My friend Gideon Lewis-Kraus's beautifully written Harper's piece on the last Frankfurt Book Fair is the talk of the publishing world. It's been years since I last attended, but his story struck home nevertheless, and reminded me of a piece I wrote years ago for Metropolis, when times were a bit brighter for the book business.
In his story, Gideon writes about attending a large, indulgent party hosted by Bertelsmann, the parent company of Random House. Bertelsmann's tentacles, at the time I wrote, extended to Princeton Architectural Press, where I was an editor, but we were so low down on the corporate ladder (a partially owned subsidiary of one of countless divisions) that they didn't even know we existed. We were never invited to their parties. But after the fair in 2000, I traveled with our publisher, Kevin Lippert, to Expo 2000, the world's fair then being held in Hanover. One of the largest and most popular pavilions was Bertelsmann's Planet M, a giant metallic mushroom with an enormous open-air elevator platform. The building was kind of interesting (but not very), a paean to the corporate synergy that was then the rage among the international business set. (The m stood for media.)
The exhibit itself, music videos projected on large screens, if memory serves (Bertelsmann owned a big record label), was underwhelming. But it surely cost a fortune. The idea that Bertelmann and PAPress were somehow connected never seemed more disconnected from reality. Now, it's clear that the whole enterprise was based more on faith than reason. But, frankly, I think we knew that then. Not long after, the conglomerate, desperate for cash, divested itself of several divisions, and with them PAPress.