All the Fun of the (Frankfurt) Fair

Another year, another Frankfurt. How much has changed. How little has changed. Strolling around the various booths in Hall 8, I was struck by how much lip service is paid to digital products, but how little is actually happening, though Harper Collins md Simon Johnson said “We have been having lots of interesting discussions with people. There’s lots of talk about digital”. Talk certainly, but action?

Hall 3 – best of all are the Moevenpick ice-cream stands

Google had a stand, as did Amazon, but both were petty small, certainly by comparison on with major publishers such as Pearson. Speaking of which, the Pearson stand was notable mainly for its empty tables.

Empty tables at Pearson

Word on the street was that a decree from on high had peremptorily cut all staff trips to the fair except for the rights people, so people like Lynnette Owen – who has been selling rights for Pearson for over quarter of a century (!) – was there while the sales managers were not. Bit odd, given that Frankfurt is often seen as a one-stop shop for meeting just about all your distributors over a few hectic days. Will Pearson actually bother with Frankfurt again – a huge cost saving, of course, but why does a company as big Pearson need to save on the expense of attending the world’s biggest book fair?

The fair certainly seems less busy than in previous years, as Peter Davison, CUP head of corporate affairs, said before going on: “the skill set you need on the stand is very different from the skill set you needed ten years ago”. Quite – it certainly helps if you know what a CMS is, or what Moodle does. It’s an interesting time for the book business.

Despite the huge success of titles like “50 Shades…” book sales overall are down by between 2.7% (New Zealand) and as much as 13% (USA). Does this mean people aren’t buying books? Not a bit of it. They just aren’t buying new paper books. Sales of ebooks are rising fast – a whopping 366% increase over last year in the UK, for example.

 

Macmillan ELT books on the Huber stand

In the world of ELT, the rising superstar is Cengage – definitely one to watch! As for Pearson, they now sell more digital material than ever, and mainly into the international education business – the company’s highest-growth unit, with sales that increased 15% in 2011. The unit now accounts for nearly a quarter of Pearson’s £5.9 billion in global revenue. Perhaps that is why this very traditional, conservative trade book fair is increasingly just a costly irrelevance for them.