Last week was London Bookfair. There is nothing creative or glamorous about this fair. It’s an industry trade fair. Texts are traded for money and the international rights centre on the second floor in Earls Court resembles a bank’s trading floor. And like a stock exchange, the value of the commodity has little to do with quality, but rather with the hype surrounding it. Watch Wall Street and you will get the idea.
Peirene’s ancient Nymph’s heart struggles with these fairs.
“In a few years’ time the industry book fairs will have ceased to exist,” she prophesied with a fair amount of satisfaction in her voice, as we headed to yet another meeting. “This entire trading floor will disappear because all text will be freely available online. Mark my words.”
Unlike Peirene, I enjoy book fairs. It’s a chance to leave my desk and dress up and meet people. I had two encounters – one with new acquaintances, the other with someone I already work with - that made the three days absolutely worthwhile. They wouldn’t have happened without the London Book Fair.
Last Saturday I was invited to a pre-bookfair lunch by Geradine D’Amico, the former Jewish book week director and co-director of Notes & Letters festival. She introduced me to Nermin Mollaoglu and her husband Mehmet Dermitas. They run the Turkish literary agency Kalem. Moreover, in 2009 they set up Istanbul’s Tapinar Literature Festival, so far Turkey’s only literary festival. Tapinar has now firm links with Hay, and Nermin and Mehmet are planning to get a children’s books festival off the ground, too. They are inspiring, inspirational and pro-active, perceiving the challenges of the changing global book market as an opportunity rather than a dead end. What a joy to meet them.
On Tuesday evening, Peirene’s German author Matthias Politycki was invited as star guest to the German Embassy’s London Bookfair gala event. Matthias brought down the house. Interviewed by Guardian critic Nick Lezard, he gave a witty and fabulously funny performance, talking about beer, women and literature (in that order). No surprise, really. Matthias is a great author, but his expertise reaches much further. Last year he curated the Munich Literature Festival and he has fine tuned the art of good PR. It’s a huge pleasure to work with him.
True, the trading floor at book fairs might disappear. And the Nymph is right to predict texts-for-free. Readers don’t want to pay for text any longer. The challenge for authors, agents and publishers will be to create new revenue sources. But such a future will make fairs all the more important, so professionals can meet, exchange ideas and work together.
“And you and your friends are ready for this challenge?” Peirene would like to know.
“Absolutely. And with an ancient Greek nymph by my side, I feel I have a head start.”