Claudia Kaiser, Vice President, Frankfurt Book Fair, In an exclusive interview with FrontList

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Claudia Kaiser was trained as a bookseller and has an MA degree in Chinese Studies. She lived in China for more than 10 years, as an editor for China Foreign Literature Publishing House, started an agency and, in 1998, set up the German Book Information Centre by Frankfurt Book Fair in Beijing, and was its first director.

She moved on to United Nations Publishing in New York (External Publications Officer, in charge of rights and sales).
She has been in the senior management (Vice President) of Frankfurt Book Fair since 2003, in different positions: head of international department, General Manager of KITAB (Abu Dhabi International Book Fair), head of Cape Town Book Fair, just to mention a few.
As Vice President Business Development of Frankfurt Book Fair she presently looks into the South East Asian markets and South Asia, Arab World and Africa.

Frankfurt Book Fair participated as the International guest in World Book Fair 2020. We have asked a few questions about the experience of the World Book Fair 2020 and some insights into the publishing industry.

Q. Have you visited the World Book Fair before?

Yes, many times. Since 2004 almost every year.

Q. How are you liking it? How has it changed?

Yes, it has changed some, especially with the construction work going on. To my mind, it is very important in terms of providing books at discounted prices for the general public. This is a very important role that the book fair is playing.

Q. Why India? What are your reasons for being here?

After India was the Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair for the second time, in 2006, Frankfurt Book Fair opened an office in India in 2008: the German Book Office. Its goals are, amongst others, to promote exchange in publishing between India and Germany and the world, and to facilitate exchange in the cultural field. Therefore we are present here always and also participate in the NDWBF every year.

Q. How supportive have been the government/authorities here?

We do our own stand, but we, of course, depend on the support of the organisers, it works fine!

Q. What kind of response you are getting from the World Book Fair?

We showcase German books and we would like to introduce German books to Indian publishers which could be translated into the Indian languages. As I said, the fair is more important for the general public and the publishers want to sell their books. Therefore, in the past few years, we don’t see so many publishers anymore, but more and more authors who are interested in getting published. And we more and more promote our books to readers who are interested in German books and work with booksellers who sell these books. We don’t sell, we only exhibit and promote.

Q. Has it met your expectations?

Yes, as we have adjusted our expectations, according to the wishes of the visitors.

Q. What else do you think should be part of this fair?

We would appreciate more publishers at the fair who are interested in buying rights. So that activities to this end would be much appreciated and the rights trading would be enhanced.

Q. Tell us what you would like to see the next time you visit the World Book Fair?

A professional programme and more interest in buying rights.

Q. How do you see the publishing business at a global level?

The global publishing industry faces many challenges, and probably the most important one is that the consumer has so many more choices in spending their spare time: While years ago, you had to go to the cinema to watch a film, and books were the main source of entertainment, this has completely changed: OTT services compete for the consumer’s time, like Netflix and other platforms, Wattpad offers a lot of content to interested readers, a lot of information and entertainment content is available for free on the internet. Books, especially if they are literary titles, therefore face a lot of challenges, and the publishers have to find ways of winning back the reader’s attention and interest – and their willingness to spend money on books or other formats of curated content. In the education sector, there is also a lot of competition as the content is more often delivered digitally, and – in their spare time – students increasingly use Youtube to learn or study about something, and less and less use books. These developments are mirrored in the turnover of the publishing industries worldwide: they are not growing. There is a lot to do!

Q. What is the future of the publishing industry and how you see India
play a role?

To my mind, books are “evergreens”. I don’t think that books will cease to exist, not at all. But publisher’s roles are changing and they need to spread and distribute the content they manage, in different ways and across different channels. India is a young country in terms of the average age of the population. Therefore India plays a very important role in the future of publishing – and I hope this is obvious to everyone and that publishers are aware of it and are adjusting their strategies. India is a very fragmented market when it comes to publishing. I think it would be great if publishers would unite more to face the challenges and develop strategies together.

Q. How are you collaborating in India?

Frankfurt Book Fair is the world’s largest meeting point for the publishing and adjacent industries worldwide, and we are aiming to bring more publishers and content providers from India to this international network in Frankfurt. To achieve this, we work with organisations like National Book Trust and many others. At the same time, we look to enhance the international exchange in the publishing world and work with partners to achieve this, like the Max Mueller Bhawan, Sahitya Academy and many others.

Q. How do you see the Indian market for the business?

In terms of language, the English speaking publishers are more successful in India as the need for English language books and material is huge. German is a difficult language that is not so common to learn and we do not have so many translators from German into Indian languages. Seagull has built a German list and has utilized the translation funding that is available from German institutions, esp. the Max Mueller Bhawan. We hope to create more interest in German books and content in the future. All in all, the Indian market offers a lot of potentials, but also a lot of challenges, i.e. the piracy issues. But if these issues can be tackled, there is a lot of business to be done.

Q. What potential it has for your business?

As mentioned, the Frankfurt Book Fair is THE place to be when it comes to international publishing and content and the whole value chain in publishing. I see that many more players in India could use our platform to grow their businesses, so we see the good potential. FBM is a platform for all sorts of content: we offer opportunities for film producers, for companies active in the Gourmet space, a show kitchen where Chefs can introduce their latest recipes and promote their corresponding books, an area for innovative projects in the Art and Technology field, and much more. Our visitors are the high-end middle class who are very interested in what is happening in the world, esp. in culture and literature, but also travel, gastronomy etc.

Q. Did you face any challenges while stepping into the Indian market?

We are setting up platforms for exchange and mutual learning. And we try to make them sustainable in that we charge very low participation fees. But we see that the publishing industry is reluctant to contribute, when it comes to fees, for many different reasons. There are so much free content and free learning and exchange opportunities in the market – that is a challenge for us.

Q. How you see the future of the publishing industry in this digital era?

For publishers, there are so many new opportunities in the digital era, but of course also many challenges. To deliver one’s content to different platforms is a huge opportunity, and therefore it is important to secure the respective rights. However, things like piracy are a big challenge and issue.

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