Frankfurt's book bonus

Story by ROB STOCK - Sunday Star Times - 05/08/2012

The publishing industry in New Zealand is anticipating a multi-year economic gain from its guest of honour status at the world's largest book fair. But the president of the Book Publishers Association is frustrated Kiwis haven't cottoned on to the magnitude of the opportunity.
It's been a tough few years for New Zealand publishing, so being named guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in a two-horse race with Australia has brought welcome excitement. But association president Kevin Chapman said the New Zealand media and public don't seem to understand what a marvellous showcase it is for the country.
The last few years has seen publishers facing up to competition from online booksellers unencumbered by GST such as Amazon, the rise of ebooks, and a drop-off in book-buying. Also they have had to absorb bad debts from the collapse of Red Group, the former owner of Whitcoulls.
Despite the challenges, Chapman said the industry remains in good health, and in the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair ran a measuring tape to gauge the industry's size and success in preparation to front the German press.
It was a task that was easier said than done.
The association estimates annual total book sales to New Zealanders to be running at about $350 million, but that is an estimate because giant retailer Whitcoulls, now owned by the Norman family, keeps its sales close to its chest and many books are imported via the likes of Amazon and the Book Depository, which also do not share their figures, though Kiwi online retailer Fishpond does.
Similarly, there are no comprehensive figures on how much foreign earnings the publishing industry generates for New Zealand, though the export value of books and rights is probably in the vicinity of $100m, Chapman says. Last year alone, the rights to an estimated 600 titles were sold abroad.
It's a number the industry feels pretty good about, Chapman said, but the Frankfurt Book Fair, which runs for five days from October 10 to October 14, offers the chance for a multi-year improvement on that.
About 60 New Zealand authors will be heading to the show, and Chapman is hoping that the spotlight in Germany will result in greater notice of Kiwi talent from surrounding nations and set up a ripple effect that will be felt for a few years.
But he says it is wrong to think of the book fair as being a purely literary event, especially for the guest of honour.
"One of the challenges has been to get New Zealanders to understand this is not just a book industry show," Chapman (left) said.
Not only is the show one of Europe's biggest cultural events, it is now a place where books and film meet, and for the guest of honour it goes wider than that.
New Zealand is using it as a platform to demonstrate its talents in a number of areas including film, tourism, performing arts, as well as wine and food. The country will have a prominent place at other festivals, which are being colonised as part of a programme of events to capitalise on the book fair.
In August, New Zealand will have booked out about 100 metres of the food and stage strip running along the embankment of Frankfurt's river Main as part of its annual museum festival, said Chapman. It'll also have a big presence in film festivals in Berlin, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt.
Germans have something of an idealised view of this country, Chapman said.
It seems a place where Germans imagine they could come and kick back, and that space New Zealand fills in the German collective psyche was a big part of why it is this year's guest of honour.
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