômes.'

After a slow and cautious beginning, France's media giants have stepped into the multimedia ring and now offer a great variety of product - 'Made in France.' When the press here talks about such things, they say some of this product has success because it has a 'French touch.'

Since I do not pay a great deal of attention to this sector since quitting my own 'pioneer' efforts with it and choosing to go 'live' instead, I do not know if 'French touch' applies to this magazine - but then I don't know if it applies to anything digital except maybe the Web itself.

I have read that Ubisoft does have a crew of about 400 to 500 people working night and day turning out hard-packaged multimedia products, and a fair amount of it gets good reviews - in the French press.

Ubisoft acts as localizer and distributor for foreign titles, but the bulk of its activities centre around producing its own - mostly CD-ROM - titles, and these are focused almost entirely on the youth and educational areas.

Saying schools in France are even modestly equipped with multimedia-capable PCs would be a gross exaggeration, so Ubisoft is also taking some risk. Parents, however, are not waiting for the national school system to catch up, and are said to be buying PCs for home use - instead of game machines - and this is despite the complexity and excessive cost of a PC.

Ubisoft plays this game to the extent that it charges somewhat less than average retail prices for its products.

At another stand, one title is making waves. This is the Liris Interactive 'Découvertes,' which is a co-production by Gallimard and Larousse. Its' subtitle is something like 'A Encyclopedic 3-D Voyage from the Big Bang to the 21st Century.' This four-language title is based on the 20 volumes of the Gallimard-Larousse Encyclopedia.

Squeezed together, this is a three gigabit monster, on five CD-ROMs, or on one DVD, or Digitalcartoonist; stalner Versatile Disc, which is equivalent to seven standard CD-ROMs. The software package comes with a built-in link to a Web site, which will contain updates, and the blurb says the 3-D part is based on 'video'-game technology - for speedy play - but probably for speedy zooming here.

This is either Jean-Marc or Eric Stalner, signing albums and chatting to fans - one of the big attractions at the salon.

Although I was readily given the demonstration CD, it - and the whole package - is Wintel 95 only, and the machine will require a sound and video card - compatible 'Direct X' - plus a 28.8 modem and Internet access. Item 10 of the installation procedure says the user should consult the 'Read Me' file, in case of problems.

Liris Interactive is some sort of subsidiary of the giant Havas Interactive combine, and Havas is proud that 'Découvertes' won the coveted Milia d'Or last month.

Havas has a large number of French publishers as partners, and has just announced the co-production of a educational Web site, together with one of my old clients, Nathan. This arrangement, announced yesterday, is expected to be operational in the summer of next year.

Just beyond these goliaths, there is a large and roomy space set aside for the 'Cybermômes,' who are kids aged between five and ten years. Apple Computer is a discreet sponsor here, so I don't think any of the kids were getting too deeply into 'Découvertes' on the Macs I see.

This has been a lot about a tiny part of the salon - the whole rest of it is really devoted to paper, ink, and bindings - and the transient intellectual property contained therein. Maybe I shouldn't use 'transient,' because what does get published tends to last a long time - but I was thinking of ideas floating in the air over the salon, like a sort of guardian angel gliding around.

The small 'multimedia' section is accessible for kids. To show their stuff off, the producers have to provide computers and chairs, and in the 'Cybermômes' area the chairs are really kid-sized. The vast majority of the rest of the salon, is stand-up only - just like in a bookshop.

You stroll past booths, you stop when you see something interesting, and there you stand. Somebody is alwaysmr bibendum there to talk to you, to show you something. It is like the world's biggest bookshop.

If you read, it is impossible to come here and just visit a few stands of particular interest. You might start out to do this, but something will certainly hold you up if you try to head for the exit.

Mr. Bibendum says he is warm inside his 100-year-old suit. The rest of us are not.

Figures from last year indicate that 1,200 authors will be present at one time or another during the salon, along with the same number of publishers, including 300 foreign ones. There will be over 200 debates or conferences; and many, many book-signings with live authors. The radio people will produce 200 sound-bites and the ever-present TV crews will help produce 130 clips of video for broadcast.

On top of this there are anniversaries. For Libération's 25th, the newspaper has several stands, plus they printed a special 52 page edition yesterday, called, 'Les Auteurs de Nos 25 Ans.'

It starts with Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973 and goes to Medhi Belhaj Kacem, in 1997. The actual number of authors cited is about 200 in all, from Kobo Abe to Fritz Zorn.

The well-known series of guide books, the 'Guide du Routard,' is also celebrating its 25th anniversary. For this, Hachette has published a little book of 50 pages, distributed free by Libération, of the 'Routard's' history. It starts, "Mai 1968 s'est terminé par un méprise. Et puis l'été." The students of '68 went for a walk which is not yet finished.

I prowl the booths of the 'little magazines,' sort of looking for philosophic titles. The one I find - I am told it is for 'laymen' and is not elite. The 'Café-Philos' magazine is thought to be non-existent, elitist; while my copy asks for contributions and doesn't answer email. Clearly the philosophers are at odds.

Before this, I have passed 'Le Bar des Philosophes'fleurus mame without giving it too much thought as I saw it here last year. Passing it was a mistake, because this year it is organized by the same people who run the Sunday sessions at the Café des Phares at Bastille - now you see them, now you don't.

Browsers at the salon come in all sizes, and there is something in print for every age.

And Brazil; where is Alexandre Rosa who will explain this for me? Beside Brazil's big stand, there is Portugal, with its authors - and its boosting of the century's last World Exhibition - Expo '98 - 'Océans,' which runs from 27. May until 30. September. Portugal knows its oceans too, but the emphasis of the expo is on the future more than the past. To be in Lisbon; mark your datebooks.

The Salon du Livre almost completely fills the Hall 1 with its 35,000 square metres. It is in the biggest single space at Paris-Expo, but it doesn't quite fill all the room.

If there are toilets along the sides of the building, there is no access to them. This seems to leave about three public toilets, for the use of a daily average of 34,000 visitors. At an otherwise quiet and subdued salon, this lack causes some scenes of drama - of an altogether different sort than those possibly stirred up by literary debates.

Also, after the Salon de l'Agriculture and before the coming Foire de Paris, there is not a great deal of food for thought here. One stand does have bags of 'poetic tea' - or, is it 'philosopher's tea?' I forget.

Next week I hope there will be a 'Part Two' of this report. It will be the salon's final day and I will dress more warmly for it. I will dream about Brazil! until then.

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