A thirst for knowledge
When Fran Dubruille applied to be director of the European Booksellers’ Federation (EBF), she had no experience of working in the book trade. “I had a very romantic vision of bookshops,” she says. A decade on, her approach is far more business-like. When Dubruille goes into bookshops these days, she can’t help looking around to see how the commercial space is being used. “Booksellers sell a cultural product; but don’t forget, it is a product,” she says.
The EBF, based in Brussels, represents more than 25,000 booksellers in Europe, and Dubruille has to keep herself informed on subjects such as VAT, copyright and piracy. She also has to keep the federation’s members informed about the latest developments in EU circles and promote their interests at the EU institutions.
The arrival of electronic books, or e-books, has meant many topics, such as VAT rates, are back on the agenda. The EBF has been lobbying to have VAT on e-books and p-books – as paper books are known in the trade – treated in the same way.
“Digitalisation brings new sets of challenges for booksellers,” says Dubruille. “Those who can’t adapt will just disappear. Booksellers need a digital strategy to survive.”
That doesn’t mean the demise of the physical bookshop, although there will be fewer of them in the future,
she concedes. What it does mean, she explains, is that bookshops have to become somewhere you want to go for pleasure, with friendly, well-informed staff and a coffee shop, for example.
One of the biggest events of the year for Dubruille is the Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place this week (12-16 October). This will be the 11th time she has attended the event. “Every time it is the same, wondering if I will have everything ready, and then once I’m there I love the buzz,” she says. For Dubruille, the fair offers a chance to build relationships, both with EBF members and others in the business.
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Much of Dubruille’s job involves meeting people and finding out what is happening. Her knowledge of European languages has proved a great asset in this respect. French is her mother tongue, but she is fluent in English and Italian, having studied translation in Italy, and also speaks Spanish.
“I couldn’t be where I am now without my languages. They have been absolutely key in my career,” she says.
It was Dubruille’s grasp of Italian that led to her first job in the early 1980s, when she represented Italian business and trade groups at the EU institutions. A few years later, she was appointed product manager at the European Association for Information on Local Development (AEIDL).
The focus of her work at AEIDL was a programme to help Greece, Portugal and Spain integrate into the EU, working with public authorities in those countries and with the European Commission. She stayed with the association for about a decade, and then became an independent consultant on local and regional development issues. Her experience of working with the EU institutions proved invaluable in securing the job at EBF.
Dubruille reels off many achievements at the EBF, from building up the federation’s image with the institutions to developing a stronger network of members. But what about the disappointments? “That my job doesn’t keep me informed about all the latest books,” she says. Maybe Dubruille hasn’t completely lost that romantic vision of her job after all.
Anna Jenkinson is a freelance journalist based in Brussels.