Frankfurt 2011: The Fair Is Back
At least as the major book event for international sales opportunities.
The 2011 fair did not approach the Golden Era of the years before so many competing rights buyers were eliminated by the widespread acquisition and consolidation of numerous publishing houses by such multinational media giants as Germany's Bertelsmann. But Frankfurt has turned the corner and is well on its way there once again.
The last two or three years before this fair were not as good as they should have been. Fewer and fewer buyers came, believing that no one had money to buy books. And yet the few who did come did buy.
Why the change, the much greater interest in buying rights this year?
We'll discuss this below. First, we want to tell you about our immediate accomplishments on behalf of our publishers and authors at this year's fair.
Hands down, it was a year for self-help books.
Not quite 40% of the requests that we received for reading copies were for books in this widely defined genre.
Our most popular self-help books at the fair were:
- The Freedom Code: Simple Solutions for Life's Major Challenges written by Michael J. Rhodes (Ancient Elders Press, Inc., Humble, TX);
- Finding Your Road to Success-How to get there without getting lost written by Patrick Daniel, C.A. (PDCA Publishing, Kirkland, QB, Canada);
- Straight to the Heart of What Matters written by Deborah S. Howell (Victory In Action, Las Vegas, NV); and
- Dying Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, Stories of healing and wisdom along life's journey and It Was Only a Moment Ago both written by William E. Hablitzel, M.D. (Sunshine Ridge Publishing, Blue Creek, OH).
Shown holding the stand copy of Bill Hablitzel's It Was Only a Moment Ago is Team Manager Seung-Hee Lee of Tornado (Seoul, Korea). Just after the fair, Tornado bought Korean translation rights from us to it.
Also popular in the related genre of Mind, Body, Spirit was Message for the Tribe of Many Colors written by Little Grandmother (Kiesha Crowther) (Blessingway Authors' Services, Santa Fe, NM).
Fiction also did very well, especially novels with Australian content. Thrillers did well, too.
Our most popular novel, though, was about something else altogether-Elvis!-in the form of Graceland Express written by Marie Vernon (Dementi Milestone Publishing, Manakin-Sabot, VA).
Fiction, however, is an even broader subject area than self-help. Not all genres of fiction did equally well. A few, such as literary fiction, were overlooked altogether.
While all genres of books at international fairs go through up and down times of buyer interest, fiction is especially prone to cycles. Literary fiction is usually one of the areas where editors and publishers diligently look for new titles to buy each year. And they will again soon, based on what we've seen over the 23 years that we've been at Frankfurt.
One of the most interesting areas for us was business.
Business titles were among our more popular titles each year until the economic downturn began three years ago. Interest began to fall and all but disappeared last year. We couldn't avoid the feeling that the world blamed current business thinking for contributing to the economic and financial mess.
This year, though, people took what we had and asked for more. In fact, the most popular book on the stand at this year's Frankfurt Fair is from this genre: Hardwired Humans, Successful Leadership Using Human Instincts written by Andrew O'Keeffe (Royal Exchange, NSW, Australia).
Overall, we returned with buyer interest in books in the areas of Art; Business; Children's; Crafts; Current Events; Ecology; Fiction-General; Fiction-Historical; Fiction-Mysteries; Fiction-Romance; Fiction-Thriller; Health; History; Math; MBS/New Age/Esoteric; People; Philosophy; Photography; Religion; Self-help; Spiritual; Travel; and Young Adult.
This widespread interest in many different areas is another indication that the world book industry is on the upswing, going far beyond the few tried-and-true genres that readers appear never to abandon.
Why was this year's Frankfurt Fair so much more productive than the past few?
A careful reading of the three daily newspapers published specifically for the fair suggests two reasons.
The thinking the reasons reveal and the actions taken based on that thinking are thoroughly and unavoidably contradictory.
On one hand, the contradiction reflects the inherent parochialism of book publishing and sales, a profession and industry that is almost inertly traditional in how it achieves and assesses its goals, using means and analysis largely unmodified from the early decades of the 20th century.
On the other hand, books can be an amazingly modern and innovative industry using digital technologies that did not exist 20 years ago to expand sales and markets in ways that do not fit into inherited, antiquated corporate and business models that the industry seemingly wants to protect.
- A More Inclusive World View
Conventional wisdom has it that the world has been in an economic mess for 2 1/2 years. Conventional wisdom, however, is a concept based on what individuals believe that they see.
We all see imperfectly. That's to say that few us have the perspective to see all the elements that go into evaluating what any of us do, though we may understand these elements over time.
In the case of world publishers, what they saw was sales of their books going down in their own country/immediate area.
They responded to their sales being down by cutting back on buying new products, including rights to new books to publish, while waiting for the demand that they saw to rise again.
In the larger picture, however, sales of their books for many of them were actually increasing-but in markets that they couldn't see elsewhere in the world.
Recently, a significant number of these aggregate sales figures were put together (by national and trans-national book trade associations as well as individual multi-national corporate structures involved in publishing).
Access to these larger numbers allowed many of the publishing houses in retreat to see that they weren't doing so badly after all and some were actually doing quite well.
Also included in this new data were statistics that showed that national sales had not fallen as much as had been assumed and were, in fact, on the rise again.
With vision expanded, out went pessimism and optimism returned, reflected in the scurry at Frankfurt this year for new titles to expand lists for upcoming sales seasons.
The above analysis comes from a number of extensive articles in the fair newspapers. This type of article is new to fair papers. Articles from past fair papers tended to look at sales strictly on a national basis for individual countries.
None of this means that money was being thrown about recklessly at Frankfurt. Not a single high value sale was reported in any of the 9 issues, again a first for fair papers.
Stands of large houses at this year's fair also tended to have fewer frills than in past years. Many of the larger houses reused last year's stand, simply replacing giant images of last year's books with this year's new releases.
Usually, we try to photograph a few of the more interesting stands at the end of the show for use on our web page. This year we came back with just two photos. They were all the interesting shots that we could find.
Certainly, there were more. Hall 8.0 (the English language building) has a very large floor. Even at the end of the show, we don't have time to see it all.
Now, let's turn to the second reason we think Frankfurt improved so dramatically this year.
- At "Peace" with the eBook
World publishers seem to have agreed finally on a response to the eBook.
What we're writing now may not immediately make much sense to many of you. Those of you who had books with us at the London Book Fair in April will know right away what we mean.
The 2011 London Book Fair was pretty much a complete disaster for books for one wholly unexpected reason: most all of Europe's publishers were in total panic because they thought they were completely unprepared to publish, market and distribute eBooks.
The heads of houses and their main editors spent the entire 3 days of the London Fair inside a closed "seminar" at which they tried to find a way to cope with this extraordinary new medium. Print books on the actual floors of the fair went almost totally wanting for attention.
British, continental European and a significant number of publishers elsewhere believed that their U.S. counterparts had solved these details and were raking in fistfuls of profit from eBook sales that they were missing.
The 500 lb. gorilla in the fair, of course, was Amazon. Amazon somehow came to symbolize the totality of the U.S. publishing industry for the perceived have-nots.
It's difficult to communicate to anyone who wasn't at London the degree to which this preoccupation with the eBook dominated that fair.
Fast forward to Frankfurt: the book industry is satisfied that they have solved all their problems. The solution on which they'd agreed?
The booksellers and/or publishing associations of each individual country will develop their own eBook readers. These readers will be sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Each brick-and-mortar shop will have eBooks stored digitally onsite and transfer them directly to the customer's new reader at the time of purchase.
Article after article in the fair daily announced another book group developing a new eReader for their national shops.
The U.S. is no exception. The American Booksellers Association announced they are close to doing this same thing.
If you're not already astounded, take a microsecond and consider the ludicrousness of this concept.
To be fair, ridiculous suggestions also came out of the 3-day London "seminar," though even the trial balloon of self-erasing eBooks for sale to libraries for a transitory loan period doesn't approach the Frankfurt announcements.
One of the reasons for the London panic was the then-believed-to-be imminent release of the philosopher's stone of eBook language, Epub3.
Epub3 may well be the quantum leap for which truly modern digital books have been waiting. Currently, all texts not in Roman scripts can be done as an eBook only by using an individual graphic file for each page. The costs to do so in both time and money are enormous. Highly illustrated books require graphic file formats as well.
As announced, Epub3 eliminates the need for this as well as allowing the easy inclusion of video and audio clips.
At the time of the April London Fair, Epub3 was supposedly on the verge of release. By Frankfurt, it's still not ready.
In a separate conference at Frankfurt, however, the international consortium responsible for drawing and approving standardized specifications for Epub3 met and issued this final data.
So, has the eBook revolution finally begun?
If you're interested in a brief discussion of all the unsolved Epub3 problems, go online and take a look at http://www.mediabistro.com/eBooknewser/Epub3-eBook-format-finalized-let-the-eBook-making-commence_b16593.
Here's a brief summary of some of these problems:
- No Epub3 software is now available with which to create books
- No current eBook readers support Epub3
- Most makers of current eBook readers do not issue updates to their operating systems so these current readers will never be able to read an Epub3 title
- There is only one current App that may or may not work with Epub3.
The link, by the way, is to a page owned by New York children's publisher Scholastic.
This lack of compatible readers may be a partial explanation for the announcements of plans for so many new models at Frankfurt.
There is no guarantee, of course, that any two of these models will be compatible and some strong indications that they will not. Territorial inconsistency of content is one way to protect territorial copyright.
Imagine the headaches, however, for universities worldwide who can't buy electronic versions of highly technical U.S. textbooks in digital formats their students and faculty can read.
Nor does Epub3 have anything to do with Amazon issues or those inherent in the brick-and-mortar approach to sales.
After this miasma appeared at London in April, some of our clients thought they were not affected because their books were available as eBooks, some in several formats.
None of this, though, is about whether a given title is or isn't now available as an eBook or which digital format that book is in.
These are all worldwide industry issues.
How to market this new, innovative media was a major mad-making factor at London in April. The brick-and-mortar solution is no answer at all. Brick-and-mortar stores are no answer whatsoever to Amazon for books in current print formats. Sadly, brick-and-mortar closures have proven that.
In short, nothing has been resolved about eBooks. That, though, seems to matter far less than that the world publishing industry believes that it has and Frankfurt has gone back to buying. This is what mattered at Frankfurt in 2011 and there's no reason to believe that London in April of 2012 will be any different.
Dutch author Gerard Kuiken (The Original Gita: with Comments and Related Verses of the Bhagavad Gita and Eastern Thought and the Gita: The Original Gita and the Bhagavad Gita Compared) sits down with our associate Sunny Kelly to talk about the fair at the end of a long business day.