Writer and journalist Carole Cadwalladr reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair for The Guardian. And what she sees there ain’t pretty.
To put this in context: I find it amazing that the Fair has over 300,000 visitors, and it’s about books. The Genoa International Boat Show had about the same number, but a tiny percentage were the superrich who could actually afford the boats on show there, and all the others were, well, ogling the same boats with wishful longing. The Milan International Furniture Fair this spring had about 200,000 visitors – and keep in mind that everybody needs furniture, while not everybody needs books; on the contrary, hardly anybody does. So why do 300,000 people get so excited about a book fair?
The book publishing industry, while retaining some glamour (and definitely not on par with huge sailboats or design kitchens), is at the end of the day quite a small industry – and it’s strangled in cheap and abundant supply. The work of agents and publishers is to stem the huge tide of supply for which there is no demand; top agents do not read unsolicited manuscripts, and publishers tellingly refer to such manuscripts as the “slush pile”. “You look around and you think the world needs another book like it needs a hole in the head”, says an agent in Cadwalladr’s article. To be a writer, says an editor, is “a sort of mental derangement”. Perhaps some day the heroes of the publishing world will be the people who drum up demand for books, rather than trying to contain supply: not the marketers, but the teachers or parents who show their kids the joy of reading.
In the meantime, if you’ve got a book inside you, it’s not a bad idea to keep it there.