Publishers from across the world will head to Germany to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair to be held from October 9 to 13. Though the fair traces its origins to the fifteenth century when Johannes Gutenberg developed printing near Frankfurt, it actually appeared in its modern form in 1949. Since then, it has evolved into the biggest international trade event of the publishing world. Here, Claudia Kaiser, vice president of the Frankfurt Book Fair, talks about the opportunities the event presents for Indian publishing.
Small independent publishers in India have been producing world class literature but cannot afford to visit the fair. What are the FBF’s plans for them?
The fact that the Frankfurt Book Fair, together with the German Foreign Office, has established the German Book Office in India is proof that we believe India is a very important market with a lot of potential. That India has so many different languages, with a huge number of readers, is interesting for German publishers. This potential has really not been explored at all so far. You have such a huge population and so much talent! And, of course, India is interesting because it is an English-speaking market. It is not easy for German companies to sell their content to publishers in the US or the UK as these markets are very self reliant. So there is another opportunity there. India was the first country to be the Guest of Honour twice at the Frankfurt Book Fair: once in 1986 and then again in 2006 — more proof that we find it extremely interesting. We are aware of the many small companies in India, which usually cannot afford to attend the Fair. We conduct a programme through which we invite independent publishers from all over the world who would not be able to come to Frankfurt. In most years, we invite one or two publishers from India as well.
Why is the FBF a must-visit?
FBF is the biggest book fair in the world but it is not just publishers, booksellers, printers and translators who come here. With the development of new technologies, content can be turned into so many different formats and distributed through so many new channels. This means we now cater to the whole media industry, to TV, film producers and directors, software and game producers, gamers, and even airlines who need content for their entertainment systems!
FBF does not only feature exhibitors from the “1st world countries”. It is mind-opening to come to Frankfurt and see this united nations of publishing!
What are the events visitors must not miss?
We have more than 3000 events. I would particularly recommend Contec Frankfurt, Storydrive Frankfurt, Publishers Launch, Rights Directors Meeting and The event: India-Brazil, where publishers and exhibitors from India and Brazil will present their markets and look for cooperation.
Any tips for Indian publishers?
Until 2011, most Indian exhibitors were located in Halls 6 and 5 with other exhibitors from Asia. India was hard to find! Since last year, we have had a great Indian stand in Hall 8, the English-speaking hall. This offers many new opportunities. I recommend Indian publishers showcase their content much more and use the attention to promote content from India.
How will German publishers make inroads into the Indian market given the high cost of translation?
This is one of the things that we are working on at the German Book Office in Delhi. We advise and help German publishers to come to India and cooperate with their Indian counterparts. We have a long journey ahead. Not many German publishing companies have set up shop in India. There was the odd joint venture, but this has not developed into something larger so far.
Some German publishers, when asked about their experience, said communication with Indian publishers was not always easy and frequent. In some cases, the German company did not receive any reports of sales of a book when a license deal had been done. Is the German industry ready to invest? Yes, once they have a clear vision of the opportunity.
I set up the German Book Office in China in the 1990s. It took time before German publishers saw the opportunity but many have now invested heavily in the market. I am not saying it’s the same in India, but the more confidence foreign publishers have in the market, the more likely it is that they will invest. One hurdle is the amount of piracy.
Renu Kaul Verma is Editor, Book Link, a platform for the Indian publishing industry