Looking back on the Leipzig Book Fair

[caption id="attachment_1190" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The main hall at the 2012 Leipzig Book Fair"][/caption]

Last week, I was in Germany for its second biggest celebration of literature, the Leipzig Book Fair courtesy of the Goethe Institute’s Visitor’s programme.  It was an amazing 4-day experience meeting with other invitees from around the world and mingling with the 50,000 visitors. We shared ideas and experiences about all things books from our different locations.

I met Shahla Lahiji who runs a feminist press in Iran. She’s probably the bravest person I’ve ever met, publishing despite several arrests and near-constant surveillance by the country’s police. She keeps afloat by a subscription model. Now, we have been talking a lot here at CRP about moving to a subscription mode and somehow converting our over 25,000 data members to becoming subscribers. Meeting Shahla was an inspiration not only because of her personal story but because it made me realise that we need to revisit that conversation again.

I also met Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House Press whose blog, Moby Lives, I have been following for quite a while. We talked about Amazon and it’s predatory tactics towards publishers and other creative content providers. The more I think about it, the more I think publishers on the continent are in a unique position – we don’t have to go the Amazon route. In fact, our books can get lost in the Amazon jungle.  We have the opportunity to build an e-commerce platform that is not mediated through Amazon’s cut-throat pricing scheme.

Much of the event – from the program to the lectures, discussions and talks – was in German. Fair director, Oliver Zillie explained that since 90% of the attendants to the fair were German-speaking, there had never been much need to cater to speakers of other languages. However, he noted that with the fair becoming a growing tourist attraction, there would be more of an effort to cater for foreign audiences going forward.

A young visitor dressed as the Queen of Hearts at the 2012 Leipzig Book Fair.Still, there was so much to see. The venue was four huge halls, plus a conference centre and a glass-covered mezzanine linking everything together. Each hall was packed with publishers, bookshops, author’s stalls and all sorts of companies related to books. The fair even features an Antiquarian Book Market where buyers and sellers have been trading antique books and manuscripts for hundreds of years.

But what really caught my attention were the hordes of young Cosplayers everywhere. Cosplay is a phenomenon borrowed from Japan where fans of Japanese Anime (cartoons) and Manga (comics) get together and dress up as their favourite characters. They hold contests to judge the best costume as well as the best personification of the character.

The popularity of Anime and Manga has been steadily growing in Germany for the last 10 years, according to Sebastian Oehler of Reprodukt, a graphic novel publisher. There are even German artists producing comic books in the distinctive Anime style.

This event drew hundreds of young people and made me wonder if there wasn’t a similar vein waiting to be tapped in Nigeria. Would African youngsters respond to the wildly fantastic narratives, the bright colours and simplistic characters that characterize Japanese animation? It would be an interesting experiment.

I despair when I meet young people who tell me that they don’t read – and have no interest in books. Twenty percent of Germans don’t read at all, according to Christine Kranz, manager of a youth reading programme. While it was a source of concern for her, to me it meant that 80% of the German public do read. And attending the fair and seeing so many people who love books in all its forms was an amazing inspiration for me.

You can see my pictures at our Facebook page here.


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