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Books, more vibrant than ever

7 Noviembre - 2023
Feria del libro en Frankfurt, 2018

The Frankfurt Book Fair, held from 18 to 22 October, reached pre-pandemic levels, attracting over 100,000 professionals. However, beyond the great news about the high attendance, the creator and Director of the Master in Publishing at the UPF-BSM, Javier Aparicio Maydeu, says that success of the five-day event highlights the current strength of the traditional printed book sector, despite the ever-growing digital world that we now live in.

Certainly, the figures generated by this year’s Fair were really significant, both in terms of attendance at the event and the hotel occupancy rates in Frankfurt and the surrounding area, as well as the packed schedule of conferences and meetings with literary agents in the specially designated Agents’ Center, which were completely sold out, another indicator that the activity in the sector remains very strong.

As well as these promising indicators, Professor Aparicio added that, contrary to the predications of the prophets of doom not too long ago, printed books are not under threat from the digital world, with sales that are not just good but actually record-breaking. “According to the figures published Nielsen and GFK, the leading auditors in the sector, more books are being sold now than ever before, total revenues are growing, and there are more and more books being translated. In other words, the whole sector is on the rise, with the exception of one segment: e-books”, explained the Professor. This growth is also happening in children’s and young people’s literature, with the increase being even more marked in Spain than in the rest of the world.

The dangers of AI

Of course, there was a lot of discussion at the Fair about the technology that is all the rage right now, artificial intelligence, with warnings of the possible negative impacts that it could have on the publishing world. According to the Intellectual Property Act, the “author is whoever says they are” explained Javier Aparicio and, if they are then found to have plagiarized the work, they can face a double claim, with one from the plagiarized author and another from the publisher. “However, if an author is found to have used AI to create their work, the situation is still not fully regulated. There are publishing contracts that already specify this case and there is no relevant case law to refer to”. Still characterized by large grey areas, AI will certainly be a key topic in the future but, in general, it was seen as a threat to the classical concept of authorship.

The shadow of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

The only negative point at the Fair arose when politics and the global geopolitical situation got involved at the event, specifically the conflict between entre Israel and Palestine. The cancellation of the award due to be presented to the Palestinian author Adania Shibli raised a few suspicions that, according to Professor Aparicio, should have been avoided. “It is sad to have to talk about politics. This is a private book fair, an initiative of the Frankfurt Booksellers Association, and there is no place for politics here. Historically, the Fair has shown great courage, such as when it chose Catalonia as a guest country in 2007. With this in mind, it seems strange that the Fair has so clearly taken sides in the conflict, closing ranks in favor of Israel and falling in line with the policies of the German Government. We could argue that this is the first time that the Fair has buckled to the will of the political powers. It is a dangerous and complex precedent that could change the very nature of the Fair”.

Nevertheless, we should focus on the positive points, such as the high figures in terms of both attendance at the Fair and book sales in general and, as Javier Aparicio emphasized, the stronger profits of the printed over the digital sector. “First and foremost, a book is a format for presenting contents that has remained practically unchanged for five centuries, since Aldo Manuzio, and most research concludes that it is more beneficial to read on paper than on a screen. Secondly,  the Frankfurt Fair has shown that personal relationships are still essential in the publishing sector. Although the business side can be done by email, trust can only be built in person”, concluded the Professor.

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