Tuesday, October 12, 2010

India at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 - Report for IANS. Published in The Tribune and Other Media.

Frankfurt Book Fair will never be the same again. This is no doomsday call. Well, almost not, but any regular to the most important book fair of the world will tell you that the characteristic buzz of the fair is weaning away, and the change, this time, seems irreversible. Technology is taking over in a big way and 3-D book converters and interactive pen devices are catching the fancy of book publishers. ‘Apps’ seems to be the magic word and the book, as we know it, is ready to reinvent itself as a multi-dimensional experience. This, coupled with the international slow-down and currency wars has ensured Frankfurt was leaner, though thankfully, not necessarily meaner.

A little away and a little spaced out in time from the centre of all this, which happens to be the international hall, where a handful of Indian publishers like yours truly dwell for six days annually, is the Indian hall. The ambience there reflected the tendency of Indian publishers to resist change, though we did have publishers like DC Books who were showcasing Wink, their new e-book reader and Karadi Tales, who are planning digital downloads of their audio-books, trying to keep pace with technology. Under such circumstances, a session on the success of mythological fiction from India seemed awkward to me, but not to the Western world still smitten by the land of snake-charmers and chillums. As the Swiss agent who represents us said, ‘We, in Europe, want to read books which have the flavour and mystique of India.’ And I thought we were trying to break the stereotypes and showcase the new India to the world. Well, I guess, it is not just the Indian publishers who resist change.

The German Book Office (GBO), Delhi did a praise-worthy job in organizing events—from matchmaking sessions with publishers of the guest country Argentina and the art book publishers of Germany, to guided tour of the German children’s book publishers, to book launches with authors like Bulbul Sharma and Mita Kapur—it was quite an eclectic mix of business and pleasure. It also organized an India-special pull-out with Publishing Perspectives, a trade journal that has a show-daily edition. Akshay Pathak, the director of GBO, Delhi was upbeat on the Indian participation and the enthusiastic response to his endeavours.

More in keeping with the concept of ‘New India’, it was the STM publishers, known so, as they represent the fields of Science-Technology-Management which accounted for the largest representation from India this year. Eighteen such publishers, including the likes of Jaypee Brothers and NCBA Exports represented India in the special hall assigned for STM publishers from across the world. So from children’s book publishers like Navneet to specialized publishers on Islamic books like Goodword Books; from the legendary UBS Exports to printers like Gopsons and from education publishers like Vikas Publishing to the Central Reference Library of Kolkata, the Indian representation at the Frankfurt Book Fair seemed to be as diverse as the country itself. Quite unlike the un-diverse and cultish cuisine preference of Indian publishers—they flock the Indian restaurants all the time.

Did you say resistance to change? I didn’t!