Friday, November 23, 2012

Fellowship Notes

The Frankfurt Book Fair Fellowship Programme was initiated in 1998 to celebrate the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 50th anniversary. Just as the Frankfurt Book Fair brings together publishing professionals from a large number of countries and builds long-term business relationships, this programme aims to help build networks among the younger generation in publishing and to create a community for the future. The programme is designed to provide participants with information about the German book trade, offer a behind-the-scenes view and facilitate professional dialogue.

The Frankfurt Fellowship programme is a really wonderful opportunity for exchange of ideas, knowledge, and insight. Every year, around 16 publishers from all over the world are chosen to come together for a rigourous fortnight of meetings and discussions across Germany, culminating in the Frankfurt Book Fair. 

This year, I was fortunate enough to be one of those 16 publishers. We travelled together through Frankfurt, Berlin, and Cologne, meeting publishers, booksellers, and agents, trying to understand and engage with the very complex changes that the publishing industry faces today. My colleagues in the fellowship were a diverse group – they hailed from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, Spain, the UK, and the USA. Accompanying us were Niki Theron of the International Department at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Paul Whitlatch, a former Frankfurt Fellow, and Anastasia Milekhina of the German Book Office in Moscow. We were a very mixed group indeed!

We met in Frankfurt on 30 September as a group, and had a wonderful dinner reception with the tireless and wonderful people of the Frankfurt Book Fair office. 

From the next morning, it was straight to business! Over the course of the next ten days, we would have meetings through the day every single day. In Frankfurt, we met Fischer Verlag and Westend Verlag. Our lunch meeting at the Haus des Buches (the office of the Frankfurt Book Fair) introduced us to more members of the book fair team and was followed by a seminar and presentation by Libreka

In Cologne, we met Bastei Lubbe, Eichborn Verlag, Baumhaus Verlag, Boje Verlag, Bastei Entertainment, and Kiepenhauer & Witsch. Our dinner meetings tended to be more relaxed and informal. At the gorgeous Ludwig im Museum in Cologne, we had the pleasure of meeting publishers from Taschen Verlag, DuMont Buchverlag, Emons Verlag, Egmont Verlagsgesellschaften, and LYX Verlag

In Cologne, we also spent a really wonderful day making market presentations about our respective countries. Some of the information that was shared was fascinating. For example, in Romania, books are sometimes packaged along with daily newspapers and priced at around one Euro! The low prices become feasible because the newspapers are distributed to around 500,000 people. Efforts like these towards literacy are endless in various parts of Europe. In the UK, low-cost books are sold alongside groceries in supermarkets, in an attempt to target people who are not bookstore visitors. The situation on Egypt and Malaysia seemed quite similar to the one in India, whereas Germany and the USA were vastly different. 

From Cologne, we went on to Berlin, where we met Hanser Berlin, Suhrkamp Verlag, and Aufbau Verlag, and had a very, very animated discussion on e-publishing with the young entrepreneurs at Readmill and the relatively more experienced e-reading pioneers at Textunes. Our dinner meetings were with the French Embassy in Berlin, the Berlin wing of DuMont Buchverlag, the Michael Gaeb Literary Agency, and Wagenbach Verlag

One of our finest evenings in Berlin was spent at the home of Wolfgang Horner of Galiani Berlin Verlag. A wonderfully kind man, he invited us to a home-cooked meal at his apartment - a lovely little home overflowing with bookshelves. A great publisher and a very generous man, he cooked dinner for us, told us some amazing stories, and truly made us feel at home in a strange country. 

There was some free time in Berlin as well - but when there are 19 publishers with free time, what do you think they do? We visited bookstores, of course! We walked endlessly around the bookstores of Berlin, falling in love with books over and over again, until it was time to return to Frankfurt.

Back in Frankfurt, we attended seminars at the book fair and made preparations for a week of business exchanges and professional dialogues. One night, the book fair hosted a truly amazing dinner and dancing reception on a boat in the Main river. It was a night of music, dancing, and getting to know people. At this party, we were joined by the very talented and vibrant publishers of the Frankfurt Book Fair Invitation Programme, another programme of international and professional exchange organised by the Frankfurt Book Fair. This is another initiative that we have been a part of. My colleague, Shobha Viswanath, was chosen for the invitation programme more than once! She was fortunate enough to have been a part of it in the years 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

One night, we were special invitees of the Motovun Group of publishers. Another night was the Fellowship Cocktail Party, where we met the Frankfurt Fellows from all the previous years, followed by an informal dinner at a nearby restaurant. Of course, there were several impromptu gatherings, dinner receptions and parties every night, but we won't get into the details of those!

Back in Chennai now, I'm enriched not just by the knowledge that was shared during these 15 days, but also the many, many friendships that the fellowship created. Not a day goes by that I don't think of my Fellows and our warm, happy little family. We are constantly in touch with each other, of course, and are already making plans to meet whenever possible. 

So there you have it! That was my Frankfurt Fellowship experience. 

- Manasi Subramaniam, Commissioning Editor, Karadi Tales