June 2013, No 33
Editors: Vera Ebels, Christina Zorich
“Three Countries, One Language” and Books In Print In Bucharest – Interview with Tobias Voss (Frankfurter Buchmesse)
Interview with Tobias Voss, Franfurter Buchmesse
Interview with Tobias Voss, Vice-President of the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s International Markets Department, by Florentina Hojbota, Infocarte, during the Bookfest in Bucharest, May 2013, where Germany, Austria and Switzerland were the Guest of Honour.
You are in charge of contacts with 7,500 partners, with the Guest of Honour in Frankfurt, with international publishing houses as well as with the German publishing houses joining the Frankfurt Book Fair’s events abroad. This week you are in Bucharest, for Bookfest. What are the stakes involved of the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s presence at Bookfest?
We have close relationships with the Romanian book market. It is of some importance for us to be here. We had to decide whether to come as Germany or together with Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as an association of German language literature – “three countries, one language” – and we decided for the last option. Germany sells about 120 licenses to Romania annually, which is not bad at all. It shows there is an interest in German literature. So it is quite good to be here to see which titles are going to Romania. And vice versa. It is interesting that there is a small hype (nothing huge of course; as you know in every country the most translated language is English). But some leading publishing houses, like Suhrkamp, for instance, have important Romanian authors. Now you can find reviews of these books in the newspapers. At the moment – and I don’t think this happens only in Germany – the smaller languages are having trouble being translated. Everybody keeps looking to English, to French, and perhaps to Spanish literature. For us it is important to have biblio-diversity. And therefore it is important to be here, to give German publishers an idea of what is going on here. It is an interesting market.
This year you chose to come to the Bookfest Fair with the project „Three Countries, One Language”. How important is this shift from nationality to language?
Usually we do the stands separately, on our own. But this time we decided to have these three countries because there is a beautiful and vivid literature in Austria and Switzerland as well, and this way we have the opportunity of showing the whole range of literature. And perhaps it is also important that there are certain differences, too, just as the German spoken in these three countries has some differences. And if someone is interested in the German language and literature it is perhaps very interesting to look into these differences.
It seems it is not so much about presenting one country’s culture, but a common culture.
Yes. For me, the Guest of Honour here in Bucharest is not a country, it is a language. And this is beautiful because if you look at the political and economic situation, it is not a country by itself that decides something on the European market. Perhaps the time of national contraction is over and we should think in other dimensions.
You have been involved in the Frankfurt Book Fair for 15 years. How has the publishing landscape changed and what do you see ahead?
It has changed quite a lot. My first project at the Frankfurt Book Fair was in ‘98. I had to organize a stand in cooperation with the office of the president of Germany, to promote a new award, “The Future Prize”. It was about innovation – innovation in the book market as well. And at this stand I had, for the first time, two electronic books. The first one was called the SoftBook, and the second one, the Rocketbook, which was the only one in Europe – and the man who had it did not let it out of his hands. The newspapers were full of stories about the death of literature, the death of the book, about how we now have electronic publishing. But what actually died were the Rocketbook and the SoftBook. After I would say one year nobody heard anything about these products anymore.
But now the situation has completely changed, and all the participants in the branch talk about e-book business models, about new readers, about other formats of content. So it’s quite a lot of change. The whole thing started to evolve in 2004 – 2005. It came, of course, from America with new development of e-readers – electronic ink was one key invention.
Perhaps it was too soon? In 1998 people were not as used to technology.
That’s how inventions start. There were some guys who tried this, and tried to explore some possibilities. But the market was not really ready. Now some publishing houses have adapted, the technology is ready, things have come together and the market is changing.
There are questions, of course, regarding distribution, regarding ownership (you cannot own an electronic book; you only have a license to use it). I don’t think it is finished yet. It will take a while. We are only at the beginning.
In former times people used to move from one place to another by carriage. And the first time the automobile was created it looked very much like a carriage. Because this was the only thing they knew, but now its design is free, it doesn’t resemble a carriage anymore. The e-book is in a situation very similar to the carriage-automobile. We do not yet know all the possibilities and all the new things we can do with e-books. We had a session at Bookfest about the possibilities and the problems of e-books – copyright problems, piracy, ownership, distribution. There are a lot of things, but if there are problems there are a lot of opportunities as well.
Isn’t it encouraging that a book can be present through various devices now, due to this new electronic format?
Yes, of course. And we have more than one way of going to the digital world. We will have several ways with several different approaches: one will go faster, one will go a little bit slower, and the directions will be different, too.
Also the kind of reading will change. How people will read and what reading will mean to people. At the moment you have one device and you can watch TV with it, you can telephone with it, you can read with it and you can listen to music with it. The competition between these media is focused on one device so reading comes into close competition with other kinds of interests. I’m very interested in how this will develop, this competition within one device.
At the moment, according to the latest data, 50 % of the people in Germany say that they like reading or they like reading very much. This is a good figure but you don’t know how they read and what they read. Do they read very long thick books or only short messages? Some say people will always read only shorter texts. But look at Dan Brown, look at Harry Potter, they are not really short. Of course, it’s true that people are looking for short messages, but they also read very long, thick books and very long texts.
All recent bestsellers have been very long.
Indeed. But there’s another problem: that perhaps biblio-diversity will somehow change because of the influence of the big players. And there is a contradiction between the fact that at the moment Amazon is really the biggest bookshop but in the long run I’m not quite sure whether it will have the same biblio-diversity in 5 years time. At the moment they have it but I would be happy if the smaller bookshops didn’t disappear. However, they are in trouble at the moment.
Speaking of the problems of the book market, at Bookfest you had, among other projects, a discussion about “Marketing in Times of Crisis”.
The marketing might be a particular problem – not for the big players (they can push money into promoting one book – Dan Brown, all the bestsellers) but I think the crucial problem is the medium-sized and the smaller publishing houses. Often they have next to nothing to promote a book. They have perhaps a thousand euro for a book but they manage to turn it into a bestseller – for their size that is. They use social media for their products and they’re very well connected to the bookstores that buy their books – to their A customers, so to speak. I think it is very important for a small publishing house to be in close contact with its little bookstores, to have a personal contact.
In Germany small bookstores have an economic problem because at the moment they cannot participate in the distribution of electronic books. This business currently operates mostly through Amazon or Apple or some other platforms. But the most significant advantage of bookshops is that they have face-to-face interaction with their customers. Or they should have. If a small bookshop does not know its customers then it will go bankrupt. And on the other hand, they have a space to work in. This is the big advantage of a bookshop.
A couple of weeks ago there was a big conference of bloggers in Berlin. And 5,000 bloggers attended. They wanted to meet personally, face to face. They wanted to know each other, they wanted to talk, have a beer together, meet people without having to make an appointment. Just go around. This only happens at conferences, this does not happen on the internet. And I think this is the crucial thing for book fairs, and also for bookshops. You have to use the fact that people want to meet. So I think there is hope for bookshops and also for book fairs, of course, because the internet – even all these social media – lacks face to face communication.
With the rise of online bookshops, contact between booksellers and books is changing as well. Books tend to be just like any other product. What would you say is the difference between the book trade and other trades?
Of course the main difference might be that the book has two levels: one is economic, the other is cultural. And I think the Frankfurt Book Fair is so successful because it doesn’t look at only the economic side of books. This is the main difference. The other big difference is that the profit you make on books is much smaller than what you make, for instance, on clothes or automobiles or something else. And it has a huge diversity. And when you put these three differences together you get a mixture that is somehow interesting but also somehow difficult to manage.
We spoke about translations. You manage Weltempfang – The Center for Literature, Politics and Translations, which regards translation as a form of international exchange.
Every year at the Frankfurt Book Fair we have various events with the Weltempfang. We address a special issue every year. This year the topic will be The Worlds of Children. But my aim is to have discussions about childhood in different countries. How is childhood developing in different ways in different countries? What are the problems, what is happening with child labour, etc? To see it from a political point of view. Discussions mainly – there may be books behind the discussions, of course, but no book launches.
Translation is also a topic. There might be difficulties with the fee for translators. Some translators cannot live from what they earn, from their work.
And one last question…
I would like to ask you a question if I may. You are working at Books In Print. You know we have a German Books in Print. For us it is a very important tool and I think this tool will become more important in the future and so I would be interested in hearing how Romanian publishers regard this tool, whether they will see it as more important in the future than they do today.
In Romania, Books In Print – Infocarte – is an independent project; it does not belong to the state or to any of the parties in the book market. It was initiated by the Romanian Publishers’ Association and developed by CEEBP, with the financial support of the ERSTE Stiftung. Unlike its German counterpart, the Romanian BIP involves no subscriptions – it is free both for professionals in the book market and for the public. We have almost 30 000 book editions in our database (with books published between 2006 – 2013) and it is growing daily.
I think that Books In Print will become more important in the future. Now you have the book in your hand. You can take it in your hand and put it on the shelf; you have a direct relationship with it. But if you think about e-books – you only have bits and bytes and the only thing you will have are the metadata. And, connected to these metadata, information about where to find the book; at the moment you can go to the bookstore. But how will this be in the future? You need to know something about the book so you can order it – and that’s the metadata. These metadata are in the big Books in Print
By Florentina Hojbota
Published in the CEEBP Newsletter by courtesy of Infocarte.ro
In cooperation with partners in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia, CEEBP has developed a project aimed at creating self-sustainable, publicly accessible online Books In Print catalogues compatible with European standards. The project proposal has been submitted to the European Commission Digital Agenda programme.
The project aims at creating self-sustainable publicly accessible online Books in Print databases (BIP), which will be inter-operable with the Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works towards Europeana (ARROW Plus) and The European Library / Europeana, in the above six partner countries.
The project will enable The European Library / Europeana to enlarge the number of digitalised books by facilitating diligent search in Books In Print metadata databases to be built in the six partner countries in accordance with the ARROW rights information standard.
In Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia, no Books in Print exist at all yet, while the ones that exist in the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Romania need to be modernised and made inter-operable with TEL / ARROW.
The BIPTOW project will introduce international standards and establish routines, improve the quality and quantity of book metadata, enhance the use of BIP among publishers, booksellers, libraries and the public, and foster cooperation between BIP and ISBN offices/National Libraries.
The focus of the project is to establish best practices in the aggregation and processing of book metadata, developing viable, self-sustainable BIP in accordance with TEL – ARROW standards, and embedding BIP in the book sector in the partner countries.
New features functional to TEL / Europeana and ARROW will assist in copyrights maintenance, and enhance the transparency of the book market.
The project is based on 3 years of partial support of the initial investment and the direct running costs of aggregating, checking, and editing the metadata, training, coaching, and sharing of best practices from earlier CEEBP BIP projects, ARROW Plus, TEL and other experts.
By Vera Ebels
Hassan Blasim, Madżnun Sahat al-Hurijja (The Madman of Freedom Square), Arab – Polish translation by Agnieszka Piotrowska: Szaleniec z Placu Wolności, Biuro Literackie, Wrocław 2013
Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews 1933-1945, English – Hungarian translation by Julia Lazar: A Náci Németország és a Zsidók (1933 – 1945), Múlt és Jövő, Budapest 2013
Wolfgang Leonhard, Die Revolution entläßt ihre Kinder, German – Polish translation by Ewa Czerwiakowski: Dzieci rewolucji, Karta, Warsaw 2013
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Du miel aux cendres, French – Polish translation by Bogdan Baran: Od miodu do popiołow, Aletheia, Warsaw 2013
Branislaw Malinowski, Crime and Custom in Savage Society , English – Albanian translation by Arsim Canolli: Krimi dhe doket ne shoqerine e eger, Cuneus, Prishtina 2013
Dieter Schenk, Krakauer Burg. Die Machtzentrale des Generalgouverneurs Hans Frank 1939-1945, German – Polish translation by Paweł Zarychta: Wawel jako ośrodek władzy generalnego gubernatora Hansa Franka w latach 1939-1945, Wysoki zamek, Cracow 2013
Virginia Woolf, Orlando, English – Bulgarian translation by Iglika Vassileva: Orlando, Colibri, Sofia 2013
Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, English – Serbian translation by Lazar Macura: Izlet na pucinu, Službeni glasnik, Belgrade 2013
Books published with CEEBP support in 2012, received in 2013
Boris Eikhenbaum, Kak sdjelana shiniel Gogol’a, and other essays (How Gogol’s Overcoat Was Made; selection of twenty four essays). Russian – Czech translation by Hana Kosáková: Jak je udělán Gogolův plášť, Triáda, Prague 2012
György Konrád, Hangulatjelentés. Válogatott esszék, 1978 – 2011 (Essays), Hungarian – Serbian translation by Arpad Vicko: Izveštaj o stanju duha, Arhipelag, Belgrade 2012
Leonid Marakov, Minsk, Golovnaja ulica (Minsk, Main Street; original publication), Minsk, 2012
Joseph Nye, The Future of Power, English – Serbian translation by Alen Bešić and Igor Cvijanović: Budoćnost moći, Arhipelag, Belgrade 2012
Hagen Schulze, Staat und Nation in der Europäischen Geschichte, German – Polish translation by Dorota Lachowska: Państwo i naród w dziejach Europy, Warsaw University Press, Warsaw 2012
For a list of all books published with CEEBP support see under BOOKS
- Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Kultur