What do ninjas have to do with the celebrated Frankfurt Book Fair, or Frankfurter Buchmesse, as they call it in German? As one of four NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students selected to volunteer at the fair, I witnessed these “ninjas” at work firsthand. Keep reading and I will explain in a bit!
This was the second opportunity for students from the publishing program to volunteer at the world’s largest annual trade book fair, and it was quite the experience. So many publishers! So many people! So many rights deals underway! Approximately 300,000 visitors attended, and there were more than 7,400 exhibitors from 100+ countries. While some of us have volunteered and worked at Book Expo America in the past, that was like an indie bookstore compared with the Union Square Barnes & Noble, in terms of size and scope.
The NYU SCPS volunteer team consisted of Randi Abel, Sergio Peralta, Melanie Tutino, me, and our fearless leader, Assistant Director Doris Alcivar. Part of our job was to help out at pre-conference events such as Contec, which, as the title implies, was a series of panels and discussions focused on content and technology.A main theme resonated throughout Contec, as speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of start-ups in relation to publishing.
The publishing industry is often criticized as being too traditional and antiquated, but anyone who attended Contec could surely debate this notion with gusto. Publishers both large and small are taking innovative and inspiring steps forward with the use of technology. However, as we know, publishers are not first-and-foremost “technology” companies. As I learned at one of the Contec panels, this is not an issue at all: there are many emerging companies eager and able to jump in to help. We heard repeatedly about the potential business growth opportunities available to publishers with the help and partnership of these small digital- and technologically-savvy companies.
In between Contec sessions, networking was enthusiastically and creatively encouraged. The organizers helped facilitate networking by providing a useful tool to all speakers and attendees when they arrived in the morning: stickers! Each attendee was instructed to chose a sticker (or two, three, four, or five) and display it proudly on their lapel. These bold and colorful stickers were emblazoned with lines like: “I help books find homes,” “I build books,” “I’m a publishing entrepreneur,” or “I’m a start-up.” The most popular sticker of the day was designed as a ninja star with the label “Networking Ninja” on it. Those intrepid ninjas infiltrated the conference and seized networking opportunities left and right.
And if none of the labels applied, there was a fill-in-the-blank sticker option that simply read, “I like to talk about _______.” I saw people wandering around who had written in topics such as “Kids’ Books,” “Marketing,” and even “Dinosaurs.” There really was a networking opportunity for everyone!
While Contec was a successful and inspiring launch for the week, it really was just the beginning. Melanie Tutino also helped report for Publishing Perspectives, a digital publication that focuses on international book news and opinion, where she got to interview Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro’s publisher and literary agency. Randi Abel and I also conducted photo shoots for LitAg all week. “LitAg” is the nickname for the Literary Agents Center, which was celebrating its 35th year at the fair. Sergio Peralta and Doris Alcivar assisted with the IDPF Workshop: “What Makes an E-Book Beautiful?” In addition, we assisted with registration and served as time monitors at other events sponsored by the Frankfurt Academy, including StoryDrive and Children’s and YA Book Market: From Idea to Product World.
In our off time, we were able to wander the 6 halls of the fair, visit booths representing companies from Albania to Vietnam, and see the extraordinary reach of the international publishing industry. We also got to attend some of the many panels and educational programs at the fair such as “TV and Film Rights: New Opportunities for Agents” and “How Pottermore Merges Storytelling and Technology for Readers Everywhere” at the Publishing Perspectives Stage.
All in all, it was an inspiring and insightful week for all of us. Long days and hard work proved more than worthwhile as we got to hear some of the biggest names in international publishing share their thoughts on the future of our industry. At the end of it all, we found time to relax and reflect together in an authentic German biergarten with a large pitcher of tart and delicious apfelwein. Prost!
by Teresa Ronquillo