In the Loop in Frankfurt

by Mapin Publishing

At the Frankfurt Book Fair 2011, the word coming through every day was that exhibitors in Hall 8 – where the US, UK publishers are located, and described by David Davidar in his new novel, Ithaca, as the “nerve centre” of the Fair – were crying that they’ve had fewer meetings and deals at the Fair this year. This was evident when one took a stroll along the aisles of Hall 8 (after undertaking the long walk from Hall 5.0, where the non-multinational Indian publishers and printers were exhibiting).

The Mapin Stand, all dressed up! © Mapin

Despite this gloom, official statistics this year reveal that attendance at the Fair had increased by about 1% when compared to last year. The Book Fair authorities have rightly attributed this to the growing interest in networking and training events at the Fair, although one could credit the good weather this year too – lots of sunshine.

The events that were held were more in number when compared to last year, and they addressed more segments of publishing. There were about 7,400 exhibitors from 106 countries, and more than 3,200 events, all of which attracted approximately 283,000 visitors. Iceland was the Guest of Honour country this year, and the country showcased its range of literature – from classical sagas to modern literature.

An official release from the Frankfurt Book Fair informs us that the LitAg (The Literary Agents & Scouts Centre) “recorded an increase of 11 per cent in visitor numbers.” I did meet some agents who were going home pleased. So, perhaps it was not so gloomy in the other halls of the Fair.

What was new this year?

Beyond the traditional buying and selling of rights, and routine licensing deals, which are the mainstay of the Fair, this year offered several new features for exhibitors. The Fair was also opened up to a newer range of exhibitors.

Frankfurt Book Fair had announced earlier in 2011 that the Fair was expanding its scope from books to becoming a “content” fair. Through the Frankfurt SPARKS brand, the digital initiative of the Frankfurt Book Fair, new platforms have been introduced. The line-up of 30 events for the Frankfurt StoryDrive, the platform focused on transmedia business and media rights, amply demonstrated this shift in focus. HotSpots, the other platform of SPARKS, displayed cutting edge technologies and innovations in digital content.

The HotSpots corner located Hall 8, allocated for displaying ‘Mobiles and Devices’, was buzzing with product demos and talks. My first two meetings of the Fair were with service providers of digital content platforms, and I came away feeling quite positive about designing an affordable and apt digital strategy (and not just e-books and apps alone) for my company in the near future.

Prominent conferences

Under the newly introduced umbrella of ‘Frankfurt Academy’, the Fair organised several international conferences and seminars this year to broadly cover these areas of interest: Strategy, Marketing, Digital, and Rights and Licenses (the tickets for many of these were priced almost as much as my airfare!).

Discussions on digital innovations in publishing have been taking place in Frankfurt ever since the Tools of Change conference was launched there three years ago. This year, with the introduction of the first Frankfurt edition of the Publishers Launch conference, the scope of discussions was widened.

I was fortunate to get the chance to attend the Metadata Perspectives Conference and came away with valuable ideas on the need for metadata, and its importance in marketing of books and making them visible online. The conference was also an eye-opener to how much work is required in India and not just because of lack of information regarding metadata standards, but also because we need to develop our own standards that include our diversity in languages and therefore the inherent regional divisions in our national territory.


Metadata Perspectives. © Mapin

Overall, the events discussed every topic – ranging from social media, apps for children, multichannel marketing, networked publishing, digitization strategies to digital rights (among many others). But it is impossible to attend all events if you are an exhibitor. The Fair felt very big this year, although “big” it has always been.

Networking events

The International Rights Directors meeting, which has been held at the Fair for over 25 years, focused on Brazil this year, an emerging market labelled as one of “publishing’s hot mega markets”. (I am personally very interested in what publishers in Brazil are doing, especially in digital publishing.)

Country-focused business breakfasts, a CEO panel, a seminar on film rights etc were just some of the other events that were held which provided networking opportunities. As every year, the Fair authorities had also organised the Fellows-of-all-Years reception, where Frankfurt Book Fair Fellows, past and present, have a chance to meet and network. The annual reception-dinner organised by the Federation of Indian Publishers was held this year too.

It is no exaggeration when someone tells you that in Frankfurt more networking happens outside the Fair grounds than within.

The Indian presence at Frankfurt

According to the German Book Office New Delhi, there were more than 450 visitors from India at the Fair, with 60 companies exhibiting. Of these, nearly 10 were printers.

The good news for the Indian presence at the Fair this year was that the National Book Trust had taken a large stall, where they were also promoting the upcoming World Book Fair to be held in Delhi early next year. At the Sahitya Akademi stand, the spotlight was on Rabindranath Tagore, whose 150th birth anniversary is being commemorated by the nation this year. Other agencies at the Fair were CAPEXIL, and the Kolkata Book Fair. Matchmaking events and buy-seller meets were organised for publishers and printers, and provided good opportunity for gaining business leads. As each year, one hopes that next year the NBT will organize a collective stand for Indian publishers, which would ensure a stronger contingent from India at the Fair. (We needn’t wait to be made Guest of Honour!)

S. Anand, Publisher of Navayana was among the international publishers chosen for the annual Invitation Programme this year, where he exhibited the popular graphic book, Bhimayana, and succeeding in selling rights. Neelini Sarkar, Senior Copy Editor at HarperCollins was chosen for the Frankfurt Fellowship this year. Kannan Sundaram, Publisher of Kalachuvadu Publications in Nagercoil, was exhibiting for the first time. Kannan, a past Frankfurt Fellow, had been attending the Fair as a trade visitor until last year.

Two India-related events were held at the Weltempfang (Centre for Politics, Literature and Translation) forum at the Fair this year. The first was a discussion titled “Romancing the languages: Indian Literature’s many journeys”, organised jointly by the GBO New Delhi and Ministry of Culture’s (GoI) Indian Literature Abroad initiative.

The other, a moderated discussion in German, on Tagore’s relevance today, featured illustrated readings from his works. This was organized by the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, and Draupadi Verlag. The Fair is open to public on the last two days, and this is when we get to meet the German public. Their interest and commitment to books is simply outstanding and it is no wonder that the most successful Fair of book publishing is based in Germany.

Many Indians living in Germany also attend the Fair. Some simply come to talk to us in a familiar language, about familiar things.

The End and a Beginning

Each year I return from Frankfurt feeling very energised. Conducting meetings with long-term partners and new collaborators non-stop, and having to walk between halls do require tremendous stamina. (Everyone brings along a comfortable pair of shoes as a result.) But, it is being in the company of the book-people that gives everyone the spark needed to get through the exhausting Fair!

The measure of a successful fair is, however, hinged on what emerges after the excitement at Frankfurt dies down, and when the follow-ups begin. Three weeks on, it still feels electric.

By Vinutha Mallya, Senior Editor, Mapin Publishing. This article was first published in The Publisher’s Post.