By Nicholas Gary, editor of ActuaLitté
ActuaLitté: How has the presence of new technology evolved at the Frankfurt Book Fair?
Technology has always been the driving force behind the publishing industry. After all, everything began with the invention of the printing press. That’s why technology has always been an important component of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Halls 4.0 and 4.2, for instance, are traditionally the places where the service providers of the industry gather, from pre-press businesses to software and database providers. With digitization, of course, the influence of new technologies is increasing. Our response to that is Frankfurt SPARKS, the digital initiative of the Frankfurt Book Fair. We launched this in 2010 because we believe technology is worthless without content. Stories, ideas, information and pictures: these are the raw materials fueling not only the world of publishing, but also information and communication technologies. Hardware suppliers and telecommunication companies alike depend on those raw materials. And the Book Fair is where they’re traded — for example, at the Frankfurt Hot Spots, our new exhibition format. There are six of these — the centerpieces of six different exhibition halls — where technology meets content in a really tangible way. In 2010, around 60 exhibitors made use of the Hot Spots. After that huge success, we’ll be repeating the concept again in 2011, focusing on new topics.
What do you think the Book Fair will look like in 2012?
This year, we’re hearing the same thing from all directions. Whether it’s Germany, the UK, or the USA, all the signs suggest that 2011 will be the breakthrough year for the e-book. According to a new study on e-books carried out by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, the German book industry expects 6.6 % of all book sales this year to come from digital titles. In the USA, the figure is already above 8%, and it’s still growing.
For that reason, I think next year we’ll see more buyers coming to the Book Fair from related creative industries, such as film and games, who are interested in the raw material of “stories.” That’s because digitization is making the boundaries between these industries more porous; for the first time, content is splitting away from its traditional formats. New spaces are opening up for using rights, while at the same time the scope for creativity is also growing. In 2012, the Book Fair will reflect this by providing more options for precisely targeted networking, for both the business segment and the knowledge segment. Since digitization began making big inroads into the book industry, on the backs of the Kindle and others, one thing has become clear: there’s a growing need for orientation and exchanges of information. That’s why we are launching a knowledge network this year, under the label of the Frankfurt Academy. This has been developed by experts on behalf of experts — and we’ll expand it further in 2012.
What key points have arisen over the five last years?
Undoubtedly, the most important development for the Book Fair in the last five years was the invention of mass-market e-reading devices, including tablet PCs and smart phones. As a result, even fiction has now been “electrified,” long after CD-ROMs, databases and other electronic formats conquered non-fiction books in the 1990s. Reading literature on a screen is still not everyone’s cup of tea, but at least it’s possible. And developments in the USA and UK show that more and more readers are choosing this option. The industry — and with it the Book Fair — has therefore reached one of the most exciting junctures in the history of books, when new technologies are expanding the flow of knowledge and entertainment, and the hunger for new stories, ideas, information and pictures is growing apace. The character of the book industry has changed accordingly, to the point that it now increasingly views itself as just a user of content, irrespective of the format or the media. And the character of the Book Fair is changing accordingly, too.
What are you currently reading?
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, an author from New Zealand. This was inspired by my trip to Auckland a week ago, during which we officially sealed the invitation for New Zealand to be Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2012.