Why we should move the Frankfurt Bookfair to Cannes…

Was accredited to the Cannes Film Festival this year - my first time. I didn't really have much work to do, it was a courtesy accreditation from Martin Scorcese's World Cinema Foundation.

Cannes combines three events in one. The biggest event is 1) the film market, which brings together buyers and sellers of films (and services like film finance and location support). This is the part most directly comparable across media to the Frankfurt Bookfair. The market attendees don't really have time to actually see films, certainly not in the main programme. Attached to the market is 2) the film festival, which puts the focus on film excellence, includes awards and prizes, and is all about selection and curation. This part of Cannes is of interest to directors and producers, and to film programmers from all over the world who come to see the films in competition and to meet other film programmers, critics and promoters. And 3) Cannes is a film marketing event non-pareil, a chance for stars and celebrities to profile themselves, their new films and their new clothes, to strut on the red carpet and make news as they can (viz Sacha Baron Cohen's walking a camel on the Croisette and Sean Penn's delivering a general scolding re the world's fading support for Haitian reconstruction).

The secret to Cannes' success would seem to lie in the combination and interaction of these three events. Gilles Jacob, Thierry Frémaux and his team would seem to have this combination down pat, and the choice of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris in 2011 and Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom as this year's opening film very nicely blend the needs of business, quality and star power.

Frankfurt, the global publishing industry's leading trade market, has a very weak Writers Festival component, and is anemic at best in generating publicity for books, writers (and their clothes).

Sure, there are some good reasons for that. The global books industry is more fragmented than the world film industry, at least it has been for many years. Both industries are changing, but publishing seems likes its becoming even more disaggregated, as the digital transition unbundles and rebundles publishing in different ways.

Still I don't doubt that the trade book industry at least would benefit from a tighter linkage between the intellectual marketplace for determining quality, the marketplace for media attention, and the marketplace for buying and selling rights. This needn't mean more focus on celebrity books and increasing concentration on blockbusters. In fact over-reliance on celebrity books seems more like a symptom of the Anglo-American publishing world's current inability to connect the market for quality with the market for attention. I would be interested to dig deeper into understanding Cannes' success here - part of it is surely down to a Gallic confidence in such juggling. Another part of it must be down to the venue: Cannes benefits from a brilliant setting and rather good food (though it takes awhile to navigate that). An apfelwein in Sachsenhausen is very nice, but a coup de champagne along the Croisette is in a different category altogether.

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