The Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF), the most important event in the publishing world, will take place on Oct. 11-15. It is considered the world’s largest in terms of the number of publishing companies represented and the number of visitors. The first three days are limited to trade visitors, and the last two are open to the public (and, yes, cosplayers, whom you see even in the early morning trains) for a fee.
Two weeks ago we had a highly successful Manila International Book Fair, with unprecedented crowds that not even the two floors of the SMX could contain. The crowds were so large that on one afternoon, security personnel had to enforce a no-admission policy, a book launch had to be canceled because of an unruly fan following of the celebrity author, and student readers had to patiently sit waiting outside the exhibition doors. Many friends, who would usually risk all for books, were discouraged by the long queues just to gain entry. But, in a country complaining about readership, wasn’t that a wonderful problem to have?
The FBF began as far back as 1454—soon after Johannes Gutenberg developed printing in movable letters in Mainz near Frankfurt—when a local group began to sell books. Earlier, it was manuscripts being sold. The FBF is not a consumer’s book fair but a marketplace for book rights and cultural exchange among countries worldwide. It is housed in several buildings, and one is always given the practical advice to come in one’s most comfortable walking shoes and to take advantage of the available shuttles from hall to hall. There was a year when motorized trikes were a mode of transport.
How does the Philippines, with the challenges in its industry ranking it at the bottom of countries in the Asia-Pacific in terms of book production, make its presence felt in the international market?
In the past, the National Book Development Board (NBDB) never dared participate because its limited budget did not allow a consistent yearly presence at the FBF. The Philippines was sporadically present—in 1998, 1999, and 2000. There was a hiatus for 14 years, and although some publishers were in regular attendance, they occupied separate stands, rather than a country stand.
A modest country stand rose again in 2015, thanks to subsidies from different publishers. In 2016 the NBDB sought the support of Sen. Loren Legarda to include the FBF in the agency’s official budget. This was a breakthrough because the NBDB could now pay for the design and construction of the stand in the hall alongside our Asean neighbors, the shipping of books, and other expenses that publishers used to pay for. Last year our visually attractive stand that captured the Philippine tropical sunshine proudly announced: “Books Philippines: A New Wave of Storytelling.” (Thanks, David Guerrero.) It was significant that we were chosen one of the countries in the Emerging Markets bloc, along with Poland, the Netherlands/Flanders, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Spain and Brazil.
We know that these initial forays to the FBF are but beginning steps to being noticed, being thought of, being seriously considered in the international market. But there are many signs that give us hope.
The Philippine Embassy in Berlin led by Ambassador Melita Sta. Maria-Thomeczek, Consul Ady Cruz and First Secretary Catherine Torres have always backed our continuing participation in the FBF. It was Consul Ady who first broached the idea of the NBDB taking the leap to decide to participate even before we made our first observation tour. Senator Legarda’s support is invaluable, as she says, “This is a good opportunity to showcase the world-class talents of our Filipino writers and the gems of Philippine literature.” And there is enough to show, with our delegation of 16 publishers and 28 individuals…
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.