WAN-IFRA entering Virtual Reality

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The manroland Goss stand at the World Publishing Expo 2019. Photo: manroland Goss

With a subjugated press and opinion we lose three-quarters of our freedom. – Frantz Fanon 1957

The 2019 World Publishing Expo and simultaneous Digital Content Expo in Berlin concluded on a positive note, largely exceeding organizers’ expectations. Although the event has more relevance as a suite of conference presentations and tech sessions and less as the kind of trade exhibition of its earlier days, there is still this tendency of measuring its success by the numbers, even though these have steadily shrunk to less than half of those 20 years ago. One may presume that shrinking numbers correspond to the media industry’s egregious consolidation, but some people in the industry consider WAN-IFRA events simply too elite, and participation too expensive.

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Granted, 5,000 visitors is a respectable number for a one-day, print-related conference and two days of keynote sessions along with exhibits and tech workshops, but exhibitor numbers of less than 130 (including 30 trade magazines and associations), for the two exhibition parts combined point to increasing irrelevance. Or perhaps the numbers indicate that bits of up-to-date quality information are considerably more relevant than sheer quantity.

Nevertheless, the compact exhibition floors of the event always provide an accessible overview of the latest developments on offer by some of the industry’s main suppliers. Agfa, Fujifilm, Kodak, and Krause brought their latest CtP systems to Berlin. KBA, Kodak, manroland Goss, Technotrans, Tensor, Tolerans, and Wifag came to the show to explain their newspaper presses, imprinting solutions, ancillary equipment, and services. Press and mailroom automation could be discussed at the stands of ABB, DCOS, Ferag, IST Metz and Unimail, while workflow software was showcased by Agfa, EAE, ProImage, and Wobe.

Other stands included inspection systems from QI Press Controls, cleaning systems from Elettra and Techniweb, and consumables from JSC, Holmen, Karjala, Palm, Perlen, Smurfit Kappa, Stora Enso, Toyo, and UPM. On the side of the Digital Content Expo, DCX, content and ad management software providers predominated the show, topped by Anygraaf, CCI, PPI, and WoodWing.

On the day preceding the show, the World Printers Forum Conference, held at the Berlin headquarters of German newspaper FAZ, discussed print innovations, such as new concepts or individualized products, market and business developments, new investment concepts as well as the latest developments in print design and distribution, expansion and automation possibilities for existing printing processes and presses.

As to the conference keynotes on the two days of the actual World Publishing Expo, the main topics dealt with publishing strategies, innovations, marketing, and automation. One of the speakers, Professor Sonja Kretzschmar, head of the Institute of Journalism at the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, pointed at the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) for research and news automation and its implications for journalists’ jobs as well as news quality and ownership, including the risks of poor verification procedures against fake news.

Another issue that came up in almost all conference sessions was virtual reality (VR). VR development software was also showcased by several suppliers at the Digital Content Expo. While not yet considered mainstream, VR is clearly on the rise in the media industry, both as “immersive journalism” and for advertising. VR seems to grow in correlation with the decrease in costs and hardware requirements. Facebook, Google and YouTube are investing heavily in both hardware and content in order to get a grip on the expanding market, and a rapidly increasing number of news publishers is experimenting with the creation of 360° video, VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed or cross reality (XR) content. Some, like Euronews or the New York Times, have already created hundreds of 360° videos. Although none have found a sustainable ad revenue model as yet, new standards corresponding to the technology are being developed, such as the JPEG XS which is in the process of being adopted as the ISO 21122 standard.

According to the statistics, more than half of VR productions have been provided by the porn industry, which is also at the forefront of technology developments in AR. Soon we will have accomplished Huxley’s Brave New World, in which gender and sex will be things of the past and all our desires will be satisfied in the virtual world.

The next World Publishing Expo and Digital Content Expo will be held in Berlin again, from 5 to 7 October 2020. One of WAN-IFRA’s events in India next year will be the Digital Media India 2020 conference, to be held in New Delhi, on 18 and 19 February 2020.