Visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair this year was special of course because New Zealand was Guest of Honour. I loved the quiet spaces at the New Zealand Pavilion where dreams of water, myths, stories, and history swirled in sounds of dark and light. (For once, the word ‘twilight’ in a publishing context didn’t conjure up visions of vampires.)
My week started with my participation in a panel on The Evolving Role of Readers at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. I am interested in online publishing for books, with a particular interest in using fanfiction as a business model. My fellow panelists were Allen Lau and Amy Martin of the online writing platform, Wattpad, and the moderator was Ami Greko of Kobo. Wattpad is a phenomenal success, with numbers of readers and writers in the millions, and viewing minutes in the billions per month. This is the future of reading (and possibly publishing), most of it on mobile. Even Margaret Atwood is a fan.
That evening, I attended the Official Opening Ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair and I wore my silver fern brooch with such pride. Bill Manhire’s speech was quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ and his easy going, intelligent and kind and generous words resonated with everyone. Bill English and Joy Cowley also gave good speeches, and it really was a good night to be a New Zealander.
I spent one day enjoying the sites of Frankfurt and had the bizarre experience of reading Fifty Shades of Grey (it really was research for our panel) at a café on the river and then visiting the nearby 12th century Cathedral called the Dom. #wordsfailme #definitionofirony
The Fair itself is larger than one can even begin to imagine, and even though I’d been there last year, I was still amazed.
Digital played a much larger role this year, with several stages devoted to discussions of digital publishing of one sort or another, and the StoryDrive Conference was a magnet for many. I also attended an excellent presentation on Networked Publishing arranged by Helmut von Berg of Klopotek, moderated by David Worlock, with a distinguished panel of speakers (Brian O’Leary, Fionnuala Duggan, Ingrid Goldstein and Christian Dirschl) which looked beyond digital product.
The actual footprint of digital products was still small in comparison to the still almost overwhelming focus on print. In the ebook survey conducted by Bowker (discussed in a keynote at the Tools of Change Conference), New Zealand had one of the lowest uptakes of ebooks, but I imagine our presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the resulting demand for New Zealand titles might well drive quicker exploration of digital in New Zealand too.
The New Zealand stand bustled with activity every time I stopped by. It seemed everyone at the fair was interested in New Zealand as a whole, not just in its publishing. We are so far away from nearly anywhere else, that it seems almost a mystical place to many people.
It was truly a memorable experience to be at the Fair this year. And congratulations to all who were involved in creating the wonderfully creative and wide-ranging representation of New Zealand culture.