The BookBrunch Interview: Matthäus Cygan, Frankfurter Buchmesse

Julie Vuong
News - Interviews Friday, 12 April 2019

Prick up your ears, audio is out to make some noise at Frankfurt Book Fair this autumn. Its newly appointed director for international trade business development Matthäus Cygan offers Julie Vuong a sneaky peek and reveals how he’s helping publishers push their content further

It’s been a few months now since Matthäus Cygan moved from being senior manager of digital development at Verlagsgruppe Random House in Munich to his new post at Frankfurter Buchmesse as director for business development, trade international. As he is learning, time is moving swiftly when it comes to organising the beast that is Frankfurt. We meet after planning stages have come to an end, and he’s ready to discuss what is in place for a key area for 2019: audio.

"Now is the right time to bring together retailers, distributors and service providers of audio publishing," Cygan says. "We’re not just talking audiobooks, but podcasts and publishers looking at audio platforms and smart speakers to help push content further.

"At Frankfurter Buchmesse 2019, audio topics will be showcased on various stages. The Frankfurt Audio Summit is a half-day conference on 17 October that will take a high-level look at the business models and trends driving growth in audio publishing - topics include voice assistants, subscription models, production, and marketing. Complementing the Audio Summit are presentations on the new Frankfurt Audio Stage that will take place from Wednesday through Sunday, with weekdays dedicated to B2B topics. The Audio Stage will feature hands-on topics and masterclasses on audiobook production, podcasting, marketing best practice, market entry, among many others."

Just a few clicks away
Frankfurt is picking up on rapid growth in the audiobook sector, and in recent weeks reports have been buoyant, from Head of Zeus’s 100-title per year production and distribution deal with WF Howes, to Cambridge University Press’s move into audio. It’s no surprise that Nielsen BookScan reported a 13% surge in audiobook sales last year - a growth of 87% since 2014.

'Spotify is attracting a new consumer'

"Audio has indeed grown over the last few years," Cygan says. "There are many factors behind the rise. A major one is accessibility. Everyone has an audiobook and podcast player; their next download is just a few clicks away. So, nowadays the barrier is much lower. It fits in with the age we’re living in, giving us the ability to multi-task. We can listen anywhere and while we’re engaged in other activities such as driving, running or hiking. Also, the idea that those who chose to listen to book was 'cheating' has completely changed. Now it’s a recognised form of reading. After all, it’s the same content."

One challenge Cygan admits is the high production costs of producing audio content. "Right now, the costs are high," he points out, "and not all books can be turned into audiobooks. Getting the industry together at Frankfurt will be an opportunity to discuss how to lower the barriers."

Who’s pioneering audio?
While Audible is the dominant player in the audiobook market, Cygan is keen to stress that the area has become more competitive. "There are plenty of dynamic retailers alongside Audible. Theirs is subscription and credit-based downloads, while others follow different models, including Storytel and BookBeat, which allow for unlimited streaming for a monthly fee, and Scribd, which includes ebooks and magazines alongside audiobooks.

"Google Play is also developing its audiobooks offer. The spotlight has been on one to three companies, but there are many more in the market when you dig a little deeper. Let’s not forget those muscling in from the music industry either. Spotify, for example, is doing something very interesting and attracting a new consumer, someone who might not be your typical reader and opening them up to audiobooks." So, who will be at Frankfurt? "Hopefully all of them," he replies with a smile.

Frankfurt: bigger yet more personal
Audio is only one of the areas Cygan is focusing on. Another is enhancing the visitor experience. "We’re making it more individual," he says, "and targeting specific areas of interest, for example there will be more exhibition areas that are thematically curated, such as Frankfurt Audio, Frankfurt Kids and Frankfurt EDU, and the conferences will follow the same philosophy. The question I am asking is, how do we keep bringing trade visitors to the fair? What can we do to make it more attractive? Why should, for instance, a publishing director be there as well as a marketing manager? We’re giving everybody a reason why."

It’s a tough gig to bring a personal touch to the biggest book fair in the world, which is growing year by year: 169,000 trade visitors, 115,000 consumers visiting at the weekend, and 7,500 exhibitors. But, according to Cygan, it’s too big to take a one size fits all approach.

"We are trying to avoid big sprawling conferences and focus more on separate talks, like one specifically for rights managers or those working in education. There will be designated exhibition areas and conferences formats so people can find the best trade experience for them."

Picture credit: Silvia Fijalkowski

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