Leipzig Book Fair 2013
Leipzig Book Optimism

Leipzig Book Fair 2013; Photo: Leipziger Buchmesse 2013, Henning111 CC-BY

It was March again – and fair season in Leipzig. From 14 to 17 March 2013, there were numerous events at stands and reading stages on the fairgrounds and in the city. And much to discover.

Boring. Academic. An expression of arrogant high culture. These were the characteristics that authors like Maxim Biller associated with contemporary German literature in the 1990s. Biller prophesied nothing less than its demise. Not bought, not read, insignificant. In 2013 everything looks different. This year the Leipzig Book Fair radiates book optimism. Not only because of interesting material, national and international. Also about the book itself, for the book is still an important cultural asset and economic factor, as the President of the Association of German Booksellers, Gottfried Honnefelder, confidently affirmed at the fair opening in the Gewandhaus. And yet for all the optimism there is still concern: Amazon, the foe of the stationary bookshop and varied content. Not least in response to this danger, the campaign Watch Out! Book! was launched at the start of the reading fair, a campaign championing books and local booksellers. For books can change the world, said Honnefelder; they educate and inform. And this should be brought across to people.

The fair and its winners

An example of the informative office of the book is Michael Bogdal’s Europa erfindet die Zigeuner. Eine Geschichte von Faszination und Verachtung(i.e., Europe Invents the Gypsy. A history of fascination and contempt), which was awarded the Book Prize for European Understanding on the opening day. Feridun Zaimoglu delivered the laudation in his accustomed fiery, energetic, passionate and vivid manner. Bogdal gave visual expression of his appreciation of the encomium by blowing a kiss. Other authors also received awards in the course of the fair. For example, David Wagner, who was given the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the category of fiction for his book Leben (i.e., Life). And Helmut Böttiger could also be pleased with the award in the category of non-fiction for his work on Group 47. Böttiger never succumbed, said Lothar Müller in his laudation, to the abundance of anecdotal material.

Leipzig discoveries – boldly into the future

For the 168,000 visitors there was more to discover than only the prize winners. For instance, Metrolit Publishers, which mixed with the other new publishing houses at its own stand. What sort of publisher optimistically embarks on the book market in 2013 with eighteen new releases? Thorsten Schulte, who is responsible for Metrolit’s non-fiction programme, put it in this way: “For me, Metrolit is a magnifying glass that focuses trend and pop, relevance and entertainment”. Metrolit celebrates pop and extols niches. And this not only by means of published books, which are divided into the categories of fiction, graphic novel special books and non-fiction. The books and the traditional publisher’s preview are also accompanied by a magazine of fifty-two pages that puts across the publishing house’s philosophy in effective journalistic form.

In the series of programmes entitled tranzyt. Literature from Poland, the Ukraine and Belarus at international Hall 4, visitors could attend exciting discussion about feminism in Eastern Europe, avant-garde magazines and censorship, and theatre traditions in Poland its neighbouring countries – the range was broad. Next year Poland, the Ukraine and Belarus will again be the focus; the year after that the programme will have a new theme.

What are the threats?

At the end of the fair, there remained only one question. Everyone agreed about the danger posed by the monopolist Amazon. And so by the concomitant alarming advance of e-books in Amazon format. But why was no one talking about flat rate models? The start-up company skoobe now offers a book lending flat rate of ten euros per month for mobile devices running iOS and Android operating systems. Up to five books can be loaned simultaneously, they are always available, can be kept for as long as you like.

Doesn’t a great danger for the book market and the stationary book trade also lurk in these models – similar to music streaming services like Spotify, Rdio or Simfy? Perhaps this will be the theme of next year’s fair.