A Tour of Frankfurt Bookfair

Mega Event of International Publishing Industry

The Frankfurt Book Fair is THE global gathering place for the international publishing scene. By default it is a B2B fair. But even if you are an author, translator, self-publisher, a creative mind or a simply a reader: you will find something interesting here.

As an accredited blogger I had the opportunity to join the opening press conference with Heinrich Riethmüller (President of the German Publishers and Book-sellers association), Juergen Boos (Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair) and Markus Dohle (CEO Penguin Randomhouse).

Here are some take-aways from the speakers:

  • In challenging times, words, language, and culture are more important than ever. War happens when language fails.
  • During the current crises and polarizations, the book industry is more important than ever for information, a plurality of opinion, and dialogue
  • The freedom of speech is the foundation and basis for a democratic society.
  • Ideas don’t die out if you remove authors. We have to make better narratives available than the ones used by right-wing populists.
  • Two thirds of publishing houses sell their books also online.
  • 80 percent of all sold books were printed on paper, only 20% were digital (five years ago experts predicted the same ratio, but reversed – in favour of digital)
  • India is the second largest English-speaking country in the world and a major book market
  • The market segment of children and young adult literature is the fastest growing in the book industry and the one with the most mega-bestsellers in the past years (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight Saga)
  • The book industry is shifting from B2B to B2C. Publishing houses have to establish direct links to their readers.
  • Authors create closer links with their readers
  • There are already 50.000 books on the market but readers crave for more good stories
  • In a world of unlimited choice, the editor is king: don’t give me more. Give me less.
  • Stories are an archaic part of the human culture, from the camp fire to the Hollywood movie: the base is a good story.

Every year there is a guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, usually a nation state. This year, the special guest is the French language, which has native speakers on all continents. The French Pavilion resembles a giant book shelf. The 40.000 books displayed here will later be donated to libraries in Africa.

The epicentre of the Frankfurt Book Fair is the international agency hub where intellectual property rights, licences and royalties are traded across national borders. By default the bookfair is a B2B event. 7.300 exhibitors from more than 100 countries present their goods and services to trade visitors from over 150 countries.

Authors’ Paradise

The Frankfurt Book Fair held great opportunities for authors and bloggers: On several stages in the self-publishing area, discussions took place to look behind the scenes of the self-publishing industry and to tackle frictions between freedom and the dependency on monopolies. Some sessions included practical information like how to market your own new book, how to create good blogger relations, Q&A sessions with published authors, or an overview of publishing start-ups. An interesting one is the WriteRead, an application that corrects spelling. Aimed at little children it can also help illiterate adults to improve their writing skills.

One startling remark: I went by the booth of one publishing houses for self-publishers (authors have to pay in order to get their book out). They held a reading in their little booth where a handful of authors lined up in front of the microphone. Nobody, however, stopped to listen. Maybe a sign for failed marketing of self-publishers? On the other hand: even some big publishing houses had authors on the stages of their giant booths but barely any audience.

Networking at the Frankfurt Book Fair

The start-up breakfast was a good opportunity to network at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’m member of the network of young publishers in Germany, Junge Verlagsmenschen. The fair offered a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new interesting contacts. Through one of these contacts I learned about the Digital Media Women, an initiative that promotes the visibility of women in digital industries. I like the idea of women supporting each other in the male-dominated business world.


Bringing Together Art and Business

The Frankfurt Book Fair went far beyond the publishing industry. One very interesting place for me was the Arts+ section – an innovation summit that brought together creatives and businesses. They hosted some workshops and presentations on topics like startups in the publishing industry or how to connect better with your audience. Displays also included state-of-the-art museum software and display methods.

The Manifesto Machine

Some of the displays I found most astonishing – and also frightening – involved the status quo of Artificial Intelligence: A robot was taught all the existing manifestos in the world, analyzed their style and writing voice. Now the computer is able to write manifestos by himself. To underline the absurdity of Artificial Intelligence writing manifestos, the computer issues 80 manifestos a day. So instead of standing out with singular importance the content of each becomes worthless due to the mass production.

Another computer learned all the elements that popular modern art pictures have: color, style, shapes and how they were recepted by art lovers. The pictures he produced hence were rated better by art critics than some works at the Basel Arts fair. There were even virtual reality projects like a person coming out of a book to read it to the audience.

Freedom of Speech in Turkey

One of my personal highlights of the frankfurt book fair was the discussion round with three Turkish journalists and authors, two of which had been imprisoned in Turkey due to their writings.

Solidarity with Oppressed Authors

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