The 66th Frankfurt Book Fair: On A Fast Arc To Publishing’s Future

iStockphoto / Meinzahn
iStockphoto / Meinzahn

Way Beyond ‘Beer swilling and book selling’

Jason Allen Ashlock doesn’t stop there.

When the Frontier Project partner talks about why that international strategy consultancy goes to Frankfurt Book Fair, he makes it clear that his Global 500 clients need him there because of one word: innovation.

Ironically, it’s precisely that bid for the future — innovation — that many in publishing will tell you has no business in the books business.

Clearly, they’re not listening to outfits like the States-based Frontier consortium. And this is one reason I’ve invited Ashlock to serve as interlocutor in the Book Fair’s Master Class “Possibly the best book marketing campaign ever.” It’s set for 10 a.m. CEST on October 8 in the Europa Room of Halle 4 in Frankfurt — part of BuchMesse’s all-new Business Club nexus of dealmaking interests at the heart of the big trade show.

This year’s #FBM14, as we’ll be hashtagging it, has activities running from October 7 through 12.

And how big is Frankfurt Book Fair? Last year, more than 275,342 people were there at one point or another.

  • 170,664 of those visitors were “trade,” meaning part of the publishing industry, the worldwide business of books.
  • 130 companies were represented amid 3,700 events held during the week.
  • More than 9,300 journalists were accredited for the kind of coverage  you’ll see me doing next week. I’m always proud to be part of a press corps that comes from 71 nations.
  • 631 literary agents from many parts of the world worked last year in the Literary Agents & Scouts Centre
Jason Allen Ashlock
Jason Allen Ashlock

And this year, some 7,275 exhibitors — publishers, publishing services, media outlets, associated companies and enterprises — are headed into Frankfurt from 102 countries.

And what is it that Ashlock is telling us?

Over the last few years, the Frankfurt Book Fair has undergone a steady transformation from a traditional, transactional rights fair to a gathering place for creators, technologists, and futurists.

Just get hold of that idea for a minute. The books business, which came creaking to life more than 400 years ago as the wheels turned in Gutenberg’s shop down the road, in the estimation of a globe-trotting corporate strategist, now is “a gathering place for creators, technologists, and futurists.”

Ashlock is hardly alone.

Amazon-o-mania And The Way Around It

Publishing entrepreneur Richard Nash — whose presentation at Stockholm’s The Next Chapter I profiled here in Publishing’s Future: When Editors Eat Robots — is writing this week on Frankfurt Book Fair’s blog site about how important it is for publishing to move forward, as Ashlock sees it doing, and keep its eye on the services ball.

Richard Nash
Richard Nash

In Publisher, Know Thyself, Nash writes first of the danger of Amazon-obsession:

While Amazon does not in fact have a monopoly on book retailing, whether physical or digital, it does appear to have a monopoly on our imaginations when it comes to discussing the future of publishing. All our ruminations, conversations, and dreams seem to collide with its implacable cliff face, one that stretches as far up as we can see. Some try to scale it, some pound their fists against it, some bargain with it (can you bargain with a cliff?), some fulminate atop one of the boulders scattered at its base, and some are content to sit on the rocks and fish, there being a remarkable abundance of fish teeming in the various coves and narrow precipitous inlets.

He goes on to demonstrate that the path to publishing’s own prideful place lies in getting past the manufacturing era’s focus and moving into what — as Ashlock is saying — renders books the service industry they really might have been (really) all along:

We will all continue to create books, and let Amazon run the warehouses and the e-commerce, while finding new, uncopiable, high-value, high margin activities, some like teaching and branding and fashion, that we can already see, many of which we have not yet seen. Books began the industrial revolution, they can partake of the services revolution too.

Richard Nash's The Business Of Literature is published by Thought Catalog Books
Richard Nash’s What Is The Business Of Literature? is published by Thought Catalog Books

Want to see just the simplest example of this right now, right here at Thought Catalog? Nash’s highly praised monograph What Is The Business Of Literature? is published by Thought Catalog Books.

There’s your service right there. You don’t even have to leave this site to find a complete, immersive investigation of where the culture of publishing has been and is headed.

And the man who has headed up a redevelopment of the books division here? Ashlock. What was he in a former life? A literary agent. See what’s happening here? It starts with publishing’s power to promulgate the genius of words, and then works its way upward into what those words can do, leveraging content with new impact.

This is what Nash is telling us: from manufacture (those words) to service (what they can do).

Frankfurt is pulling them in, a vortex of networking and inquiry that brings together a mix of industry and inquiry that gets richer by the year.

Welcome To The Club

Ashlock, like many of us, sees the focal point of the “new Frankfurt” of books’ future, if you will, in this year’s inauguration of Halle 4’s Business Club. It’s where I’m programming the Master Classes that stand with workshops, pecha kucha demos, tightly focused roundtables, breakfast-busy commentary, rights debates, and daylong major conference events.

As Ashlock writes in his essay at Medium, Why An Innovation Firm Goes To An Old-Fashioned Book Fair:

Led by a small but influential group of thought leaders and event programmers, the Fair has rapidly diversified its offerings to its prospective participants, and this year is the clearest indication yet that the Fair’s center of gravity is slowly shifting…The Business Club [is] an umbrella for three discrete conferences: CONTEC, StoryDrive, and the International Rights Directors Meeting. Separately ticketed, expertly curated, and positioned to face a different kind of Fairgoer: one focused less on transactional exchanges and more on the trafficking of information and ideas. Curiosity over commodity.

Alexander Bard
Alexander Bard

Catch that reference to curiosity over commodity. The Fair that once might have been thought of as a the biggest array of bookstalls in the world will open its StoryDrive conference, curated by Britta Friedrich, with an address from “cyber-philosopher, music producer, and author” Alexander Bard — the divinely handled @Bardissimo.

Bard is going to talk to the books business about “Why the digital revolution is slowly eating away at our heroes – and simultaneously making way for a new and collective form of heroism.”

Bard says he’s going to talk about how the world’s unprecedented interconnectivity of 7 billion people means we’re all looking to “create gods in the Internet Age” because the very intimacy we suddenly can experience in the digital dynamic “changes what it means to be a human being.”

Even as Bard emphasizes the fundamental engine of storytelling — right in line with the service-up trajectory of Nash and Ashlock — Philip Jones is heading to Frankfurt to spearhead The Bookseller’s relentless, urgent emphasis on innovation in publishing.

‘Publishing’s Selfie’

Don’t miss the importance of Jones’ phrase in his essay Publishing’s Selfie. He’s talking not only about the annual snapshot of the industry! the industry! we get in Frankfurt but of its reflective energy: books people are pouring into Frankfurt to consider who and what they are and want to be in an industry rapidly remaking itself.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

Not for nothing is my Saturday (October 11) Master Class an examination of commercial pressure vs. creative primacy: Is It All About Sales? we ask — or is there a clearing, a grove, an arena of energy that can contain both the corporate imperative and the sweet marvel of imagination?

In considering why so many of us physically come together at Frankfurt each year, Jones captures one of those stable factors that serve to steady both nerves and notion:

FaceTime has yet to trump people-time. Frankfurt, like the London Book Fair, is the stage for publishing to come together for its own giant “selfie”—the fair functions as a platform for us to talk about the recent past, build for the near future and discuss longer-term ambitions. Most importantly, in the halls, the cafés and the after-hours bars, we see ourselves, and the business, at work. It is an image worth reflecting on.

I’d add BookExpo America to Jones’ list of annual world-class trade shows that give us these chances to “see ourselves.” Each of these mighty events punches out into new directions annually, answering the rising demand of a beleaguered industry to find its way forward into service, not only to its consumers, its readers, but to itself.


We see a fair shifting as the book world around it evolves—this year brings a greater focus on authors, and in particular self-published writers; an emphasis on children’s writing; a keen and developing digital edge; further promotion of new talent through its Fellowship Programme (along with The Bookseller’s Rising Stars); and, from next year, a realignment of the halls so that the English-language area is closer to the heart of the messe.

The international publishers section of Frankfurt Book Fair 2013, Halle 8. Photo: Porter Anderson
The international publishers section of Frankfurt Book Fair 2013, Halle 8. Photo: Porter Anderson

Storytelling To Come

I’ll be reporting here — and in The Bookseller’s Show Daily and at our digital community hub, The — frequently and with targeted topics as we go through Frankfurt this year. I’ll introduce you to some of the programming I’m working on and to the people who are joining me in making it possible. And I’ll fill you in on things none of us saw coming — surprises as well as the predictable pleasures of camaraderie and a shared love of the word, yes, made fresh.

I hope you’ll look in as frequently as you can. Grab something that makes sense, drop  me a comment to ask about something that doesn’t, watch us — even keep an eye on us — as we move across the vast terraces of culture and commerce that come together at Frankfurt Book Fair.

Jones and Bard are curiously united in their understanding that the story — the narrative behind that selfie — is always the best picture of all. He writes:

Tech itself cuts both ways—a catalyst for creativity, and an enabler of an age-old impulse to tell stories rather than the distracting influence we may once have feared. This is, of course, visible in the rise of writing platforms such as Movellas and WattPad, as well as the growth in self-publishing.

Here is what the whole thing is about. We want to move forward, we must move forward, and yet with a keen understanding of what is to come along. In Jones’ words:

To find that balance between what is core and what needs to be refreshed.

Much more to come. Join us for the ride. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson is a journalist focused on books and the industry! the industry! of publishing.

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