Driving Into the Future

In Frankfurt 2011 by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

I was born in Henry Ford General Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Cars are in my blood—though to the disappointment of some of my family I didn’t become an auto engineer. Instead, I became a book critic.

Walking the grounds of the fair for the first time this year I was immediately struck by the looming new presence on the Agora—that open section in the middle of the fairgrounds—of what looks like the great white whale. Was it an installation honoring “Moby Dick”? A space craft? No, the building branded with the iconic linked-ring logo of Audi, the German car manufacturer. What was this doing here? I asked the one man who might have an answer.

“We found out that the car manufacturers are in a similar situation as us,” explained Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos. “As we go from print to digital publishing, the auto industry is experience similar disruption as they move from the petrol to electronic engine. We want to learn from their transformation, from their problem solving processes.”

This idea was echoed in today’s opening press conference, where the corollaries were spelled out. And they do, if you think about it, make a lot of sense:

Emerging markets for the car business are the same as for publishing: Brazil, India, China.

Traffic is an issue for both industries: The question of how you manage tens of millions of drivers in São Paolo or Beijing or Delhi is similar to the one publishers and retailers will face when, in a few short years, there are tens of million self-published books. How will readers discover your book in the traffic jam? How do you avoid reader paralysis in the face of so much choice?

Increasingly, in this digital age of publishing, the most important question of all isn’t whether to publish a story—the barriers to entry to book publishing are virtually nil—but how to publish. As a book? Or as an interactive app? Perhaps a film? Maybe a game?

It’s much the same question a commuter might face when considering how to get to work? By car, bike, public transportation, on foot?

The answer often depends on the story. Is it a straightforward narrative, something with a beginning, a middle and an end? Or is it something more amorphous, a story with numerous narratives told from different perspectives?

This is something that the book fair has addressed by putting its StoryDrive Conference inside Audi’s audacious space. It’s fitting.

After all, what is a story if not a journey? A book is simply one vehicle to get you to where you’re going.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.