This past week has seen two of my favourite publishing events overlap, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Man Booker Prize, proving that, for all of the industry’s foibles, we still know how to put on a show.
The backdrop to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year is intriguing: as with the London Book Fair’s return to Olympia, the relocation of UK and US publishers to Hall 6 means a freshening up of both stands and mindsets at a time when global publishing appears to be resetting and repositioning itself.
The moves also serve to mask the fact that, as publishing has consolidated, the fairs have become quieter displays of industry rather than dalliances in derring-do. The gravitational pull of the big groups means more now happens on their giant stands than in the gaps between them, regrettably resulting in less friction and fewer sparks. If Hachette boss Arnaud Nourry’s c.e.o. talk is anything to go by, this process of ingestion is likely to continue: the only way for big publishers to grow now, he said, is incrementally by acquiring the smaller indies. As this magazine has noted recently, Hachette is not the only buyer in town: both HarperCollins and Bonnier feel the need to get bigger, as the sector continues to respond to the gigantism of Penguin Random House.
With their size has come increased boldness. As my colleagues reported on the first day of the fair, rights business has been brisk, with business starting early and publishers searching for those rare books and authors with genuine global potential. One can understand the optimism: underpinning such market moves is a growing understanding of where print and e-books accommodate each other, allied with a rising realisation that globally we now have access to more readers of English than ever before.
Equally, rather than undermining the business model, the internet has thrown a visibility cloak over some new authors and author brands—as evidenced by Instagram favourite Joe Wicks and the decision by agency PFD to expand into e-book publishing, in part to service and amplify the agency’s estates.
All of this makes it an incredible time to be a publisher, at a remarkably pivotal moment for the sector when all things seem possible and nothing yet seems improbable. Jamaican writer Marlon James’ Man Booker win adds to this mix, with James—like last year’s winner Richard Flanagan—an elegent advert for the patient craft of writing (and submitting). Publisher Oneworld is a beneficiary of those same global forces so attractive to the bigger publishers: its international perspective now reaping dividends in a world opened up, but not yet closed off to smaller players.