Frankfurt Book Fair Special Edition opens

“Diversity is the opposite of stupidity”

The opening event of the Frankfurt Book Fair Special Edition 2020 Screenshot IPP| German Book Office New Delhi
The opening event of the Frankfurt Book Fair Special Edition 2020 Screenshot IPP

The Frankfurt Book Fair opened yesterday (13 October 2020), and as can be expected, the organizers have made a generous and transparent virtual or hybrid event out of it – but one feels the loss already. However, for many of us, it will not be a loss but eventually, a massive potential gain. This is because of the organizers’ open invitation to publishers and professionals to participate digitally and free of cost. Attributed by the opening event speakers to the quick and comprehensive political response of the German government, and more particularly to its minister of culture, it speaks well of a government that sees the value of ideas. A government conscious that books drive the knowledge and entertainment industries. And that books, culture, and the future itself are not mere commodities.

The opening event was both uplifting and a bit sad. Still, the underlying theme was the event’s humanity and that it stands for equity, justice, communication, science, and the written word. The need to continue the event in the face of the pandemic and for the way we have all had to think when confronted by a rampant virus that we barely understand, the need for “ambiguity tolerance.”

For many of us, even those who have paid to take part in the past FBFs and other global book fairs, the opportunities are perhaps greater at the FBF Special Edition this time than ever before. This is because we could never afford to take part physically with the resources needed to make much impact or to get the job done, and somehow the digital event by virtue of being free is more democratic.

As Jurgen Boos remarked in his speech at the opening — of the more than 4,000 digital book fair registrants, over 2,000 were interested in the rights platform. He seemed to imply (if I have interpreted his expression correctly) that this is a revelation — that this is really what Frankfurt has and what everyone wants — and that Frankfurt could learn from making this business process more accessible than in earlier years.

I speak here from a bit of experience as an exhibitor at FBF and the London Book Fair trying to interest global publishers in an illustrated book on Indian calligraphy unsuccessfully, by the late poet and calligrapher Raghu Joshi. I registered late at this year’s Special Event. The digital process of becoming a translation rights trader (of ten crime novels by Tony Dunbar) and possibly presenting IPPStar’s recent research on the book publishing industry was straightforward. And one that retains the integrity of the professional process.

IPP Star to offer translation rights & research

IPP Star has taken advantage of registering at the FBF Special Edition for several reasons. Above all, we have covered the fair for the past twenty-five years in our monthly Indian Printer and Publisher trying to report on the Indian publishing and printing and services industry’s progress. Most often, we have done this in person, and twice we took stands with and on behalf of Indian printers to help them export book printing under a loose imprint called the ‘Indian Print Exporters Forum.’ We also helped the German Book Office organize a speed dating event for Indian printers to meet with global publishers.

This time IPP Star and I are also taking part in the rights platform as a rights trader for a wonderful series of ten humorous and hardboiled crime books that take place in New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States, written by Tony Dunbar. This genre, noire, I have always admired thinking that the reality of our cities and political life can only be accurately described by fiction. And one that I think is needed to describe the Indian reality. I hope to help sell the translation rights to Dunbar’s books to the Scandinavians who excel in this genre and also to publishers of Malayalam, Bengali, and Hindi fiction and perhaps other languages. The theatrical or video rights to Dunbar’s works are also available.

My last mission is to project and perhaps find further support for IPPStar’s on the ground research project on the Book publishing and printing industry in India and Bangladesh that we completed in 2019. This is a comprehensive project with a large sample of face-to-face interviews, emphasizing education, textbooks, and trade publishing in local languages. We believe that this work projects the little-understood scale of the Indian publishing industry because it is supported and validated by our knowledge of the entire production of the book printers in these two countries.


2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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