Frankfurt Book Fair 2016: A Lighthouse of Ideas

Guten Tag and welcome to the Frankfurt Book Fair! MS in Publishing: Digital & Print Media students Lauren Evans, Lainey Mays, and Marie Waine set out to help at the largest book fair in the world ready for a week of books, books, and more books. Every year the fair provides the opportunity for publishers from around the world to meet and mingle while learning about new platforms and gaining insights on upcoming trends. This year, our student volunteers were each assigned a role within the fair, allowing them to interact with a variety of professionals and better understand the industry.

Before volunteer duties at the fair started, the students had a chance to experience the culture of Frankfurt and take a short trip to see more history in Heidelberg. Then it was time to get to work. Below are our students’ takeaways and insights from the front-lines of the book fair:


Lauren Evans started her week off with a bang in the Business Club, where exclusive panels are held; agents and publishers can also reserve tables, schedule one-on-one meetings, and network. Each day, Lauren was exposed to an incredible amount of people at the forefront of change and development in publishing. She observed discussions about the state of markets and innovation all over the world. For example, in a panel about attracting younger readers, Quim Garreta, co-founder of Cubus Games, an app developer from Spain, discussed how combining gamification with comic books can draw in reluctant (usually male) readers; in a different session, Naomi Bacon, a freelance consultant and creative strategist from the United Kingdom, explained how she saw more success partnering with YouTube influencers than paying for pre-roll advertisements. Later, a panel on global rights explored what types of translated books work in specific markets. (Fun fact: the lumbersexual trend stemmed and transferred well from Norway.) “The most meaningful part of the speakers’ presentations was hearing their optimism and excitement to take on opportunities—their passion for spreading quality content to as many people by whatever means possible,” Lauren said.

Student Lauren Evans (left) working with German volunteers in the Business Club at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Upstairs in a different hall, Lainey Mays found herself working hard to put new insights into action. The Classroom of the Future (or Klassenzimmer der Zukunft in German) is an interactive space that allows children to experience new teaching tools, all aimed at cultivating their imagination. The staff was committed to bringing innovative teaching methods forward and offering a creative outlet for ideas. This year’s theme was the “Lighthouse of Ideas,” which provided the opportunity for teachers to act as beacons of ideas and work with their students, ushering them to reach their full potential.

The classroom was divided into three main sections: mathematics/engineering, linguistic/artistic, and job training. Within these areas, the children learned how to make their own comic strips, code robots, write blog posts, and cook an Indonesian specialty. Designed to foster a sense of wonder and discovery, each activity allowed the children to have fun while learning. No student could feign boredom or disinterest in this space; the class was open to everyone at fair, children and adults alike. This was not only to give the students a sense of what adults were doing, but also to allow adults to observe creativity at work. Adults stopped by to admire the drawings, problem solving, and fun that the kids were having—many even sat down and joined in the activities.

Students Lainey Mays (left) and Marie Waine (right) helping children create comics in the Classroom of the Future at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Lainey’s experiences with children in the Classroom of the Future quickly showed her how creativity is a commonality across the world. “Seeing the kids from all over the world connecting through these various activities made me realize that no matter if you are a refugee or attend one of the local schools in Frankfurt, everyone deserves access to education and a safe space to explore creativity and imagination,” said Lainey. It was evident to Lainey that children were able to discover and learn new things about themselves when given this safe space to discover. “Creative outlets are what spark ideas for the next bestselling novel.”

I was busy doing creative activities of my own: working with the Publishing Perspectives team to report on the latest book fair news. Publishing Perspectives produces a daily magazine during the fair to inform attendees about panel discussions and any new, big deals being made.  My days began with quick editorial meetings where the editor-in-chief, Porter Anderson, gave out assignments for the day. I took to the halls to talk to attendees and representatives from publishing houses from around the world about the landscape of the industry. My task each day was to conduct one-question interviews with as many attendees as possible in-between covering important panel discussions.

Marie Waine and the Publishing Perspectives staff during an editorial meeting at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair.

One thing was made clear very quickly: technology is changing the future. Almost everyone I interviewed had something to say about the development of technology within publishing, whether it was about the importance of working with developers to better understand and utilize new platforms or how, despite these changes, print still plays a huge role in the industry. I was able to get a solid understanding of how publishing houses across the world are working together to make technology a positive experience for creators and users alike. I saw how harnessing the power of change and working with it and others to create new and exciting developments brings the industry together.

021At the end of each day, Lauren, Lainey, and I had different stories to share based on our assignments. We interacted with a variety of people, all at the book fair for different reasons, including a Ukrainian interpreter looking to hone her skills; a political science student teaching German to refugees; Syrian and Afghani refugees learning German; a cosplayer excited for graphic novel booths; a crochet master looking for a DIY-book job; and an innovator creating an app that applies book universes onto our own.

No matter what our jobs were or who we met throughout the day, we agreed on one thing: different markets struggle with different issues, but they all bring innovation and learning to the table. Looking at publishing from such a global perspective drove home how integral relationships are to the publishing industry. By observing the interactions at the fair and building relationships ourselves, we realized that publishing is truly bigger than one market, one language, or one format; whatever major changes happen to the industry, the business will always be about bringing people together.

by Marie Waine


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