At an opening session at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, U.K. Publishers Association CEO Richard Mollet remarked that digital publishing was no longer in its infancy, but in the “voting and drinking stages of early adulthood.” And one needs to look no further than the Buchmesse to get a sense of how digital’s coming-of-age has changed the publishing business. In recent years, Frankfurt officials have worked successfully to keep the publishing industry’s annual pilgrimage on the cutting edge.
Under the Frankfurt Academy imprimatur, the 2013 fair again offers a strong professional program and great conferences, including CONTEC and StoryDrive. Digital Hot Spots run throughout the exhibit halls and serve as “nodes of innovation.” And the newly dubbed Publishing Perspectives Stage in Hall 8.0 (formerly the Sparks Stage) offers a slate of 30-minute talks with a mix of established industry leaders and new upstarts across a range of publishers.
This year, Frankfurt attendees arrive with digital developments at a crucial next stage. Beyond the hopes, fears, and futurism that dominated the conversation in years past, the digital discussion is now a practical one. It’s about the present. And success for publishers is no longer about managing a transition, but about seizing the opportunity technology presents, and offering content in ways that readers now demand.
“Digital has arrived,” says Holger Volland, v-p, and head of the Frankfurt Academy, and a key voice in shaping the fair’s program. “But we still have one more step to go. At the moment we are concentrating so much on the e-book that we often miss the real revolutionary thing: the complete digitalization of infrastructure for data and content.”
Certainly, as Volland suggests, e-books have dominated the digital conversation in publishing in recent years, as the format has matured and come to represent a significant chunk of industry revenues in the U.S. and, increasingly, in the U.K. But “the mega-change” is underneath, Volland stresses. At this year’s fair, attendees will sense that digital focus shifting, from the now established pioneering first generation of digital products and practices to the next wave of innovation, with Frankfurt organizers seeking to open up the digital conversation even further. The 2013 Frankfurt program is again rich in cross-media voices, including gamers and filmmakers, new services and technology providers, new formats, self-publishing, and those focused on the user-generated experience, as well as voices from all corners of the book business: professional, scholarly, education, e-only, independents, and, of course, the majors.
In fact, looking over the 2013 program, it’s fair to ask: is the Frankfurt Book Fair becoming a digital multimedia fair? “Yes and no,” Volland says.
No, because the very core of the publishing industry are people who define themselves as “book” and not “media” people, says Volland, “and they define the Frankfurt experience. Media can be just a stream of data. But a book always has a meaning.”
And Yes, because the publishing houses themselves are very much changing into media companies, as more and more publishers offer product on many platforms at the same time, in Volland’s view.
“This becomes very visible when you look at how publishers can use different parts of the fair: In the LitAg, agents sell rights for books as well as the movie adaptions or merchandising related to them. At the StoryDrive conference, authors discuss stories and storytelling together with mathematicians or game producers. And, of course, you see it on the show floor as well: products like Infinity Ring from Scholastic use game mechanisms in order to make it easier for children to build a community and forget that they are learning a history lesson.”
Of course, what truly makes Frankfurt a must-attend event for the publishing world is its international focus. Digital is a global movement that in many respects has made foreign markets more accessible. But it has also brought complex new challenges, as every territory moves at it own pace. In the digital age, Frankfurt is not the only place the world comes to make rights deals; increasingly it is where one can begin to figure out what deals will look like in the future.
“If I look at the e-book market only, the situation is easy to describe: the U.S. and the U.K. are the only big markets with a significant share,” Volland explains. But when the picture is broadened out to look at “digital publishing,” he adds, the complexity of today’s brave new publishing world is revealed.
Germany, for example, still has a pretty healthy general publishing market, he notes, with only some 2.5% of revenues coming from e-books. “My general feeling is that many German publishers are acting quite conservatively while their print business is still doing well,” he says. “I know, this sounds like publisher’s heaven. The danger, though, is to be blind for those disruptions and innovations that happen outside your comfort zone.”
China, meanwhile, is showing incredible growth in scientific publishing due to big investments in industrial R&D. “Even more interesting, China has broken a new record in smartphone penetration in 2013, with 330 million activated phones,” Volland observes. “It is the world’s most populous Internet market and it is extremely hungry for content. Nevertheless most of the written content is not consumed in e-books, but in browsers, apps, and simple files. The challenge for publishers is to find the right partners in order to make a business out of that: content aggregators, mobile operators, e-commerce platforms or advertisers could be the most interesting.”
Japan still has a huge publishing market, but so far, Volland says, it is mainly Manga that sells digitally. “I see a big innovation gap between the traditional publishers and the technology-driven mobile and software industry.” Japanese publishers know that they need to become “more open for new products and services, as well as more international business,” and firms like Gakken offer recent examples how that can be done.
Broadly speaking, all digital education products are surging in importance globally, offering one of the biggest growth segments. “It contains books, software, knowledge and exchange platforms as well as edutainment brands that are often based on children’s books or games,” Volland notes.
Indeed, opportunities abound, whether doing business, or just exploring new opportunities. And with its digital focus, the Frankfurt Book Fair has never been more vital.
PRH CEO Markus Dohle will be featured on a Wednesday panel.
Want to catch a product demo, or check out a new device? At six Frankfurt Hot Spots, exhibitors and presenters range from “technical specialists and digital content providers to marketing pioneers and Internet innovators.” Each Hot Spot focuses on one industry sector of emerging innovation.
Check the official Frankfurt Book Fair program for the full slate of speakers in the professional program, at the various conferences, Hot Spots, and at the Publishing Perspectives stage. But here are a few sessions not to miss.
Wednesday, October 9
Size matters, and in publishing, it’s been all about consolidation at the top. But with the capabilities offered by digital technologies, are we on the verge of a new golden age of independent publishing? Publishers from three of America’s leading independent literary publishers chat with Jeffrey Lependorf, executive director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses about how they’ve shaped their current small presses into “tiny publishing giants.” Location: Publishing Perspectives Stage, Hall 8.0
Redmayne went from chief digital officer at HarperCollins in the U.S. to Pottermore, where he launched J.K. Rowling’s site for all things Potter, to CEO of HarperCollins U.K. He chats with Publishing Perspectives Edward Nawotka—and there are few better executives from which to get a lay of the digital landscape. Location: Publishing Perspectives Stage, Hall 8.0
Amazon is used to making waves, and its recent acquisition of popular social reading site Goodreads was no exception. Already, Goodreads has experienced something of user backlash—so what’s next, and what’s the plan for life in the Amazon universe? Mark Dressler chats with Patrick Brown, Goodreads director of author marketing. Location: Publishing Perspectives Stage, Hall 8.
The merger of two of the largest trade publishing groups in the world was consummated on July 1, 2013, which prompts the question: What does the future hold for the world’s first mega-publisher? Don’t miss Dohle, to be interviewed by the editors of publishing industry’s leading trade magazines, Publishers Weekly, the Bookseller, Livres Hebdo, Buchreport, and PublishNews Brazil, moderated by Rüdiger Wischenbart. Location: Dimension Room, Hall 8.0
Thursday, October 10
Legendary editor and CEO Peter Usborne looks at the arc of the book business over his career with the eponymous Usborne Books in a chat with Mark Dressler. Location: Publishing Perspectives Stage, Hall 8.0
Friday, October 11
Communities, fan pages, and interactive technologies all make it possible for readers, viewers, or gamers to take the story into his or her own hand. What opportunities does this create for the media industry? Which business models are hidden between these worlds? Can “linear storytelling” survive? Check out this discussion with Kristian Costa-Zahn, UFA Lab, Germany; John Mitchinson, co-founder and publisher of Unbound, U.K.; and Russian journalist and author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Location: Room Europa
Really, isn’t this what we all want to know? From the front lines of social media for authors and publishers, Rachel Fershleiser, literary community organizer, Tumblr, and Ami Greko, book marketing strategist, Goodreads, will talk about how publishers can reach more readers through social networks and optimize their online marketing efforts. Location: Publishing Perspectives Stage, Hall 8.0