Frankfurt Postscript: The Students Speak

M.S. in Publishing student volunteers Kathi Gadow (blogger), Brittany Leddy, and Ashley Sepanski sightseeing in Frankfurt.
M.S. in Publishing student volunteers Kathi Gadow (blogger), Brittany Leddy, and Ashley Sepanski sightseeing in Frankfurt.

From interviewing Namibian and Senegalese publishers, to appearing in the pages of Publishing Perspectives’ Show Daily and fielding conference questions onstage, our students found themselves featured at the Frankfurt Book Fair in ways they could only have imagined. The Fair was a great experience for the three M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students who volunteered there this year, the third time the program has offered this opportunity. Through the support of the Oscar Dystel Research and Development Fund, students Kathi Gadow, Brittany Leddy, and Ashley Sepanski traveled to Germany and experienced firsthand how the largest book fair in the world attracts not only publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, and authors, but also artists, screenwriters, movie producers, journalists, translators, gamers, illustrators, multimedia creators… even politicians.

On the first day of the Fair, we started our duties at the Business Club, a new addition offering exclusive and prestigious conferences, panels, networking events, guided tours, lounges for meetings, consulting opportunities with experts in specific areas of publishing, and other programming. The idea was to have a private club where ideas could flourish. Serving as ushers, greeters, and even timekeepers to make sure the Business Club stayed on schedule, we had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of publishing professionals.

We also took part in CONTEC Frankfurt, a boot camp for digitally-focused publishing professionals. CONTEC combined panels, conferences, and Q&A sessions to explore sustainable, consumer-oriented, and profitable reading experiences. We helped maintain order by directing visitors to the correct conference rooms, managing the time cards for the speakers, and directing the question-and-answer portions of the sessions. We heard from people all over the world talking about refreshing new ideas, creative business models, and innovative ways for readers to consume content that had nothing to do with Amazon—and  sometimes not even  to do with books! Music creators, managers of e-commerce sites, and technologists creating innovative software helped us realize that publishing is not only about books. There are a million other things to discuss, focus on, and improve.

Gadow, Leddy, and Sepanski at the welcome sign for the Frankfurt Book Fair
Gadow, Leddy, and Sepanski at the welcome sign for the Frankfurt Book Fair

The next day we had an opportunity to see the full global reach of the Frankfurter Buchmesse (the Fair’s name in German). Our tasks included assisting the Publishing Perspectives team with the Show Daily magazine, where Ashley was assigned to cover international publishers with a quick “One Question Interview.” She asked about each country’s market and business strategy. Bryony van der Merwe of Namibia spoke about tackling illiteracy rates among children. Ronny Agustinus of Indonesia hoped to promote more Indonesian content on political and social issues. And Sulaiman Adebowale of Senegal said he hoped to someday publish in indigenous African languages. “It was really incredible to see these small publishers with such big ideas,” Ashley noted. “Despite all the challenges they face, they’re very determined to bring books to their communities, and have interesting ideas on how to do so. Adebowale, for example, said that book fairs and exhibitions are central to his business as compared with ebooks and digital marketplaces.”

On Friday, Publishing Perspectives hosted a two-day session on self-publishing. Experts from Kobo, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and other companies came together to speak with both authors and publishers. Several of us attended, and were struck by how large an enterprise self-publishing has become. “Authors and publishing representatives alike discussed proper business practices, editing techniques, and how to utilize agents,” Ashley said. “Self-published authors are embracing the multiple facets of publishing—including being a writer, agent, and publicist all at once.”

We were fortunate to attend StoryDrive, a conference focusing on the essence of a story—whether it be a book, movie, game, play, or TV series—and the heroes that arise from those stories. We all took on different duties during StoryDrive, from registration to speaker assistance. Brittany was at the heart of the conference acting as the “social media expert” and sitting on-stage with the presenters! Tracking Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as well as the official conference hashtag, she fielded questions asked via social media from the audience. In this way, she was able to report specific moments from the presentations that really resonated with the audience. “It was a little intimidating, being on stage and all, but the structure of Storydrive really makes it feel like you’re just having coffee with all of these different storytellers,” Brittany said. “Hearing about all the ways stories are being told solidified for me that stories are part of the human experience, and not just limited to one form of media.”

Overall, this international adventure was unbelievably rewarding. Meeting and hearing the publishing experts, business professionals, authors, filmmakers, politicians, and more was unlike anything that we have ever experienced. Not only were we given more responsibility and visibility (on-stage, in print, and online!) than we could ever have expected, but we left with a greater appreciation of global affairs and publishing trends. Oh, and let’s not forget making some wonderful new friends, and gathering fantastic memories.

by Kathi Gadow with reporting from Brittany Leddy and Ashley Sepanski

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