The Digital Future of Stories Is Here


The Hindu, 12 November 2011

Yet, nothing can replace meeting authors and publishers face to face to get into the groove of the latest in publishing trends, says Mita Kapur from the Frankfurt Book Fair.

An agent tweeted while at the Frankfurt Book Fair — “Received 3 meeting requests today. Are you all insane? No, we can’t meet because I already have 80 meetings!” There is something about why and how we do business during the book fair. We may be on instant email connections, crackle conversations on Skype, transfer heavy manuscript files with a click but publishers, agents, scouts and authors do need to travel to FBF and meet face to face over wine or coffee and avidly discuss the books that matter to us. We need to walk through the halls, browse, read the back of books and mentally add them to our lists of must pick-ups. It’s close to how we shop at book stores and yet it’s a multi-layered narrative that unfolds in the days to come. It’s hard-core business — of rights being bought and sold in various languages. Of an author’s creativity being noticed and appreciated. There are also focused events where the latest and burning issues that are raking up publishing winds are discussed.

The debating and pondering starts at  the International Rights Directors Meeting with the guest country’s publishers and agents presenting specific reflections of the present trends and market demands within the publishing circuit. Offsetting this is the overview of the larger trends and burning issues like the book being reinvented with e-books and now, enhanced e-books. Enchanced e-books use the functionality of video, audio, maps, photos, interviews embedded in them and not just flat two dimensional illustrations. Parallel to this is the huge influx of apps being sold. Apps are being used for marketing authors using their Twitter streams, Facebook, websites which fans can download. There are too many variables in the market place for e-books and with the massive sales and downloading of apps, they can easily be considered as add-on or complementary elements to a book. The questions of investment costs for enhanced e-books and apps were creating the buzz since even the risk-takers in this field are still figuring out the best math for it. In the Western world, the price of an e-book matches the price of the mass market book. It does ensure that it brings more and more readers to the market. For instance, The Bro Code, based on the popular sit com “How I Met Your Mother” has sold over 600,000 copies — the fourth book in the series is being done now and licensed apps used for this book have been sold in nine countries.  Digital distribution and marketing is the new buzzword of the game. However, we are yet to catch up with such trends in the Indian publishing industry in terms of scale of operations, although e-books are making their presence felt on the rights’ negotiating table.

Hectic pace

This set the rhythm and pace for the next four days of back-to-back meetings and it felt like hop-scotch being played between the halls. If you thought you were the only one standing at a café waiting for your meeting and landed up asking a couple of people, “Are you David?”, you aren’t. There are lots of us like this and then you can all laugh together as there are multiple cases of mistaken identity. Heads bent over catalogues, notes being scribbled quickly, intent dialogues, intermittent smiles, lots of coffee and wine and you end up congregating at one of the many parties being held at popular hotels every evening. While exiting from Hall 8 on the third day, I overheard two publishers — “You should have dropped in at our stand — our white wine was better than what you were serving.” Pat came the reply, “Well, our snacks were better than yours!”

Discussing trends

There are the hot spots where book discussions, meet the author, meet the experts and events such as Story Drive  (this year) take place under Frankfurt Sparks. How will stories be told in the future? Where content meets technology meets user, where mobile content solutions, story selling, the perfect pitch are as much a part of ebbing and flowing sound waves as much as are hot sales of books by authors in demand are. Publisher’s Perspective and Bookseller Daily are what you fish out first thing in the morning at the fair to read about the top deals, multi not just in monetary terms but also across languages, made by leading agents and publishing houses — it generates further energy levels.  From India this year, the Indian Literature Abroad (ILA) initiative was very well received at Frankfurt. “The book fair always provides a unique opportunity to reach out across languages and continents. ILA’s mandate is to translate and promote literature from the 24 national languages into the six UNESCO languages (and others) and we got to successfully register our presence with French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian publishers, besides interacting with English and German publishers. India has a plural and linguistically diverse literary heritage and it is vital to project this internationally as the true and accurate face of Indian writing. Quality literary translations are naturally the key to this”, said Namita Gokhale who heads the project.

A walk through the halls (in case you manage to steal a half an hour every day), to see how publishers from all over the world publish their books is time well spent. That is why the book fair matters — talking to people, finding out what they are looking for, what is really ticking, what makes them smile or cry — you can’t do that on email!

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