Friday, October 17, 2014

Frankfurt Book Fair 2014: Energising times in a difficult market

For the fifth year in a row Libro International books have been on display and on the negotiating table at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s leading publishing trade show, which concluded last weekend.

There’s always a buzz in the air at Frankfurt – it’s a huge gathering that concocts a mix of fresh writing, ideas, business and conviviality. 

Libro International at the front of the New Zealand collective stand in Hall 8
Still there was a little less bustle in the aisles this year, reflecting a slowdown in publishing and bookselling globally. Visitor numbers to the fair were an estimated 270,000, down slightly on 2013.

Once again there was a good position for the New Zealand stand, and lots of meetings had. Children’s and young adults books continue to be a strong point in an otherwise tricky market that has been dampened by bookstore closures and the move to digital information. ‘Difficult’ was the word I heard most often when asking people how business was faring.

A Trabant parked discreetly on a German publisher stand 
But it’s not a bad time to be a young independent publisher. Libro International celebrated its new distribution relationship in North America with International Publishers Marketing, and I attended the glitzy IPM party on Friday night at the penthouse level of the Intercontinental Hotel.

Gallipoli on the stand
On Thursday we joined our UK coedition partner Frontline Books to launch Gallipoli, the new edition of Christopher Pugsley’s classic, and received considerable interest in this and other military history titles (the First World War centenary has produced a wave of new books). There was encouragement too for some of our new book concepts – all will be revealed in due course.

Finland had a somewhat subdued presence as Guest of Honour, I felt, though following the exuberant Brazilians in this role was never going to be easy. A lot of press focus was on Finland’s educational achievements. We had our own press moment too, featuring in The Bookseller’s Show Daily with a report on how the 2012 Guest of Honour programme had benefited New Zealand publishers.

Browising at the Finland pavilion
But it’s the global reach of Frankfurt that makes it special. In the course of four days I had meetings with publishers, agents and distributors from countries as diverse as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Taiwan, the US, the UK – even San Marino and the United Arab Emirates. Not all of these encounters will bear commercial fruit, yet each offers international exposure for our authors and learning for the future.

With Ambika Goel of Tushar Publications, New Delhi
Peter Dowling manages independent publisher Oratia Media ( and is publisher of its books programme, Libro International (

Crowds moving between the halls during the weekend, when the fair is open to the public 

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