Publishers’ Forum 2019: Driving Forces, Technology, and Models

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

This year’s Publishers’ Forum in Germany examines the collaborating and sometimes competing interests of an expanding storytelling universe.

At the 2018 Klopotek Publishers’ Forum, a plenary session for both English- and German-speakers. Image: Publishers’ Forum, Sven Serkis

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Full Circle’ in Two Languages and Modes
When Klopotek’s managing director and CEO Ulrich Klopotek von Glowczewski and Vienna-based publishing consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart open this year’s Publishers’ Forum in Berlin on Thursday (May 9), the overall theme will, once again, be “Going Full Circle.”

But this year—maybe more than any other in its 16 iterations—the “circle” may be in the eye of the beholder. Wischenbart has devised this year’s program as not only bilingual but almost bilateral. He sees the publishing industry divided with its main players trying to decide whether their path forward is to “drive diversity,” as he puts it, or to double down on the core business.

And everywhere at Berlin’s stylish DBB Forum, for the next two days, you’re likely to hear some strong opinions going in both directions.

Publishers’ Forum is a standout in the international spring conference season not just because it’s conducted in German and English—at times in parallel sessions—but also because the influences outside the DBB Forum’s huge windows are allowed to stream in with the light.

Friederike Diaz Ortega

Wischenbart and the team at Klopotek, for example, this year include a session at 3:45 p.m. with the chief of Amazon Publishing Germany. In around table called Das neue Story-Telling über Grenzen und Formate hinaus (“The New Storytelling Beyond Borders and Formats”), Friederike Diaz Ortega will talk about something Amazon terms “working backward” across all formats.

With the nearly 20 imprints of Amazon Publishing in play in many markets and Amazon Studios and Audible able to develop those works across so many formats and in various media, this is the kind of “diversity driven” direction that anchors a part of Wischenbart’s programming, and it’s great to see an Amazon executive participating as a speaker at an industry event: communication breeds understanding.

Jesús Badenes del Río

But in another potentially powerful gesture, this one in favor of protecting and nourishing the core, the first keynote of the conference on Thursday comes from Planeta CEO Jesús Badenes del Río, who brings an important and hopeful message from Madrid’s beleaguered book market, one we’ve heard echoed by publishing consultant Javier Celaya, as well: “Today, We Are Stronger Than Before the Crisis,” when, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, the European financial downturn hammered Spain. Badenes’ subtitle is “Turnaround Strategies and Experiences in Harsh Market Conditions.”

A part of the hard-won insight that Badenes will share is that a part of the Spanish industry’s proud resilience is “a redefinition of Spain’s book industry boundaries”—a broadening of coordination with, and exports to, Latin America.

Sara Sargent

Then, from perseverance and stability amid protracted adversity, the conference makes another of its bilateral swings to stage Random House Books for Young Readers’ senior executive editor Sara Sargent,  who follows Badenes on the mainstage in a keynote of her own: “Netflix, Wattpad, Direct to Consumer, Branded Authors: How Publishers Work With New Partners and New Competitors to Expand Their Role in Storytelling.”

As we reported last year from New York City’s BookExpo, Sargent was known in her prior role as executive editor with HarperCollins’ Children’s Books for her interest in bold outreach in content development. She’s become one of the American industry’s go-to specialists in publishing “platform-driven fiction and nonfiction” in the children’s and YA space.

Publishers’ Forum attendees are welcome to join Publishing Perspectives when we speak with both Badenes and Sargent in a round table at 1 p.m. on Friday (May 10).

And for more of the screen-development theme, you’ll find Europa Editions’ Michael Reynolds and Gyldendal’s Morten Hesseldahl (formerly with the Danish Broadcasting Network).

Their conversation at noon on Thursday, “Storytelling in Books and Beyond: Leveraging Global Network TV for Books,” is moderated by Frankfurter Buchmesse marketing and communications chief Katja Böhne, who returns on Friday to talk with Wischenbart about the search for other media outlets for books, a presentation made possible by arrangement with Frankfurter Buchmesse’s THE ARTS+.

Story to Platform to Book to Screen

A break during the 2018 Publishers’ Forum. Image: Publishers’ Forum, Sven Serkis

Ashleigh Gardner

On Friday’s keynote agenda, the conference hears from Ashleigh Gardner, deputy general manager of Wattpad Studios, a leader in platform-driven story-to-screen development that in the last month has announced no fewer than three major new screen partnerships with:

The platform also has opened in the same month’s time a new imprint, Bliss Books, with Manila’s Anvil Publishing, as well as its own new book-publishing wing, Wattpad Books.

Gardner will be talking about artificial intelligence and its role in so many of the Toronto-based platform, its IT team surfacing the content that producers and studios develop to woo some of the 70 million monthly users of Wattpad to follow their favorite stories into the visual media.

David Linderman

Another shift in keynotes then takes place, with David Linderman, executive creative director in Berlin of IBM iX + Aperto, another presentation supported by Frankfurt’s THE ARTS+.

Artificial intelligence and the many perceived opportunities and confusions that attach to it are a large part of Friday’s program, which will open—as it does each year, with Wischenbart’s latest synthesis of some of his statistical observations on the world industry.

Henning Schoenenberger

Publishing Perspectives moderates a session at 10:45 a.m. Friday in English themed on the question, “How can publishers make use of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Machine Learning, Bots, and other new technologies to extend their reach in changing markets?”

In this instance, Henning Schoenenberger who directs product data and metadata for Springer Nature will start us off with a look at what his data development team has been able to do in generating state of the art data formats, content and data delivery tools and models in relationship to discovery models.

Joining us then are Mads Rydahl of Denmark’s UNSILO startup in semantic discovery tools, working with Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Clarivate, and Miriam Rosin, chief operating officer with, where she’s studying what that service’s 17 million monthly unique users need beyond standard text-and-image approaches.

Close to 45 speakers, all told, are engaged for the next two days’ programming, and you can glean more information through the agenda. (Note that sessions with gray backgrounds are delivered in English and with white backgrounds are delivered in German. The plenary sessions have simultaneous interpretation.)

We’ll have further information and follow-up on the conference here.

Rüdiger Wischenbart, left, with an attendee at the 2018 conference in Berlin. Image: Publishers’ Forum, Sven Serkis

More from Publishing Perspectives on Publishers’ Forum is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.