One of the main objectives of the Aldus Up project is to work to improve the “audience development” of book fairs and the publishing sector in general. Aldus Up has been taking place for a few years that have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

Throughout these last few months, several forums and meetings have been held within the framework of this network, such as the seminar in Mainz on promoting reading and the recent meeting in Madrid on audience development.

During the last Mainz and Madrid meetings many of the participants insisted on the shift that should be addressed. Jens Klingelhöfer (Founder of Bookwire) stressed during the Madrid’s meeting that in today’s interconnected and globalised world, readers hold more control than ever before. They are no longer passive recipients but active contributors who need to be engaged by the different organisations of the European book industry (such as book fairs, literary festivals, book retailers or publishing companies).

As Klingelhöfer mentioned, the conventional “push” model has moved to a “pull” model, where readers engagement is crucial. This change in dynamics requires publishers to rethink their audience development. Therefore, the obvious goal of marketing and production strategies -focusing on how to attract and retain new audiences- needs to be examined and enriched by approaches such as inbound marketing, content marketing or fans communities.

During the sessions on audience development for the book fairs, that took place in Reamagine (Madrid), Eva Orúe (Director of the Madrid Book Fair) shared her experiences since becoming director in 2022. She explained how the Madrid Book Fair, despite being a commercial fair without professional activities, experienced a substantial growth after the pandemic. In 2022, they had 2 million visits in 17 days, generating €10 million in book sales. Even with adverse weather in 2023, they saw €11 million in sales, indicating a strong readership. The fair has increasingly attracted international attention, though space limitations in Retiro park in the centre of the city restricts the number of exhibitors. Eva Orúe stressed the importance of the Madrid Book Fair’s year-round engagement to maintain its audience. As part of their audience development strategy the book fair team visits schools and communities with limited access to the fair, bringing activities to them and inviting them to the fair.

Piero Crocenzi (Director of Turin Book Fair) considers integrating technology more deeply into event management as something crucial for the audience development management. They held a successful digital event in May 2020 and have since used technology to manage queues and agendas. The pandemic highlighted the irreplaceable need for in-person events but also the benefits of supporting physical events with digital tools for the expansion and retention of the book fairs audiences.

Crocenzi also highlights the importance of engaging young people and adapting language and content to their interests. On this direction he emphasized the need to build future readers and book fair visitors through targeted projects and activities.

The President of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Jürgen Boos, also participated in this meeting which took place in Madrid. Boos emphasized the importance of personal interactions at book fairs, a realization strengthened during the pandemic. He insisted on how book fairs need to continually reinvent themselves to stay relevant for their audiences, balancing between being close to both authors and readers while addressing the evolving needs of the market.

Marifé Boix (Vicepresident of the Frankfurt Book Fair) summarized these conversations, acknowledging the unique challenges each fair faces and the innovative strategies they employ. She also insisted on the importance of collaboration, community engagement, and adapting to market changes to ensure the continued success and relevance of European Book Fairs.

During other sessions Klingelhöfer highlighted the emergence of new audiences who are discovering and consuming books in various formats and through diverse channels. These new audiences would include different generations and demographics who access content through print, digital, audio, databases, and e-learning platforms.

The audience’s engagement strategies should consider how the distribution channels have also diversified, with books being available in bookstores, e-commerce platforms, subscription services, libraries, educational institutions, and even bundled with telco contracts.

It is also interesting to note that most of the audience development approaches usually tend to work inside the framework of instruments which naturally are in the traditional toolkit. Nevertheless, there are other innovative tactics and that is the case mentioned by Marcelo Gioia (Bookwire Brazil) who explained how in Brazil telco companies bundle books and state-funded educational initiatives aimed at creating new audiences.

This issue of the audiences was also discussed from the perspective of small or medium size publishing houses.

Pietro Biancardi (Iperborea) explained how is essential for their audience engagement and the growth of their catalogue and sales the take-off in 2015 of their festival “I Borealli” celebrating Nordic culture (which is the type or books published by them) through literature, cinema, music, and food, attracting thousands of visitors and enhancing Iperborea’s brand presence.

Rafa Luna (Head of Marketing and Digital Business at Editorial Anagrama) and Biancardi declaired that their both publishing houses have successfully adapted to appeal to younger audiences through rebranding and innovative audience development strategies and collaborations with like-minded cultural entities and engaging in contemporary digital platforms have been crucial.

Danaé Tourrand-Viciana (Editorial Director of Literature, Essays and Documents at Leduc Editions) emphasized the importance of building a strong community or fan base. By nurturing relationships with readers and engaging them in the publishing process, they have established loyal followings.

The key to success for these three publishers lies in balancing respect for their historical roots with innovative strategies that resonate with contemporary audiences. By staying true to their core values while embracing new technologies and formats, they have managed to create lasting connections with their readers.