A Practical Guide to the Frankfurt Book Fair

Posted on September 23, 2008 in Uncategorized

On 15th – 19th October, the world’s most famous book fair will be taking place in the heart of Frankfurt. In preparation for the publishing event of the year, the SYP and Frankfurt Book Fair organisers held a special talk at the Goethe Institute, giving some top tips on making the most of the experience.

     Thomas Minkus, Vice President of Frankfurt Book Fair Marketing and Sales, started proceedings by explaining the sheer scale of the fair. With 101 countries participating, 13 show floors, and 172,000 square metres of exhibition space, it’s hardly surprising that people can be overwhelmed. Thomas outlined exactly why the book fair is so well-attended and why it is such an important event in the publishing calendar. “One of the key factors is access to a lot of people”, he explained. With so many companies in attendance, the opportunities to meet with some of the most influential people in the industry and grow your business are among the main reasons to go to Frankfurt. The chance to do some serious market research is another valuable aspect of the fair. Over 400,000 titles are on display and it is a perfect opportunity to investigate what sells and why it sells. Frankfurt also provides a wide range of events and educational programmes, over 400 of which are in the English language.
     Edward Milford, Executive Chairman of environmental publisher, Earthscan, chaired the event and shared his own experiences of surviving Frankfurt. He acknowledged that the first time he went he had no idea what to expect and even suffered from a case of what he called “Bookfair-itis”. Edward explained that he was in awe of both the number of unknown people (cured most easily by a glass or two of wine) and the number of books. He also highlighted the importance of face-to-face contact that book fairs provide. “Some people you only see once a year at Frankfurt” and the favoured modern method of communication, email, simply doesn’t allow for chatting and making a personal connection in the same way as a meeting in real life.
     Edward then introduced the first speaker, Diane Spivey, who works for Little, Brown Book Group as Rights and Contracts Director. Being part of a large, long-established publishers, Diane is incredibly busy at the fair and said over the space of five days, she currently only has three free meeting slots remaining for this year’s Frankfurt. She stressed the need to be extremely organised and well-informed on competitors’ books, as well as providing catalogues and information sheets on your own books. For her, the book fair is about starting new business and concluding deals that are in progress. Other tips included don’t wear high heels and guard your notebook with your life! “If you can survive Frankfurt, you can survive anything”.
     Lynette Owen, Copyright Director at Pearson Education, then spoke about the way Frankfurt Book Fair has changed over the years. Since her first time at Frankfurt in 1981, Lynette said the pace was considerably faster and the pressure can be intense. Thanks to Blackberries and mobile phones, you are never entirely out of touch with the office, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. However, Lynette noted the slight sense of drama and the opportunity to be single-minded for a week as two of the big benefits of the fair. Her advice to Frankfurt novices is when meeting people “make it clear if you are buying or selling” and plan your evening social life as much as your daytime schedule or you may end up eating at McDonalds.
     Following Lynette was Peter Newsom, Export Sales Director of Headline Publishing Group. This year will be Peter’s 30th consecutive year at Frankfurt. “That means 7 months of my life have been in Frankfurt”, he laughed. Peter also stressed the importance of organisation and forward planning: “If you haven’t organised by now, it’s probably too late. Sorry to depress you!” If you need to book a stall, for example, this must be done by February for the following October. Hotels, flights and restaurants often also need to be booked fairly far in advance of the event. Peter pointed out that the focus of the fair is selling and it’s important to remember you are selling your products, your company and, indeed, yourself the whole time you are in Frankfurt. His survival kit included Berocca, Strepsils, paracetamol and mints and he also highlighted the benefits of knowing a little German: “If someone offers you Sekt, they are talking about wine and nothing more salacious”.
     Emma Hayley, Managing Director of SelfMade Hero, a manga and graphic novel publisher, was the last to speak. Coming from a small, independent background, Emma’s perspective was slightly different. She explained how, frequently unable to secure meetings in advance in the early days, she would have to approach people at the fair in the hopes of grabbing them in between meetings. Emma sees the fair as a place to seek inspiration: “There’s a real buzz and energy about the place”.
     For the last half hour Edward Milford invited the audience to ask the speakers questions. One important question asked was what does the future hold for Frankfurt? The general concensus seemed to be that the fair is still thriving and will continue to be a crucial international meeting place for people in publishing. Creating personal relationships across continents is an essential part of the modern publishing world and fairs like Frankfurt make the personal touch possible. When asked how the fair might develop, the speakers suggested there may be increased interest from related technical and media industries. Certainly, it looks like this year’s fair will be as exciting as ever and the overriding message seemed to be that those who go well-prepared will surely be in for an enjoyable experience.