Reflections on Frankfurt Book Fair
by Fernanda Dutra
Expectations are high before visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time. In particular, if you are a student of a Masters in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, like me and my friends — because, let's face it, there is no denying that you will have a bit of a romanticised vision about the publishing industry.
However, Frankfurt's skyscrapers and neon signs, do not build up the romance. Neither does the buzzing of business people closing deals or the miles walked inside eight pavilions. It might seem overwhelming, but it turns out to be much better: it reinforces the decision I made to leave my job as a reporter, to go into a vibrant and business-focused industry (something that most of the reporters I know are beginning to realise). Whereas in newspapers some of us are still talking about paywalls and discoverability, in publishing we are talking about consumer insight and even daring to change how writers write. One of the most interesting ideas I heard in Frankfurt: "In Korea, now, editors are encouraging writers to write their books on phablets (phone and tablet device). Why not write on the same device in which your readers will read? "Paragraphs and sentences will become shorter to adapt to the size of the screens", said a representative of the company i-EPUB about mobile reading. I am sure this is not an idea suited to all cases nor all writers, but it does indicate how much room for innovation there is.
We had our own schedule of appointments with academic and trade publishers, that have generously shared their insights with us. We got a clear view of the big picture talking to Jonathan Glasspool, managing director of Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, and to Katie Wickham, Head of Export of Hodder & Stoughton. Glasspool highlighted the new set of skills required to publishers. "Now that we are focusing on direct sales with our customers, we need to understand better than ever the consumer pathway to purchasing in our websites", he told us, mentioning tools like Google Analytics. Katie Wickham gave us a great overview of the company's structures today, highlighting how departments such as Consumer Insight or Digital have come to be involved in most of the strategic projects.
It is inspiring to see established companies trying out different business models and projects, in an era in which startups seem to steal all the spotlight and glamour. This could mean the imprints publishers grew up admiring, might not face the dark future so many techies have been predicting in social media posts all around. This also motivate us as publising students, to ensure that next year we will be at one of the thousands of stands talking business.
About the author of this article
Fernanda Dutra is a student on the MA Digital Publishing programme of Oxford Brookes University. Proud Brazilian, travel writer and databases explorer.
Last edited: 24 10 2014