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International Insights: Online Book Fairs

International Insights: Online Book Fairs

For the next edition of the Alliance of Independent Authors International Insights hosted by Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard, we’re moving on to online book fairs. If you missed our introduction series to global book markets, you can read them here: Africa, India and China markets in Asia, the Middle East North Africa markets, the Ibero-America markets, the Asia-Pacific markets and the European markets, and also a special edition on the English-language markets. This is international insights: online book fairs.

Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard

This month it has been announced that Europe’s biggest book fair by visitor numbers has been rescheduled for 2021 as the pandemic continues to ravage the planet.  No, not Germany’s Frankfurt Book Fair but Spain’s Madrid Book Fair.

Frankfurt last year pulled in 380,000 visitors, making it the biggest trade event, but as the term suggests, most were industry professionals. A good place to be if we are looking for trade connections, but not the best place to connect with readers. For that we need to head to the hybrid trade-public or public-facing book fairs and festivals.

These events can attract booklovers in vast numbers. Bigger than Frankfurt? You bet. Try half a million visitors (Lisbon, Portugal; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco), or more than 1 million visitors (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Buenos Aries, Argentina) or even 2 million or more visitors (Tehran, Iran; Sharjah, UAE; Cairo, Egypt; Kolkata, India).

In fact the list is much, much longer, and the latter group includes the aforementioned Madrid Book Fair which usually takes place in summer, but this year got pushed back to October by the pandemic, and is now re-scheduled for 2021.

But, and this is where it gets really exciting for us indies, there will be an online “virtual Madrid book fair” to run the October dates (2-18).

Exciting because, while attending a book fair in person in Madrid or Buenos Aries, Riyadh or Mucat, Tehran, Cairo or Colombo, is totally impractical and prohibitively expensive for most of us, unless we happen to live there, when these events go online it means we can all play, whether trade events, hybrid, or public-facing.

And here’s where the excitement factor bumps up exponentially. Because whereas at an in-person event like, say, Rio or Algiers, Bangkok or Dhaka, Manila or New Delhi, the big focus is on selling print books to customers on the spot, many of whom may never have read or listened to an ebook or digital audiobook in their lives, every single participant at these virtual events will by definition be someone with a device that could be used to download digital books.

And similarly, if we’re looking for trade connections – a local publisher, agent or whatever – again what better place to connect that via an online literary event?

But there’s more than just maybe grabbing an agent or making a sale. There’s the all-important opportunity to get our author brand noticed and build long-term relationships that will pay back long after the online event is over. But first we need to connect. What follows are some suggestions and links by way of example of how we might get started. But do keep that in mind: this is about getting started. If you want easy, sign up to KDP Select. There are no quick-fix just-add-water miracle cures to building an online audience in faraway lands. But it can be done.

So treat the following examples – the Lima International Book Fair in Peru, the Nigerian International Book Fair and the South Africa Book Fair – as testing grounds to whet our appetites.

I choose these simply because they are either happening right now or will kick off in the next week or two, while this post is fresh in our minds. Take the 25th Feria Internacional del Libro de Lima (known as FIL Lima), which started online on August 21 and will finish on September 6.

Pretty much none of us would ever entertain the idea of flitting off to South America for a book fair – even one that in 2018 pulled in 565,000 visitors and sold books to the value of $5.5 million. And yes, we are talking about Peru, population 32 million. The great thing is, 22 million Peruvians are online, and so far the Lima virtual book fair has been pretty impressive, with activity across Facebook, twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

For those of us with Spanish-language titles this event is worth a closer look. You can find the website here and follow Fil Lima on Facebook (20 million people on Facebook in Peru), on Instagram and on twitter: @FilLima2020. No charge.

On September 1 through 7 we can join in with the Nigeria International Book Fair for eight days of mainly English-language online engagement at no charge. The NIBF doesn’t do twitter or Instagram, but is on Facebook (27 million Facebook users), and as we’re talking a country of 206 million people, 126 million of whom are online, this is worth thinking about for the long term.

And then there’s the South Africa Book Fair, which is also mainly in English. The SIBF runs four days from September 11 through 13 and will cost you R50 ($3) to access the full event. Facebook (21 million). Instagram. Twitter: @SABookFair. Of course there’s no charge for any of these if you limit yourself to social media engagement. And while it’s worth e-sitting in on the discussions and panels, social media is where we need to focus.

Take twitter and the South African Book Fair as the English-language example. This is a country of 59 million (comparable to Italy) with an online population of 32.6 million (comparable to Canada).

Begin by following the SIBF (@SABookFair), then check out the You Might Like column on the right and you’ll likely find any number of South African books-related twitter accounts. I‘m looking at the Johannesburg Book Club (@TheJoziBookClub) and when I click through to the twitter page sure enough the You Might Like column has been repopulated with more twitter accounts of a similar nature. For example the Emthonjoni Book Club (@emthonjenibooks). Click on show more and suddenly there’s whole world of South African authors, publishers, agents, booksellers, reader clubs, etc.

And of course every time we follow someone and click through to the twitter page, the You Might Like list changes, and if we’re not careful we’ll spend hours making new connections in a country we may well never have considered before as a place where books matter. And if that’s not enough, check out the Followed By and Followers lists for any of these accounts and click on those, to be presented with yet another couple of rabbit holes full of bookish connections, the majority of which will be to do with South Africa’s book scene.

Repeat for Facebook and Instagram. But of course just connecting is only the beginning. Make friends, engage, be sociable, and look to build long-term relationships. When we feel the time is right, then we can think about promotions. But where to sell? What to link to? Here it gets challenging, but as I’ve said before, if we want the easy life there’s always KDP Select. Being an international author comes with some built-in challenges.

First, bear in mind English is an official language but not the most spoken language in South Africa. English-language books dominate the publishing scene. Afrikaans too. But do give a thought to translations into indigenous languages like Tshivenda, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, etc as we explore this amazing country.

Selling ebooks in South Africa? Well, there’s no Kindle ZA store and no Apple Books ZA store, but South Africans can buy from the Amazon US store (sales will show up as US sales). Google Play is there. So is Kobo, and in fact Kobo has a localised presence through the biggest South African bookstore chain Exclusives. Takealot also sells ebooks.

Do set local prices in rands where we can, and think about prices to get traction, not maximizing profit. Think about D2C and D2C-lite sales too. D2C being direct to customers via our own websites, blogs, Facebook pages or whatever. D2C-lite? This is a term I use for third-party sales through aggregator-provided sales platforms. See the ALLi note at the end of this post for examples.

Nigeria is a little more challenging, with no Amazon, Google Play or Apple, and Kobo only through the US store.

We should be careful not to alienate people and show our ignorance by promoting links to Amazon or Google Play or Apple when Nigerians have no easy access to these sites. D2C and D2C-lite is a good middle ground, and there are also local ebook stores like OkadaBooks, but my strong recommendation is, with no disrespect to Okada, that we should be wary of going direct with domestic outlets in unfamiliar countries because we could potentially face enormous difficulties sorting any problems that arise with, for example, royalty payments, removing titles when required, tracking sales, etc.

This is where our aggregators come in, and we should do all we can to ensure our preferred aggregators know about all these outlets and that we are interested. But let them do the heavy lifting. Yes, we pay them a percentage or a fixed fee, but they are far better able to look after our titles, our money and our best-interests in far-flung lands than we are.

Peru? No Kindle PE store either, but again Amazon US is at least an option here. So is Google Play and so is Apple, and of course so is Kobo. But there’s also subscription services like BajaLibros and Ubook, and local stores like the Peru Book Store.

In future editions of ALLi International Insights I’ll try keep a running list of online book events around the world as they arise, so bear in mind all the above, bar the linked stores of course, applies to any country or region we might choose to target, and should be seen as a template for starting out and gaining traction in these markets, not a road to instant riches. We have to earn our audience.

International Online Book Fairs

Finally, here’s some up-and-coming international book events to be thinking about for online engagement. And remember, much of what has been discussed here also applies to in-person events.

Aug 21-Sep 6 Lima International Book Fair online

Sep 1-7 Nigeria International Book Fair online

Sep 11-13 South Africa International Book Fair online

Oct 1-4 Big Bad Wolf Sri Lanka online

Oct 2-18 (Spain) Madrid Book Fair online

Oct 14-18 (Germany) Frankfurt Book Fair hybrid

Nov 04-14 (UAE) Sharjah International Book Fair in-person

Nov 24-30 (Philippines) Manila International Book Fair online

ALLi notes:

Amazon is available direct via KDP or through most aggregators (except Smashwords). Apple is available direct or via most aggregators. Kobo is available direct or via most aggregators. Google Play is available direct or via PublishDrive, StreetLib, XinXii (not BookBaby, D2D or Smashwords).

Exclusives – via Kobo.

BajaLibros – StreetLib.

Peru Book Store – StreetLib.

Ubook – StreetLib.

Takealot – Smashwords.

OkadaBooks – no aggregators currently active.

D2C-lite platforms: BookBaby, Smashwords and StreetLib all offer a store where we can send readers for great bargains and get great royalties.

N.B. This list is not exhaustive but is accurate to the best of my knowledge. So here is a call out to you, the reader, or perhaps our friends at the various aggregators. Please do submit additional info or corrections in comments so we can update the list as we go forward.

Mark Williams

Indie and traditionally-published author and journalist writing beneath picture postcard blue skies in The Gambia, West Africa.

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