"Mature business" is the euphemism. With growths that, when they exist, do not reach 2% in their territories (the sector in Spain billed 0.1% more in 2017 than the previous year), US and European publishers are desperate to find new markets. And these are in emerging areas in Africa, Southeast Asia and, with ups and downs and particular casuistic, Latin America. In case the challenge is not of great importance, a shadow does not stop growing: the increase of populism. All this was palpable yesterday at the opening of the 70th edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest in the world, whose official opening conjured up its fears with the election of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
With the exception of China, the major book markets (USA, Germany, France, Great Britain and Japan) have been deflated since 2008. Earlier this year, Germans, readers where they were, numbered six million buyers of books that have disappeared between 2012 and 2016, reducing potential stakeholders to just over 30 million.
In this context, the fair has quickly rectified its course: in a decade, it has mutated the figures and now 65% of the almost 7,300 exhibitors from 102 countries present this year come from outside Germany. In this line, for the first time the fair hosts a specific program on the African book market. And like everything here, in a big way: a score of activities and 34 stamps and dozens of writers from 19 countries, from Angola or Ethiopia, to Cape Verde. There is no small market.
But for economic potential, that of Southeast Asia, which in turn will have another specific forum. They are, the western publishers calculate, a dozen countries, with a potential audience of 600 million people. True: there is no great demand for electronic books and the implementation of audiobooks is low (piracy hurts), but the population is very young, technology interests them and the hunger to learn and improve their socioeconomic status is unstoppable.
At the head of all is the decision, this week, of the Penguin Random House group to open Penguin Books Singapore, with clear objectives: head of bridge of the fourth world group (under the umbrella of Bertelsmann) and publication of 50 titles a year, also with local authors. It joins the purchase, in June, of Hind Pocket Books, a veteran and prestigious Indian label. To nail the nail, chance or not, Kuala Lumpur has been chosen by UNESCO as the world's book capital in 2020. "It is very important to hear other voices; we must invest as an industry so that these voices are accessible ", said the president and director of the Frankfurt Fair, Juergen Boos, tacitly mixing culture and human rights with business.
Various debates will focus on freedom of expression, especially in Europe, at a fair in Georgia to his country invited (33 letters in his alphabet and Medea as the first original literary character, but occupied 20% by Russia, as claimed by the delegation).
Boos's speech could not find a better interlocutor than Adichie. The author of Americanah or Everyone should be feminist she began relativizing with sensitivity her activist role ("I'm not because I come from a country where being is putting your life in danger"), mixing her biography with commitment ("I liked going to church as a little girl until they changed the priest and he started messing with the women and their clothes, treating us as a body, not as people ") and getting wet:" As a writer, I am committed to art; as a citizen, with truth and justice. "
The 70th anniversary of the fair coincides with the same anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN. Boos said that "here we must allow debate; it is part of our DNA. " The business is also in its DNA: the area of literary agents has grown to 528 tables (5% more), from 358 agencies around the world.