Every October, the book world flocks to Frankfurt, Germany. For more than a decade, the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) has grown increasingly digital in scope. The 2012 fair, however, made it clearly evident that digital is now thoroughly integrated into exhibits, events, products, and the creation, editorial, production, and distribution processes of the book trade.
The show, held in the Messe Frankfurt that encompasses 500,000-plus square meters (about 5.4 million square feet), was the gathering spot where 200,000 people (publishers, booksellers, agents, film producers, hardware and software providers, and authors) from 100 countries attended more than 3,000 learning and celebratory events. The 7,300 exhibits were spread throughout multiple buildings. You could have spent 3 days just in Hall 4.2, headquarters for STM, academic publishing, and specialist information, as well as in one of the six Hot Spot presentation areas. Also noteworthy were the English-language exhibits in Hall 8, or the other country exhibits in Halls 5 and 6, or comics and the gourmet gallery in Hall 3. And that doesn't include the space devoted to New Zealand, the honored country of 2012.
Everyone whom you would expect to exhibit at a major book and electronic content show had a stand at FBF. Springer Science+Business Media, EBSCO Publishing, ProQuest, and Wolters Kluwer all had large spaces in Hall 4.2; Hall 8 was home to Amazon and Google, and Hall 6.1 was the spot for Barnes & Noble's NOOK Developer.
On the list of least-expected exhibitors was CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which demonstrated an LHC (Large Hadron Collider) time tunnel but also presented an exhibit case showing the first World Wide Web server, together with a copy of Tim Berners-Lee's March 1989 paper "Information Management: A Proposal."
Deal Making and 50 Shades
The essence of FBF is deal making, which takes place everywhere, from tiny, square exhibit-floor booths to the giant, secure LitAg hall, where you need a pass to get in to a meeting that was arranged weeks in advance with one of the literary agents. All types of rights are up for sale, including content moving into other languages, content distributed to foreign global markets, and content transformed from one medium to another (books, films, multimedia, and apps). It's no longer a one-way street starting with the printed book: One of the most exciting offers this year was Borgen, a book based on the original Danish TV series about a female prime minister. (Borgen is the Danish term for "parliament.") The title has already achieved broadcast success in the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Belgium, Brazil, and South Korea.
Much discussion, and not just in deal making, was about the "50 Shades Effect." Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 28 million copies around the world, according to the Nielsen ratings (other estimates put the trilogy figure much higher). Its effect goes beyond the romance and erotica genres, sales of which have grown by 384% and 192%, respectively, in the U.K. alone. Self-published and electronic properties are now actively sought out, and the value of blog marketing is recognized after the tremendous global success of E.L. James' title. James' work was picked up from her own online serial to be an ebook and print-on-demand title by the Australian virtual publisher The Writers' Coffee Shop; it then went viral by blog promotion and social media.
In addition to its role as the place for rights exchanges, the FBF serves as an important venue for knowledge exchange as well. Three educational frameworks are featured prominently. The SPARKS stages in Hall 4 (STM, academic publishing and specialist information) and in Hall 8 (the English-speaking world) offered presentations, interviews, and panel discussions of media trends and issues on topics from EPUB 3 to HTML5 to metadata.
Hot Spots, in small, theater-seating arrangements distributed throughout four halls, presented half-hour sessions (often company-sponsored) on Digital Innovation, Education, Kids & eReading, Mobile, Professional & Scientific Information, and Publishing Services. All those are free; the majority (though not all) are presented in English. The Frankfurt Academy, making a repeat appearance after its debut last year, offered several longer sessions, many with entrance fees.
In Lessons Learned From Digital Publishing, a CEO panel kicked off the first day of the trade show on the SPARKS Stage. Richard Charkin (Bloomsbury Publishing, PLC), George Lossius (Publishing Technology, PLC), and Matt Hanbury (Murdoch Books Pty. Ltd.) answered questions from Richard Mollet (The Publishers Association in the U.K.), faulting the industry for conceding too soon to the big players (Amazon and Apple), though asserting that publishing has adapted remarkably quickly. Charkin stated that academic publishing is now probably "a 90% digital business" while the trade side lags at "maybe 15% to 20%," with, incredibly, a print book still going through 24 handlings between manufacture and purchase. Charkin challenged publishers to take lessons learned from digital and apply them to print. Hanbury wondered whether saying no to the early low-revenue deals from Amazon and Apple may have brought forth a more "book-industry friendly retailer," as "the Amazon account is the king of every organization, and that's wrong." Nevertheless, he challenged his peers to "step out from being just book people to grow into an open market."
Lossius agreed that it's an open market now and warned of a challenge to the Kindle because a closed business model won't make it in the open market. He predicted that in 10 years, people will still be reading some content in print, but the proliferating number of e-readers will have doubled the size of the reading community.
Another CEO panel, The Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2012: Disruption and New Frontier (a free presentation of the Frankfurt Academy), was sponsored by Livres Hebdo, publisher of the annual global ranking of publishers, in cooperation with The Bookseller, buchreport, PublishNews Brazil, and Publishers Weekly. C-level execs from Google, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indiaplaza ("where India shops online"), and European entertainment retail giant Fnac examined the effects of digital plus globalization. Heard through the disruption was the following:
* Barnes & Noble, now also in the U.K., sells in 18 different languages.
* National markets are now global: Either you become global or you partner with someone who is.
* People who buy ebooks still buy print books.
* Without exception, ebook prices have decreased every month.
* For some ebook publishers, kids' books make up 20%-25% of their production.
* The cost of production is decreasing.
* Color is coming to ebooks: Think magazines, catalogs, and scrapbooking.
* For global distribution, just changing the language is not enough.
Hot Spots provide some of the most targeted information at the fair. The Mobile Hot Spot was new 2 years ago, when the dozen or so sample mobile devices on display were bolted down to keep them at the Hot Spot. This year, there were no demo devices, but no presentation was complete without a dozen or more smartphones and tablets popping into view as attendees took photos of the presenters.
Kids & eReading was a new Hot Spot; one session featured a presentation by Manuvo on "interactive narrative for kids." It produces apps that open up poetry for young readers. Other Hot Spot presentations of note included an advertising system that places ads before each chapter of an ebook (eBookPlus, Inc.) and "pay for only what you read" (Total Boox Ltd.); how to "glocalize" content (Braahmam Net Solutions Ltd.); independent publishing with Amazon and a NOOK development workshop; and successful publishing partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
The Greatest Show
Nothing in the book world matches the size, diversity, and importance of the FBF. No matter what you do, no one can get to even one-tenth of its huge offerings during the 3 days devoted to the trade (and I learned my first year not to even go close on the weekend, when the German public swarms in). Get a taste of the fun and the frenzy with a time-lapse video (www.youtube.com/watch?v= QfAviSegamY&feature=youtu.be) developed by MapsofWorld.com, an exhibitor I did not get a chance to visit at the show. Its booth was in Hall 3.1.
Text by SUSANNE BJORNER; photos by JOHANNES BJORNER
Susanne Bjorner is contributing editor of The CyberSkeptic's Guide to Internet Research and occasional columnist for Searcher. Send your comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.…