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22/10/2009 - par Mark Tungate (tungateinparis@hotmail.com)

Publishers, if your author's ego ever gets out of hand, just send him to the Frankfurt Book Fair. With five non-fiction titles to my name, I think I can safely call myself a writer. But even if I were tempted to grow a big head, the realities of the publishing industry would shrink it. The fact that I only earn a tiny fraction of the cover price of my books was already an indication of my status. And then I went to Frankfurt.

The Book Fair is a machine. Eight giant halls, all stuffed with books. A shuttle bus is on hand to transport you around them. Books may be going digital, but one thing is certain: print is not dead yet.

The most alarming thing about the fair, however, is that you'll rarely bump into an author. There were retailers, publishers and agents – but beyond the journalists covering the fair I didn't meet a single writer. Frankfurt exists so publishers can sell the translation rights of their existing books. The authors have already done their work. Now they must simply take their percentage and get cracking on a new product.

In the past I imagined publishing as a gentle, tweedy industry populated by mild-mannered types in spectacles. But publishing is a ruthless as the movie, music and media industries. Authors are important, but they are only part of the process.

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