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The power of us, again

I have long known about foreign rights, because my very first book, Home Ecology, was sold to a U.S. publisher in 1990, and that’s part of how I came to return to the States. But only now am I beginning to grasp the scope, and importance, of rights. The whole Frankfurt Book Fair–a truly enormous event, given that it takes 15 minutes at a brisk pace to walk from one end to the other-—is geared to the sale of foreign rights.

I wish I understood more languages and had more time here. The most pressing question on my mind is whether other nations publish such an astonishing number of books on Pilates, healing with crystals, and personal development. I’m not at all surprising they exist (I’ve bought a few Pilates books myself and seem to buy everything that comes out on time management), but I am puzzled by how similar the lists are. I walk around the hall and see stand after stand of children’s books, new age and health, and cookery books.

The big companies are clearly doing the biggest business. They have dozens of small tables at which feverish conversations are taking place. But small companies do brisk business, too. The stand (again, one metre) next to us at Frankfurt was a company called Creative Homeowner and the rights director was busy all day showing his new titles.

Berkshire really can’t sell foreign rights, because our sets are so large. It wouldn’t be feasible to translate the whole of them. Instead, I’m here to meet with sales reps who are or may work for us in different parts of the world, and to make connections with other publishers with whom we might collaborate on co-editions. And, naturally, I’m here to see a few old friends and colleagues. Book fairs are also a chance to look at suppliers: printers, multimedia companies, and software companies.

But there is another thing that happens, that I always forget until it does: I get new ideas. As I wander the halls and chat with colleagues, things I’ve been puzzling over for months often fall into place. It’s fantastic, too, to have so many people handy to bounce ideas off. “What if we….?” I say to a sales rep, “Or how about….?” There’s nothing more important, in business or in solving the world’s problems, than coming up with fresh ideas and new approaches.

Once again, “the power of us,” of friendship, cooperation, and community. This is getting much more attention in the business world, and is something Berkshire will be studying, practising, and, as usual, publishing about!

“The Power of Us” in Business Week. (Note, I linked to this in an earlier entry, when it first came out, around the time I met Howard Rheingold.)

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