Jürgen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Oliver Zille, director of the Leipzig Book Fair, and Benedikt Föger from the Buch Wien book fair met as part of the Professional Forum to discuss the joys and hardships of book fairs in today's world of books.
The Three Book Magi at One Table
"My legs are shaking because I am joined here by three aces, three directors of major European book fairs," the Book World Prague director Radovan Auer said with a smile at the start of the debate, and added that listening to their experiences will be a great lesson for him.
"Until now no one succeeded in bringing the three of us together like this," Oliver Zille laughed. At the start of the debate each of the guests briefly presented "his" book fair, its history and current direction. All the directors agreed that instead of competing against one another, their book fairs co-operate, share experiences, expand on each other's efforts. "We haven't come to Prague because we had to either. We came out of friendship," Jürgen Boos said. "The Frankfurt book fair likes to support other book fairs and many organisers have learned from us in the past. We focus on developing book centres worldwide, including, for example, Latin America. We are happy when our experience helps the book market grow," he added.
"When the Leipzig book fair was catching a new breath after 1990, I went to all the major book fairs around the world and in each place I chose something that would fit us and our circumstances. Everywhere people gladly offered their advice. The book fair in Frankfurt, with its exceptionally longstanding tradition, provided us with much inspiration. Since those days we co-operate, meet and design our book fairs in such a way that they do not compete but rather complement one another," Oliver Zille explained.
"We are a young book fair, only celebrating our 10th anniversary now, and book fairs such as Leipzig or Frankfurt were our role models. It was thanks to them and their experiences that we have grown so fast, and from a small book exhibition at the Viennese City Hall we became a book fair boasting fifty thousand visitors," said Benedikt Föger from Vienna. "Each book fair has its unique character, representing an important part of a country's culture, its international identity, which is why it must be approached very responsibly," Jürgen Boos outlined the role of book fairs in today's society.
All the three gentlemen agreed that a book fair's main task is not to sell books, but to introduce and spread information about authors, to motivate more people to read and to facilitate meetings between publishers and enable them to share their professional experiences. "Our book fair is no longer only about books, it is a major social event that reaches out to the entire city and influences it. A truly fine thing has been created," Benedikt Föger agreed. The issue of politics as a backdrop to book fairs also came up. "Yes, our book fair also acts as a political platform," Jürgen Boos admitted. "Books have a strong political emphasis and that is why politics are closely connected with the book fair. It has a significant social and cultural aspect, for example in terms of the choice of the main guest countries. Among others, we presented China or the Catalan culture, countries in which political subtext can immediately be sensed," Jürgen Boos added.
"Books often deal with the current situation and literature influences both the way people feel and the events themselves, which means the connection between books and politics is quite natural," Oliver Zille joined the debate. "Yes, we too feel a strong political background and we do address social and political topics," Benedikt Föger agreed. At the close of the discussion questions were asked regarding book pricing and the position of small publishers at large book fairs, whereupon all the three directors outlined their plans for the future. "We look for new ideas, react to changes in the field of copyright, develop the areas of audiobooks and new media. We must go along with the times, which are developing fast. We focus on young people, create new platforms and develop an international network," Jürgen Boos said. Similar visions were presented by Oliver Zille and Benedikt Föger. All the guests agreed that the role of book fairs will become even more important in the future and that they are turning into increasingly influential cultural events, setting the pace of social affairs.