Under new director Volker Neumann, the Frankfurt Book Fair is planning a variety of changes to make the fair more useful, affordable and comfortable for exhibitors and attendees. As part of the effort to bring down costs, a " small war" has broken out between fair management and Frankfurt hoteliers, Neumann said. The battle began when the fair management made a very public effort in October, at the time of the annual fair, to get the Frankfurt hotels to revamp their often outrageous pricing policies. (During the fair, most hotels double and triple rates and require six-day minimum stays.)
"People are looking to cut costs," Neumann told PW. "Travel and hotels make up more than 80% of the cost of the fair. So we have started to negotiate with the hotels." So far, the hotels' reaction has been highly negative—and even vindictive. One well-known hotel has canceled reservations for several rooms the fair has taken for more than a decade for visiting dignitaries. But there has been some progress. The fair is trying to sign long-term contracts with several hotels that are under construction. It has also talked with hotels in the nearby cities of Wiesbaden and Langen, hoping to negotiate discounted prices and arrange for shuttle buses to take guests to the fairgrounds.
The company that owns the fairgrounds is planning to build its own 300-room hotel on the site, with rooms priced at about $100 a night—a far cry from some of the others' $500. The book fair management aims to lock up all or most of these rooms. The fair is also trying to exert some influence on the city of Frankfurt and state of Hesse to "bring the hotels to reason," Neumann added. If not, the fair is considering leaving for another site. "We have to ask if we need an alternative place to go," Neumann said. The logical place is one that should appeal to many people: Munich, which, as Neumann pointed out, has more publishing companies than any other city in Germany and is the third-largest publishing city in the world, after New York and London. The Bavarian capital has new fairgrounds and halls "that would be more or less ideal for our purposes." The fair usually begins shortly after Oktoberfest (which, despite the name, is mostly held in September).
A move would be revolutionary—the book fair has been in Frankfurt for more than 50 years. "It's not our goal to make that move," Neumann continued. "But if it's necessary, we would not back off from it."
Among the changes on the show floor: the management intends to open presentation areas throughout the halls, including Hall 8, where most English-speaking countries are located. The areas would feature readings and book presentations and would center on subjects or categories that are, for a variety of reasons, scattered about the fair. (German publishers are grouped by main category of their publishing program, while international publishers are grouped by country and language.) For example, a children's presentation area would allow the children's book divisions of major houses whose works might be "buried" in their booths to have a place in the spotlight. Among the other likely subjects for these presentation areas: audiobooks and cartoons/graphic novels. In another change, publishers will be able to sell books at these presentation areas in connection with readings and signings. Currently, books may not be sold at all during the fair. In addition, exhibitors will be allowed to sell books on Monday, the last day of the show.
Fair management will end the multimedia section. Most of the exhibitors were divisions of larger companies and will either go back with them or go to subject areas. Software companies that were in the multimedia section will be in a new section called service providers. The management also plans to move some international agencies, such as the U.N. and Unesco, out of Hall 8 into an international center that will feature "high-profile" discussions and literary programs.
The management plans to make more of a distinction between the first three days of the fair, which are oriented toward the trade, and the last three, which are open to the public. In part by raising ticket prices for "civilians" to 50 euros (about $50) the first three days, fair management hopes to discourage nonprofessionals. They will be able to attend on the last three days for 7.50 euros a day.
The Russians Are Coming
One of Neumann's first acts after being brought in to replace Lorenzo Rudolf just before this year's fair was to reinstate the guest land program, which was scheduled to end this year. Next year's guest country is Russia; there will be a full schedule of cultural events in Russia and Germany, with a highlight being the appearance of Russian president Vladimir Putin at the opening ceremony. Neumann emphasized the importance of the program to Americans, noting that there will be a "massive presence of Russian publishers at the fair. It's very important to connect Americans with the Russians."
In addition, next year British publisher Lord Weidenfeld is holding a multipart conference called "Useuruss," which focuses on the U.S., Europe and Russia. The last in the series will take place just before Frankfurt; a major report on the results will be issued at the fair.
Neumann said that book fair management, which regularly attends other book fairs around the world, plans to have a stronger presence at BEA. More German publishers will be in attendance, and the management will emphasize German children's books. Fair management is also looking to hold hour-long orientation sessions at many international fairs about how to "do" Frankfurt—and otherwise work with other shows. "We see ourselves as partners and colleagues with BEA and London," Neumann said. "We are a marketing platform for the book."
Noting that the export of English-language titles to Germany has dropped dramatically recently, Neumann recommended U.S. publishers bring distribution people to the fair. Smiling, he suggested that Americans might venture into the rest of the fair and noted, "There is no law that Americans have to leave Friday night."