New Zealand is Guest of Honour at Frankfurt in 2012 – how will it help us sell more books?

Frankfurt Book Fair is both the world’s biggest and most prestigious book fair, outweighing even the London Book Fair and BookExpo America for size and commercial importance.

For some years now Frankfurt has been running a Guest of Honour Program (GoH) (also known as the Country of Honour) where one nation’s book publishing industry is celebrated with a major focus on that nation and with a prime cultural display space for them to feature at the Fair.

In 2011, our profile has already been raised by three events at Frankfurt – a Press Conference to introduce New Zealand’s participation to German and international publishing media, with author Witi Ihimaera an impressive presence.

A special showing on New Zealand’s stand of our introductory video attracted more visitors to the area than at any previous Fair.



VIDEO: New Zealand's introductory video.

The final “handover” ceremony began with an Icelandic poet and CK Stead reading poetry of their respective countries after which the scroll of GoH countries was presented to us by Iceland.


IMAGE: Waiata performed at the media launch. Image courtesy of Alexander Heimann via MCH website.

We ended that event with a stirring haka.

IMAGE: New Zealand Project Director Tanea Heke receives the scroll from Halldor Gudmundsson, director of the Icelandic Guest of Honour Project team. Image courtesy of the Frankfurt Book Fair media archive.


The Guest of Honour is widely promoted in all of the Frankfurt collateral for the year preceding the event – New Zealand is already up there on the Frankfurt Book Fair website, which announces:

"Welcome to the Frankfurt Book Fair!
10 to 14 October 2012 - Guest of Honour New Zealand"

There are further benefits - Frankfurt Book Fair also promotes itself at many other major book fairs, and New Zealand’s new status will be a visible part of those promotions.

Tanea Heke, the ever-smiling and outgoing project director of NZ@Frankfurt 2012 was a big hit at the two events. Wearing her enthusiasm on her sleeve, she charmed audiences and even the most buttoned-up of German bureaucrats.

Bubbly by day, but thinking by night how Kiwis can match the Icelandic presence, three years in the planning where we only have one.


IMAGE: Tanea Heke speaks to the gathered audience as part of the ceremony that signalled the commencement of New Zealand's Guest of Honour period. Image courtesy of the Frankfurt Book Fair media archive.

“It is enormous and scary, but I stood in the Icelandic pavilion and visualised what I would like to see of New Zealand here next year, the scenery, the storytelling, what we can show German visitors of our country.”

Tanea’s experience of mounting the 2009 and 2011 New Zealand art shows at the Venice Biennale are great background for working in Europe. One thing she says is,

“We will keep it real. The New Zealand publishers did that when they introduced themselves on the stand – very pleasant people talking about their books and authors in an understated way, but with pride shining through.”

IMAGE: CK Stead is interviewed as part of the launch of New Zealand's Guest of Honour programme. Image courtesy of the Frankfurt Book Fair media archive.

Is being Frankfurt Guest of Honour worth doing? Undeniably.
For a start, there will be 81 million Germans alone leaning more about our authors, literature and culture in a wider sense. A quarter of a million local and overseas publishers visit the Fair.

This must surely offer a huge market for our literary identities in fiction of all genres and in non-fiction in terms of rights sales for Germany alone, but the exposure will also impact on European countries and others.

Will our being at Frankfurt next year sell more books here?
Possibly, in the long term. But hordes storming the bookstores from Kaitaia to Masterton, Blenheim, Timaru and Invercargill and 10 percent improvements to turnover are unlikely, short term.

What will it cost us and who is paying?
It is largely a government initiative – Ministry of Culture and Heritage are major funders, but New Zealand publishers will also support the initiative collectively and as individuals. Translation grants will make our books more accessible for the German market.

This year, 23 Kiwi publishers (some covering more than one imprint) attended the Fair.

They have already benefitted from the larger profile and most have increased their business opportunities as a result. The number of publishers is expected to at least double in 2012.


IMAGE: A scene from the Frankfurt Book Fair. Image courtesy of the Frankfurt Book Fair media archive.

Kevin Chapman, Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) president, has been representing Hachette and other publishers at Frankfurt for the last 25 years. He knows what success there can do for individual publishers, and believes the prominence the venture will give our whole industry is immeasurable.

“Being Guest of Honour at Frankfurt is a bold move, but the visibility it will give NZ publishing is enormous. We saw it happen for Iceland – by the end of the Fair the only thing causing delays in getting Icelandic books onto the German market was the shortage of translators!

“The Guest of Honour has such a huge impact that our profile will stay high for many years to come and will open extraordinary opportunities for New Zealand publishers to become established on the world market.

“Especially valuable will be the opening of new markets for our educational publishing, in which we are highly rated, as well as our literature and wider fiction and nonfiction books.”

If New Zealand has a more internationally-based publishing industry, it could also become financially stronger and more influential, and thus allow further development of New Zealand books both here and overseas.

Article written by Jillian Ewart, writer for The Read.