The Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest gathering of the global publishing industry, is going on at the moment. And one consequence of book fair is a greatly increased coverage of literature and publishing topics in the media.
Now that I’ve joined the ranks of publishers myself, I was of course particularly interested in whether the book fair coverage would address the e-book and indie publishing phenomenon at all.
So far, most of the coverage – and it seems that there is less than in previous years – was the same old. A lot of reporting on this year’s guest of honour country Iceland, which turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected, because Iceland turns out to have a very vibrant literary scene. I really like the guest of honour idea, because it means that you learn a lot about the literature of a country that you probably knew very little about.
Then there was a lot of reporting about the winner of this year’s German Book Award – I wrote about him on the main blog – the usual rounds of literary critics discussing worthy new releases, interviews with every interesting author or what passes for that (way too many celebrities talking about their memoirs for my taste) they could get hold of.
The special book fair edition of the literature program Das blaue Sofa (named for the blue sofa on which the host interviews his guests) was similar to the usual book fair coverage. Interviews with interesting authors (last year’d Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosas or Patricia Cornwell among others), a profile of a book which did not win the German Book Award (which indicates that at least this program bet on a different horse), an overview report showing celebrities ranging from the useless (some woman who has her own TV show and seems to be famous for pretending to be the stereotypical blonde bimbo) to the downright bizarre (a former RAF terrorist turned writer and the notoriously conservative ZDF is praising his book!).
And among all that, there was also a report about the rise of indie publishing. And – gasp – it was even tentatively positive. They had interviews with representatives of two German self-publishing platforms and a literary critic who was on the jury for the so-called New German Book Award for self-published books.
There were a couple of flaws in the report, at least from my point of view, such as no interviews with indie authors and zero mention of Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing, which are a lot more important globally than the German platforms they did mention. Never mind that the German self-publishing platforms operate on a different model than US/international platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords – they seem to be closer to Authonomy or whatever it’s called, the “gain exposure and be discovered” platform of Harper Collins. Call me cynical, but I prefer actually getting paid for my exposure.
Another big flaw was that the report claimed that none of the established publishers wanted to discuss the self-publishing phenomenon at all. However, one of the self-publishing platforms whose representatives were interviewed is actually tied to one of the so-called “big six” publishers. It’s right there on the website, in fact. See? It says “Verlagsgruppe Holtzbrinck” which is the parent company of Pan Macmillan, St Martin’s Press, Faber, Strauss and Giroux and Tor among others. Really, you’d figure a cultural journalist would manage to throw a two second glance at a website.
But even though the report was flawed, it was still surprisingly positive about self-publishing. This is particularly notable, because Das blaue Sofa is broadcast by the staid public TV channel ZDF – remember them? – about whose extremely negative and downright misleading coverage of the indie publishing phenomeon I blogged a few days ago.
I’d love to link to the actual program, by the way, but unfortunately it’s not to be found in the ZDF Mediathek.