A Dispatch from Frankfurt

What do you get when you put together 7,000 exhibitors, spread over 5 buildings, with over 100 acres of space, and over 250,000 visitors? You have the Frankfurter Buchmesse the world’s largest book fair, which took place last week in Frankfurt, Germany.

Besides showcasing their best work, the Fair is THE place to go if you want to sell foreign translation rights for your works. With that in mind, I went. And being a great lover of books, this was a part of my job that I was more than glad to do.

The Fair buildings are so vast that it takes nearly 15 minutes to walk from the front to back–nearly a kilometer.

IMG_6055There are signs showing the way, but it seems that you never seem to get there. We were located in Hall 8, the largest, which is English Language. Fortunately for me, there was also an S-Bahn (train) stop in the middle of the Fair Grounds. That saved my feet and lots of time.

 

IMG_6071Besides the thousands of small publishers, the big publishers were there, too. While Herald Press shared half of a 4 square booth, some, like Harper Collins, had one hundred times as much space, staffed with an army of rights negotiators.

 

IMG_6128Not to be intimidated, I enjoyed spending about 1/4 to 1/3 of my time walking the floor, seeing publishers from Asia, Europe and South America. The rest of the time I had meetings in our booth, with prospective publishers.

 

 

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There were massages to relieve the long and stressful hours of walking the exhibit hall floors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Germans had their own hall (it’s their fair, after all) and so there were many uniquely German sites there, like a painted Trabant, the icon of the former East Germany. Their hall was the most densely packed of all.

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I had lots of good contacts, lots of good leads, and made lots of new friends. While there may be some out there who worry about the future of publishing or the book industry, there wasn’t a hint of that this past week. We see a bright future ahead. And in the next year, we look forward to seeing a lot of new Herald Press titles published around the world!

~Russ Eanes

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Russ, from the Frankfurt book fair

Why are we investing in books?

Before I begin, I have to make a full disclosure: I’m a book-lover. I love the feel, the design and the texture of a well-designed and well-written book. As a child I had a box full of Golden Books; the only picture of me in a crib is one in which I am asleep with an open Childcraft book across my face.

My love of books is not the main reason why I believe that MennoMedia will hedge its best bets for the future on the book. Recently our staff worked on a strategic plan for the future and one thing we decided was that our trade book imprint—Herald Press—has a bright future. While there are many who doubt the sustainability of book publishing, recent signs in the industry indicate that it is not dying, but thriving. Just four years ago many were predicting that the digitization of all media—and the creation of eBooks in particular—would lead to the death of the book publishing industry, much the same way that the music, film newspaper, magazine and television industries have been turned upside down. However, most would be shocked to know that between 2008 and 2013, total annual revenues in the publishing industry have increased 13%.

It’s true that these total revenues have included new technology—eBooks in particular—but traditional printed-on-paper books have only declined modestly, indicating that predictions of the death of the printed book were premature.

Recently I came across an article in the New Republic that has explained the enduring value of the book, and why it seems to be enduring while other media are sharply declining. To put it briefly, a book is still something considered valuable by consumers. Books have resisted something called “disaggregation,” a phenomenon plaguing the music industry. [Think here about the difference between iTunes and the traditional album.] Disaggregation means that consumers are now about to pick and choose the music they want, one song at a time, for a relatively low price. Sales for the “whole” or the traditional album, have declined.

The film industry, in contrast, has suffered from “aggregation” or the bundling of content, such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, where the consumer pays a monthly flat rate for access to content numbering in the tens of thousands. Individual films now are devalued as they have become part of a massive “whole.”

The book, by contrast, whether digital or paper, still is a deal, in the eye of the public. People still see the value of the “whole” and are willing to pay for it all. Generally, you can’t break it apart in a way that increases its value and you can’t bundle them to increase value significantly, either.

For book lovers–and book buyers–like me, this is good news. As a publisher, this is also good news—even as the landscape still shifts—we still add “value,” in the public’s mind. And this is why it makes sense to place a bet on the future of book publishing.

~Russ Eanes

Russ Childcraft

Why I don’t Twitter

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
-Blaise Pascal, Pensées

I wonder what Pascal would have thought about Twitter. His Pensées or “thoughts,” many of which are in fact short enough to be tweets (140 characters maximum) were his religious and philosophical musings about the meaning of life and religion, a first draft of what was to become his own apologetic on the Christian faith. He died in 1662, seven years before they were published and printed on a press, using a process that had not changed much in the more than 200 years since Gutenberg invented the movable type printing.

Today they might have been only a drop in the ocean of the Information Age. I frequently muse to myself and others about our future in the age of the internet, social media and digital information.

I found out recently that Twitter has over 1 billion registered users worldwide, about 230 million of which are active. Approximately 500 million tweets are made per day; averaging 5,700 per second. Over 300 billion have been made since the first tweet was sent in March of 2006. Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and President Barack Obama all have more than 40 million followers; the top 25, with the exception of the President and YouTube, Instagram and Twitter itself, are all entertainers.

I don’t use twitter, but I am occasionally active on Facebook, though that tends to come in waves or bunches. I still can’t get over the idea that it feels like I’m only on it because I’m bored. It reminds me of its very early days—maybe 7 years ago—back when high school students still weren’t allowed to have Facebook pages—and they were using Myspace. My then-teenage children and some friends were sitting on our front porch, discussing whether it had any merits or virtues. One of the neighbor kids, probably 16, said—and I’ll never forget this—“yeah, I come home after school and go online right away. I’m looking to see who else doesn’t have a life.”

How times have changed. Now, not being on social media is almost akin to not having an existence. Not only are virtually all teens on some form of social media, but they are watching it all the time, in school or elsewhere. It pervades their existence. Even baby boomers, who came into social media in its second wave, have adopted it wholeheartedly. All this has happened rapidly and with minimal discernment as individuals, families and faith communities. The culture “happened to us” and we dived right in.

But to me the question still nags—do those people (including me) have a life? For publishing colleagues, I might as well not exist—if I don’t tweet.
My response, and what I am about to say is ironic given that my vocation includes working in publishing and media, is that I don’t, because there’s just too much information to process already. Theologian Walter Brueggemann said,

Our lives are occupied territory
Occupied by a cacophony of voices
And the din overwhelms us.

Often my hesitation to create more content (such as this blog posting) is that I hesitate to add to that “din.” Given my own sense of being overwhelmed, I also wonder if others are able to process, or ponder, what they “consume” each day through various media.
Not only are we deluged with information—or with ways of sharing it with each other—we’re having a harder and harder time just sitting “quietly in a room alone.” Along with our overdoses of screens and media, we are losing solitude, quiet and deep thought. Sitting quietly, using that time to read, think, meditate and pray, may be a dying faith discipline. How will we train and practice this discipline in an always-connected age?
Further, the digital age, which depends on electronic devices that become obsolete before they outlive their usefulness, also breeds a lack of a sense of permanence. This is somewhat paradoxical, given the fact that social media is at the same time so hard to delete.

One final thought, or pensée: As the amount of information available to us becomes virtually unlimited, it’s becoming less and less meaningful. Facebook alone stores 300 “petabytes” of information. A petabyte is one quadrillion bytes, a number so large as to be nearly inconceivable and thus, meaningless—except to marketers, who are able to measure, sort and process our digital lives into algorithms that target our personal consumption. In the midst of updating our Facebook status, are we able to ponder all the consequences of our digital age? In the future, how will we know what is most important to give our attention to? Will we be able sift through the din to see or hear what we need most? As people of faith, will we be able to discern as a community—not just as individuals—the most important questions confronting us? Or will we just sit back and wait to react to the latest tweet or status update?

~Russ Eanes

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