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Terms of Engagement: Of Frankfurt and Facebook

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Florrie Binford Kichler


Terms of Engagement: Of Frankfurt and Facebook

For more than five years, our IBPA home at the Frankfurt Book Fair has been a small basement apartment in the three-generation house of the Abraham family. Although the commute to the convention center is long (a quarter-mile walk, one streetcar, and two trains), the cost is about 75 percent less per night than the average hotel in Frankfurt, and for a show that lasts six days, that is a significant saving. Sure, the convenience of a standard hotel might have trumped the expense, and I’ll be the first to say that by the end of six days straight of 10-hour workdays, cutting down on transportation time was looking more and more appealing.

But would a hotel proprietor have met us at the door with a big smile, an embrace, and a “Welcome back,” as Krista Abraham did when Lisa and I arrived?

Would a hotel have stocked the apartment kitchen with water, fruit, bread, cold meat and cheese, coffee, tea, orange juice, eggs, and my new personal favorite, Nutella (which is great on toast)?

Would a hotel have invited us to enjoy liquid refreshment with the owner’s family?

Would a hotel have offered to drive us to the airport in the owner’s personal car?

Would a hotel have hugged us good-bye?

In an era where online friends outnumber personal friends 10 to 1, and email and text messaging have replaced facetime as the preferred method of communication, this kind of person-to-person engagement stands out. “Engagement,” according to my dictionary, is “establishing a meaningful contact or connection with, to occupy, attract or involve.” Establishing a connection is easy today—making it meaningful requires a bit more effort, and often that effort means showing up.

A case in point is the Frankfurt Book Fair. Certainly the digital world occupied much time and loomed large in discussions and programs. But the business of the fair, as it has been for the past 60 years, was foreign rights, and IBPA represented 155 titles from our members during more than 50 meetings with buyers from 25 different countries.

Person-to-Person Pluses

A typical appointment took place in our booth, lasted for 20 to 45 minutes, and began with introductions, an offer of coffee or water, and a business card exchange. Then the buyers let us know the specific genres they were interested in, and we presented the titles in those categories.

Through the years of attending foreign shows, IBPA has built relationships with many foreign-rights professionals—they keep returning to us because they have discovered they will find high-quality books, and they trust that we will show them the titles that will best meet their needs. By the same token, we trust that they will treat our publishers professionally and ethically in any foreign-rights negotiations.

Of course, we do business in this country every day with people we don’t know—and we accomplish that business online, and sometimes even the old-fashioned way: on the phone. For speed and efficiency, email and texting win hands down. What I learned in Frankfurt is that often lasting engagement begins with a handshake, a bow, a question about the buyer’s home country, and offering cream and sugar in coffee. Tough to do that in an email.

No doubt, the expense of travel precludes personal meetings with rights buyers from China for most of us. That’s where IBPA comes in—we represent your books abroad (and at home) in person, and the value added is the human capital your board and staff have built through the years, one appointment at a time.

For Easier Engagement

Through our 20-plus affiliate groups and our educational and marketing programs, IBPA provides opportunities for you to network with other publishers in person, without crossing the ocean, and often without leaving town. And we network on your behalf with vendors and strategic partners. Certainly the value of that interaction will only increase as online communication continues to explode.

But we recognize that geography, time, and money have often been barriers that prevented you from connecting with one another—and your association.

Not any more.

By the time you read this, you will already have had the opportunity to read and comment on my IBPA blog and follow me on Twitter (username “ibpa”). IBPA Facebook and LinkedIn presences, with opportunities for discussion of all aspects of publishing, are on the way, and a member wiki is in the works. Our new e-newsletter will feature more news about you–your new titles, your awards, your achievements. Watch your email for specific announcements as we go live.

Marshall McLuhan, the famous media prophet, said, “The medium is the message.” The lesson of Frankfurt and Facebook is that the medium doesn’t matter nearly as much as the message does. Whether we engage with and learn from one another in person or in pixels, what matters most is that we do connect, in as many ways as we can, using whatever means we can. On behalf of IBPA, I pledge to make that happen for you, our members.

Make it personal! Please let me know how IBPA can serve you better. Call me at 317/577-1321, email florrie@ibpa-online.org, or introduce yourself when you see me.—Florrie Kichler



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