At Frankfurt Book Fair: Between creativity and commerce

At Frankfurt Book Fair: Between creativity and commerce

Books are a business. Books are an art. And we're all caught in the middle.

Developing a creative relationship with money will make you more aware of that underlying pattern and will also surface your values, what’s most important to you in life.

Surely, you'd say, this is the writing of one of our many personal-finance gurus, right? It must be the well-turned phrasing of that woman with the short blonde hair and the leather jackets. Or maybe it's the fun guy who yells everything at you during his show -- booyah! Or, those folks on public radio, the evening show about the markets that plays "Stormy Weather" when the Dow is down. Well, no. Guess again:

I do realise that, for many people, creative and commercial abide on opposite sides of a wide divide and yoking them together is an almost sacrilegious proposition. I understand that mindset well because it used to be my own.

This is Orna Ross, the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Long an author herself, and one who left traditional publishing to mine the widening fields of self-publishing, Ross is just out with a new book: Creating Money, Creating Meaning: Getting Into Financial Flow. And it's not just for writers.

In her book, what Ross advocates is closing that "wide divide" that so many of us believe exists between our artistic impulses and our business platforms, between the creative and the commercial.

Ross is one of two speakers in the Master Class I've programmed and will chair on Saturday, 11th October, at Frankfurt Book Fair -- a specially devised session we've put together with the ingenuity of Frankfurt Book Fair director of events and programmes Britta Friedrich and the help of my programming associate Matilde Sommain.

Is It All About Sales? is targeted most particularly to -- but hardly limited to -- junior publishing workers.

Anyone who has jumped into this business, flush with the joys of arts and letters -- only to find the aesthetic rug yanked out from under them to reveal a cold, stony foundation of corporate reality -- understands what we're talking about.

And Ross might be the person folks would expect to walk in with the "warm and fuzzy" view that creativity should triumph, business has steamrolled inspiration, and that all is lost to the bean counters. Her new book, instead, shows a remarkably different perspective.

"Money is as good a material as any with which to practice its ways," she counsels. "That you do money is how you do life." She writes:

To go creative is to choose a way of living that is different to the conventional ways that are all around you and nowhere are those ways more convention-ridden, strongly held and powerfully practiced than in the worlds of money and high finance.  We who choose the alternative, creative way travel together, support and help each other to hold the mindset where the magic happens.

And in the session at Frankfurt Book Fair, we'll be exploring what it means to "go creative" and walk right into that wall of monetary expectation -- "yes, but how do we monetize this?" -- that can seem to take the original intent right out of some of the best-planned careers.

'The wealthiest person in the world cannot consume all available books'

Joining Ross in this Master Class is Marcello Vena, the Milan-based publishing executive, previously digital director for the RCS Mediagroup (Rizzoli, Bompiani, Fabbri Editori) and now the founding CEO of the consultancy All Brain.

And Vena's response to that "Is It All About Sales?" question is recently informed by the research he's been doing for an All Brain white paper on the proverbial "Long Tail" in publishing (and other industries). Surely, one great effect of the digital dynamic is that "ebooks are forever," many of us put it, and that sales can gather and accrue into infinity.

In truth, as Vena has told The Next Chapter conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, what this also means is that all content is forever," if you will.

Competition is on a steep climb and will keep climbing because there's no such thing anymore as being out of print. Each book that comes now now faces every other book in history, if you will, and must vie for dwindling readership time in crowded contemporary lives that may rarely see the light of literature.

In our Thought Catalog coverage of Vena's early-stages presentation materials, we found the author and publisher Bob Mayer writing of how authors' sales are down (something they're not saying too loudly unless they're Hachette authors, and that the key reason is the plethora of material enabled by the power of digital distribution in the hands of many. Vena writes:

The wealthiest person in the world cannot consume all available books, even if he or she owns them all. Simply for a question of time, not money. Book reading is not like music consumption. Listening to music does not strictly require you to stop doing many things. You can drive, do housecleaning, dance, work, even read or write a book. But when you read a book, you invest your time and forgo other activities.

What Vena can describe to us is a mighty squeeze that pushes much of bookish commerce toward the major retail powers:

As the market share of the global e-retailers grows, the sales impact of small and independent retailers diminishes dramatically. A highly concentrated e-retail market appears to be less capable of fostering and growing a Long Tail of digital books…the overall ebook market has been growing very significantly, but the bestsellers have been taking a growing lion’s share.

And this, of course, will exacerbate the  frustration of anyone who has arrived ready to labour in the fields of the Muse, only to find that "marketing is running acquisitions now" and "all they care about is sales" -- lines you hear right and left in our beleaguered industry striving for innovation wherever it can help.

The marketplace imperative

It's perfectly clear in the way The Bookseller's Philip Jones is parsing new developments and efforts in direct-to-consumer programmes among publishers that the industry will remain seized of the drive for sales going forward, perhaps more than ever. This, as Jones puts it, is simply mission-critical:

Trade publishing's failure to form relationships with book buyers over the many decades when they have been meeting the needs of readers, may yet prove fatal -- if the writing was not already on the wall, Amazon's willingness to send customers elsewhere in order to find titles published by Hachette USA ought to focus minds. Amazon was built on distributing third-party content, but it has never been less reliant on that model than it is now. Publishers need to go on a parallel journey of self-determination.

And so, in fact, do many fine publishing workers who have landed in the industry they love at a time of wrenching upheaval and, as Jones shows us, unavoidable focus on sales. Publishing is in a battle royal for its own future, and the people of this industry will need, more than ever, to be able to find and maintain their own comfort levels as balances shift between the creative wellspring of our culture's best thoughts and the commerial imperative that those thoughts must be able to walk and talk in the marketplace. Our Saturday session in Frankfurt will be a time of open, frank discussion, led by the considerable focus that Ross and Vena bring to these issues. As Ross writes in her book:

Unlike King Midas, we can give money its rightful place in our life. We can let it make us happy.

All we have to do is figure out how.

If you'll be at Frankfurt Book Fair, join us on Saturday 11th October, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., for a special Master Class -- "Is It All About Sales?" at the Business Club in Halle 4, the Europa Room. More information is here. Our speakers are Orna Ross of London and Marcello Vena of Milan. Main image: Frankfurt Book Fair, the Comics Centre, Halle 3, 2008