“Ding, ding, ding, ding. Good morning exhibitors, the doors will be opening for business in a few minutes. We wish you a successful day.”
Day four and still nobody has checked my ticket. I am starting to feel offended. Next year: no ticket. A London publisher agrees with me, “It’s a bit expensive, but I really just come to get a sense of what’s happening in the industry anyway.”
Friday is a transition day for the fair. It is the day when many European traders conclude their business. It is the day when the AUTHORS arrive. And with the authors, a steady stream of people and ‘goodies’.
For Howard, Friday is very slow. Most of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ business of the rights trading has been conducted over the previous days, and Howard begins to organize his notes for the following week when he will be following up with various foreign publishers wanting rights to his books, getting quotes for print material and e-book transfers, and emailing colleagues to thank them for stopping by so that a relationship can be maintained even though there may not be any book in particular they will be working on together this year. The publishers are also given a package of application forms today to fill out and reserve a booth or location for next year. The early bird deadline for these reservations is in November, so they have to consider this early.
I also have my own list of people I will be following up with: educators in my field, gamers, and .epub producers that have been so interesting to speak with. I don’t have any business contacts like Howard does, but the infusion of cross-disciplinary study is so valuable for me and the process of creation.
Today, I set out to observe the Buchmesse transformation from business conference to public fair. And to do this, I am going to begin in Halls 3 and 6, where most of the German and European publishers are, and where most of the local authors will be doing readings for the public-at-large.
Each large publisher (with a large booth area) has sets of little tables and chairs around their area. These sets of tables, or working desks, have been full with clients and publishers meeting back-to-back. Today, with the exception of the French literary publishers in 6.1, the tables and chairs are largely empty. Instead of being busy meeting other book traders, many of the publishers are sitting around reading the newspaper, drinking coffee, and not looking very busy at all. If you did not have any advance appointments coming to the fair, Friday would be a very good day to book them!
So what are the differences between the halls and countries today? Without a doubt, Hall 3.0 and 3.1, the German publishers, is the busiest. In the morning, the publishers have biscuits and cookies set out for the public; there are authors reading, signing books or doing interviews all day long; and, most importantly, Hall 3 has the best goodies!
It is here you can find every colour of bag imaginable being given away, with all sorts of sayings. There are packages of candy, pens, memory sticks, sample children’s books, children’s book characters dressed up (see the 'Manga' girls below), and of course the key/id badges that go around your neck. What are these called? I am sure in German, there is a wonderfully long compound word for it like: ‘work-necklace-made-of-shoe-laces-that-holds-keys-and-id.’ Or something like that, but I cannot come up with a name for it in English, so that will have to do. My favourite bag is the one Groh publishers are giving out. It has a big red heart in the middle and says, “Alles Liebe”. (Sigh.)
After lunch, when the children get out of school, this building and the rows in it are packed with a wall of people. If you come to the Buchmesse on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, go around to the back doors (where the service entrances are.) There, there is no one on the escalators or stairs, and all of the food and drink vendors are completely empty so it is a lot easier to move.
I sit down to rest my feet at one of the sitting areas and soon find myself in the middle of an author of philosophy, Martin Mosen, being interviewed by a reporter about his latest book (see the photo below). I move to another area, and have just settled in to finish my coffee, and sure enough, Harold Martenstein of Martensteins Morgenmesse is introducing another set of authors for a reading! Mein Deutsche is certainly not good enough to follow the literary conversations, so I move to yet another, this time empty, area, and sit down on a bench. Not long after I have sat down though, an agent comes over and tells me that the [empty] seats are only for publishing meetings, so I give up and haul my ‘goodie stash’ over to Hall 6.1.
The contrast in 6.1 is extreme. First, there are no goodies. I know what you’re thinking, ‘then why go?’
Because it is something to see! 6.1 is filled predominantly with French and Asian publishing houses, and it smells divine. There is some combination between an orchid and a perfumery house that envelopes you as you walk through the door. And it is veeeeeerrrrry quiet. No noise. No crowds. The French publishing houses are still very busy with trade meetings; their small tables are full. Yet walking through their aisles reminded me of being in an extraordinarily expensive fashion salon. One publishing house was designed (and I do mean designed!) all in black – black tables, rich black carpets, post-modernist couches, and stark bookshelves with singular flowers. From there, I walked right into a ‘room’ of white – white, thick carpeting, white accent pillows. Have you ever walked through a modern home design concept centre? This was it! And it was all that more impressive because, remember, the buchmesse is basically just a big warehouse. Most publishers’ booths do look like a stand in a warehouse. Not the French corridor however. If I were trading here; if I were buying clothes here!, I would expect to pay a lot of money for my titles. It is a foreign rights’ salon.
In Hall 5, you get to hear the most languages: Urdu, Spanish, Icelandic, Italian… walking through 5 is like being in a highly-diverse, multilingual, metropolitan capital.
One exhibit I really enjoyed seeing was the Marshall McLuhan exhibit, and again, here are people I would likely never have an opportunity to speak with in Canada, but because we are all foreigners here, the conversation was easy and relaxed. The McLuhan publishers are just recently re-released McLuhan’s 1967, The Medium is the Massage, and All Media Work Us Over Completely. It strikes me how powerful and relevant those words still are today, especially for the publishing industry at the pivotal point in history.
“All media work us over completely.” We are all working inside of the media barriers or venue provided to us. If it’s e-books, we are only capable of seeing and experiencing what the publishers or creators of those platforms have constructed. It is not of our own limitless capacity to experience the text in our own design.
These issues came through loud and clear in all of the e-publishing presentations around the Buchmesse. Amazon®, for example, makes available an e-format only used in its kindle®. Authors, including independent (indie) authors, who wish to sell through Amazon® must transfer their manuscript from the written form to an .xslt compatible with the kindle®. Once uploaded into Amazon’s online store, it cannot be changed unless the author uploads a newer version.
New York Times bestselling author Dr. C.J. Lyons has had considerable success with Amazon®, so the company brings her everywhere to promote the product. Lyons, author of Blind Faith, says she loves the self-publishing e-format because she gets immediate feedback from her readers and can change the book if something seems wrong and upload a revised version immediately. Likewise, based upon her readers’ online feedback, she can create new follow-up books which she knows her readers will like (because they have told her what they want). For Lyons, it takes all of the marketing guesswork out of writing, and the return profits for the author are much more dependable than a publisher’s version. No wonder the publishing world is scared!
However, Amazon® does nothing at all to market the book. All they do is make it available to consumers online for little or no cost to themselves (since the author is the one who edits, transfers the media and uploads it), and on average, Amazon® takes 75% of the online profits from the book’s sales.
What about truly literary authors who do not have the good fortune Lyons has had? They depend upon an agent or publishing house to market their work for awards and disseminate its ideas.
For consumers, or e-book readers, the market is equally frustrating. If you have bought a kindle® or an i-pad®, you can only buy books from Amazon® or Apple® respectively. You cannot, for example, buy an e-book on i-tunes and use, open and read it on your kindle® because the two formats are incompatible.
That’s what a lot of the industry’s technology people are developing: programs that can transfer a .doc or .pdf into any e-book (.epub) format for any online bookstore. Manuela Pohle of le-tex in Leipzig, Germany, for example, has designed just such a program, but currently it is only available in German.
A company that can eventually do this, will likely be the next Apple®.
By the way, is it just me, or does it drive anyone else crazy listening to bilingual presentations? If you speak the two languages used in the presentation, you are continually having to endure listening to everything twice! The best translators, I think, add or enrich the second version so that any bilingual speakers in the crowd aren’t bored out of their minds.
Tomorrow, the last day of the Buchmesse for me, a day full of retail vendor sales and public appearances by authors, I will be looking forward to summarizing the week, its highlights, surprises, and really interesting information (for an outsider anyway)!