Frankfurt Book Fair has been the cornerstone of the publishing industry since its formal inception in 1949. Publishers from across the world have gathered at Frankfurt to showcase their latest publications or products, exchange ideas and more importantly, determine where the publishing industry is going. In 2017, it was no different. Stability for the publishing industry was in fact a common theme at this year’s event. With the cloud of digital disruption no longer hanging over the industry, no new boiling disputes with Amazon, print and digital sales finding balance, and business generally good, publishers at the fair expressed something that has been missing in recent years: confidence.
The book fair saw an increase of 6.5 percent in weekend visitors and stability in the number of trade visitors, down just 0.2 percent from last year. In total, 286,425 people came to the fair, which closed Sunday (October 15).And with some 7,300 exhibitors from 102 countries and a record 500 tables sold in the Literary Agents and Scouts Center (LitAg), business was booming, according to a number of publishing professionals.
While stability was certainly something the fair was enthused about, there are still ongoing challenges that the industry faces. There has been a constant demand for publishers to engage consumers on a larger scale. This is a two-fold problem. On one hand, publishers have to learn new ways to market to the modern reader. Discoverability is the new talking point of every publisher. That’s a lot of competition for every new book that is published. Before Amazon, the potential competition for consumer attention was tens of thousands of titles. Now it is tens of millions. Therefore, it becomes more important for publishers to make sure their book stands up from amongst the crowd.
On the other hand, they also have to keep the reader’s attention and provide an engaging experience. For instance, In the ARTS+ area of the Frankfurt Book Fair, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are being used at the forefront to explore new ways of providing engaging experiences. Some of these products include Fair Grounds by DropStuff, a virtual tour ride and Artrendex, an AI which predicts what makes a piece of artwork, successful.
The book fair was no stranger to the political climate that has been plaguing Europe with the rise of rightwing groups. French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at this year’s opening ceremony, and both leaders spoke of how books and culture can hold Europe together during a time of rising nationalism. While it was a coup in itself to get two very famous heads of state, it was the not the main highlight of the event.
Frankfurt has always attracted companies from across the world which has been trying to bridge the gap between content and technology. Some publishing service providers are providing innovative platforms for publishers and content creators. For instance, STM publishers are constantly falling behind in creating and delivering scientific content efficiently in a cost-effective way. There are now solutions in the market that enables STM publishers to create, edit, and proofread content, and also deliver across print, online and digital channels. In other areas, rights and permissions are an ongoing issue for publishers worldwide. With the rise of open-source materials, there is a need for comprehensive digital rights management as well as protection of a publisher’s assets. Publishers are now investing in platforms that store, manage and track their assets. Some of these platforms will even monetize the assets as they are traded, bought and sold across the world to other publishers.
There will be many more challenges as distractions from outside the industry will continue to steal the limelight. In response to this, Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, said; “It behooves us to keep books central to the discussion in the culture. We need to be able to add to the discussion on the level only a publisher can provide and that is not on the level of a tweet.” With this in mind, technology may be a disruptor in the short term, but will provide the industry with many more innovators striving to entertain the masses.