Publishing's selfie

In a week's time, a significant rump of the book business will decamp to Frankfurt for the annual book fair, now in its 66th year. In this digital age with email, text, conference calling and Skype, we might wonder why. The answer is that 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.

Frankfurt has not been left untouched by the modern age. Reading this week's magazine's Frankfurt Special, 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.

Publishing has bent in the virtual winds too. Yet the curious thing about this “digital revolution” is that there is as much that isn’t changing as there is that has changed: understanding this nuance is vital for a business whose primary product was invented centuries ago yet requires continual reinvention, and is reliant on that most inscrutable of consumer—the reader.

Furthermore, if a recent Bertelsmann survey is to be believed, 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.

The challenge for incumbent businesses is to find that balance between what is core and what needs to be refreshed. The Bookseller is not sheltered from these kinds of challenges: three weeks ago we introduced dedicated author pages; last week we revealed that in October we would begin previewing self-published books (in partnership with Nook); and this week we announce the launch of the UK and Ireland’s first ever prize dedicated to Young Adult fiction (supported by the trade and in association with Movellas). None of this feels outside of the core business, yet it feels directionally new and exciting.

Like Frankfurt, The Bookseller should reflect the business—where it is now, and where it is headed. A snapshot in time perhaps, but of a moving image.