The market for glossy illustrated books is booming as readers around the world increasingly opt to sneak a look at other people's lives, according to publishers attending the Frankfurt book fair this week.
An illustrated peek into someone's life
People are lazy, went one explanation offered by publishers. Aspirations are higher now and people want a glimpse of other worlds, said another. Images can be relaxing, offered yet another.
While they might not agree on why, publishers at the world's largest book fair in Frankfurt this week did agree that the market for illustrated books is growing.
"It's easier to look than to read," said Ilaria Del Secco Cappelli from the Italian publisher Alinari that has specialized in picture books since it opened its doors in Florence in 1852.
"And people want to look at famous people, at big historical events and at cities."
The house is surprised at the sell-out success of two recent books about chocolate and the Italian Christmas cake panettone, and at the demand for nostalgic books about cities and regions like Tuscany.
Words are secondary, some say
"There is a fashion for knowing how people used to live, even among Italians in their own regions, and to see a life they cannot have anymore," said Alinari editor Francesca Ambrosi. "And they really like it if in the back we put pictures of the area today, so they can compare."
The words are secondary, she added, though editors try to keep the writing at a high standard.
Bigger is better this year, though
The French publishing house Vila has noted that in the past 10 years its readers care less and less for the text in glossy coffee table books, editor Arnaud Poirier said.
"There is a trend for fewer words and more pictures, over double pages," he said. "The size of the text has shrunk by half and the images have become more and more spectacular. It is also easier for business, the more text you translate, the more expensive the book becomes."
Cook what is visible
Increasing the number of pictures has become a phenomenon in cookbooks with readers wanting beautiful illustrations next to their recipes.
"It is not easy because you cannot reduce a good recipe but we have noticed that in the past 10 years many people don't want to cook something if they cannot see it," said Gabriele Kaufman from the French house Editions de Seuil.
Picture books are selling well
The demand has also grown for exotic recipes as people become more curious about how people live in the rest of the world, she added.
It is a trend that is leaving its mark on literature too, said Bruno Batreau from Mercure de France.
"Our books that sell really well are ones by French writers that do not tell about French life, that take readers to another world."
Consumers want extraordinary and the ordinary
Stefano Pionteri from the Italian publishing house Skira said the thirst for books that open a window on others' lives pointed to people having higher aspirations for how they live.
"Four, five years ago there was an explosion in lifestyle. Everybody wants books about "la belle vie" about food, wine and villas. And for some reason, Carvaggio, he is a superstar," he said, referring to the Italian master. "I think this is about looking at something very elegant and rich and hoping to achieve that same style of living somewhere in the near future."
If French publishers like Vila were "asking ourselves whether people also want more erotica," the German publishers have no doubts with row upon row of photography books with titillating titles like "Bubble Bath Girls" on display at the world's biggest book fair.
Publishers say that words are becoming less important
"In Germany this works extremely well, we sell a lot," an editor at Reuss said simply.
But at the nearby stand of Kehrer Publishers, an editor said the books that have attracted people most are the ones that show vulnerable, real people.
"When people want to take a little rest they come and look at these," she said pointing to a book of tender photographs about Alzheimer patients and another simply titled "Humans" with pictures of ordinary naked bodies. "From our readers, we see that people also want to look at people that are not perfect, that are like themselves."