With official numbers still to come, organizers say attendance at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair is level with last year, and traffic in the rights center was up 11% over 2010, with more stands, more space, and a flurry of deals being reported. “This is amazing, given the current economic climate,” said Nina Klein, press director for the fair. “It demonstrates that our book fair is a stable island.”
Holding steady attendance levels would be a welcome, positive development, as the Frankfurt Book Fair may be the only “stable island” in Europe as the continent struggles with a deepening debt crisis that began last year with Greece. Despite the ongoing financial crisis, 2010 attendance dipped only slightly—149,945, down 1.7% from the 152,530 attendees in 2009. And the 2011 show was not without its challenges. A strike by German air traffic controllers lingered over the fair, likely discouraging some last-minute attendees. And a Blackberry outage, known around the fair as the “Blackberry Crumble,” made coordination difficult, and could have contributed to what was generally described as a slow show floor.
While overall attendance was flat, some parts of the fair posted significant growth. In addition to a brisk rights business, the opening O’ Reilly Tools of Change Conference was once again at full capacity, and now, in its second year, roughly 3,000 people attended the fair’s StoryDrive conference, more than double last year’s total.
It was also the second year for the Frankfurt Sparks presentations—short, 30-minute conversations with industry leaders on digital issues that take place right in small theaters right on the show floor. The Sparks presentations were heavily attended, and Frankfurt press officer Katja Böhne told PW that the theaters would be expanded for next year.
In fact, the Sparks program may well be the new standard for conference presentations. Taking place on the show floor, they are convenient, they keep people in the exhibit hall, and at 30 twitter-worthy minutes, they are perfect for those who don’t want to leave their stands for long periods. They’ve also managed to draw an impressive lineup of top players from across the industry, in casual conversation about some serious issues. Participants this year included HarperCollin’s CEO Brian Murray, Wiley senior v-p Mark Allin, Bloomsbury managing dfirector Evan Scnittman, as well as upstarts like Valla Vakili, CEO of upstart small demons, a firm that made a plash this year with publishers—and signed a deal with its second major publisher, Random House, just days before the fair began.