From Friday November 13 to Saturday November 14 2015 the annual meeting of the IBG Young Scholars Network took place for the first time at the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz, Germany. The theme of the conference was “Between Texts and Readers – Book and Literature Promotion in the 20th and 21th Centuries”, which promised an informative and interesting meeting. Aside from the representatives of the Institute of Book Studies of JGU Mainz and the Internationale Buchwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, guests from France, Austria, UK and even from Australia attended the conference.
Dr. Anke Vogel, spokesperson of the IBG, welcomed the conference participants, giving a brief history of the IBG Young Scholars Network, which was founded in 2010. Afterwards, Dr. Corinna Norrick-Rühl and Dr. Nikolaus Weichselbaumer introduced the topic of discussion. They gave an overview of many different institutions that promote books and reading, and also discussed the problem of a missing definition of book promotion.
The conference began with a keynote lecture on “Entering Literary Discussion: Reading Online” by Dr. Simone Murray from Monash University (Melbourne, Australia). By expounding how online book clubs and other aspects of social networks support the process of reading, she showed that readers strive to stay in contact with other readers. This circumstance has become more important over the last few years. She discussed technological tools such as Kindle’s highlights function or Kobo’s reading life app which aim to make reading experiences quantifiable. She also mentioned online reading groups such as the “Infinite Summer” blog for readers of David Foster Wallace’s monumental work “Infinite Jest”. As Murray pointed out, more scholarly studies of online reading phenomena are necessary and desirable.
Continuing with the subject of book reviewing and literary discussion, Cora Krömer (Le Mans/Saarbrücken) talked about non-professional book reviewing online in France and Germany. She turned her attention to how German literature is received in France and vice versa. For her paper, she analyzed the German social reading-website LovelyBooks and the French counterpart Babelio. With interesting statistics she showed the differences in the diction of the critics.
The panel “Historical Perspectives” followed Krömer’s talk, beginning with Dr. Sandra Oster’s (Mainz) presentation about photographs of authors. Today this is a huge part of successful advertising for a book and became more and more important since the beginning of the 19th century. Vera Dumont (Leipzig) talked about the role of book club magazines of the Bertelsmann Lesering/Bertelsmann Club and of the Büchergilde Gutenberg in the process of literature promotion. These magazines were influenced by the product range of the book clubs, but also directed towards two very different target audiences. The next speaker, Sandra Simon (Münster/Hannover), described Joseph Malaby Dent’s idea to create an affordable library of reprinted classics for middle class readers. His aim was to produce high quality books at an affordable price. His project was known as Everyman’s Library.
The second day of the conference started with a panel titled “Readers, Authors, Publishers,” beginning with a presentation by Katharina Evelin Perschak (Klagenfurt) about non-professional literature promotion in the form of social reading. She showed that school is not as important an influence on readers, even if it provides more of an in-depth approach to literature. However, friends and relatives know the interests of the reader and based on that, they can recommend more fitting reading material and have more sway with the reader. Andreas Peterjan (Klagenfurt) presented the German author Walter Moers as a unique exception in the book industry. Moers plays with the image of the “big unknown”: nobody really knows what he looks like, although he is very famous. To remain anonymous he uses his character Hildegunst von Mythenmetz, pretending that this character is the actual author of his books. Besides, he only gives interviews by mail. The distinctiveness of book promotion was shown by Elisabeth Böker (Göttingen), who concentrated on Scandinavian bestsellers published in Germany. She showed that they make their way onto the German market through literary agencies. She also compared Swedish and German paratexts for identical novels, illustrating how stereotypical covers with Scandinavian clichés like snow-topped mountains, lakes and lonesome wooden houses make them easy to distinguish from other books.
For the final panel of the day, “Soft Selling and Book Culture”, three speakers from UCL were on the program. Dr. Melanie Ramdarshan Bold presented her studies on fan fiction websites. She stated that publishers are not the only gatekeepers any more. Some even use fan fiction sites, such as the most successful site – Wattpad – to scout for new writing talents or trends. Furthermore she emphasized the importance of the interaction between authors and readers on these platforms as one of the key components for the writers’ success. Nick Canty explained forms of book culture on YouTube. He talked about four trends on the video platform. The first being book bloggers, the so called booktubers. Secondly he mentioned the edutainment category, videos that are supposed to entertain people while providing them with valuable information e.g. about books. Another rising YouTube format is book adaptations. Fourthly, Canty also mentioned the transition of vloggers to authors – YouTube personalities are offered book deals. The third speaker from UCL, Dr. Daniel Boswell, presented the topic of literary festivals, concentrating on the Edinburgh Book Festival, Hay Festival and the Times and the Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. Boswell showed how these festivals are not only created for book enthusiasts, but also for the general festival audiences as they combine literary events and festival feeling. Boswell compared the websites of the three festivals, looking at their discoverability, their demographic targeting and their adjustment to mobile devices.
With this panel, the IGB Young Scholars Network meeting for 2015 came to an end. We look forward to the next meeting in 2016!
This conference report was written by BA students Julia Dickob, Mona Klinkhardt and Darya Mohammad-Hadi based on collaborative notes by the following students of the Seminar “Institutions of Book Promotion” (WS 2015/16) at JGU Mainz: Christina Becker, Janina Bittmann, Debora Exner, Annika Hundt, Karina Kowatsch, Scarlett Saurat and Mareike-Beatrice Stanke.