The Frankfurt Book Fair is looking for a new director—again.
In a surprise move only three weeks before this year's event, the Boersenverein—the German publishers, wholesalers and booksellers association that owns the book fair—has decided not to renew the contract of Volker Neumann, the fair's successful manager. In 2002, Neumann replaced Lorenzo Rudolf, who had lasted less than two years after making many highly criticized moves and after the show's attendance had declined.
In a statement, the board said it had voted unanimously "to arrange the directorate of the Frankfurt Book Fair with a long-term perspective" and therefore decided not to renew Neumann's contract, which expires on December 31, 2005. Using the English word, it thanked Neumann for his achievements as a "troubleshooter."
"I am startled and also a bit sad," Neumann told PW, adding that the decision was a complete surprise. "I took over the Frankfurt Book Fair under difficult conditions and started to make substantial investments for the improvement of the fair, so that we are well prepared for the future." Neumann said he expects to stay at his post until the end of next year.
The chairman of the Borersenverein board, Joachim Treeck, a Frankfurt lawyer, told PW that Neumann had done "a superb job" and stressed that the fair had done well financially under Neumann, but added, "From the very beginning, Neumann was supposed to take over only for a limited period of time. When he suggested we renew his contract, we came to the conviction that it was strategically better not to prolong his term."
In his two years at the helm, Neumann had many successes and made a few blunders in seeking to enliven the fair and address exhibitor concerns about costs. Insiders said that among other things, Neumann's efforts to please exhibitors by keeping booth prices from rising as fast as had been planned and loosening area hotels' usurious policies ruffled feathers with the board and with Frankfurt groups. Neumann's threat to move the fair to Munich (also welcomed by many exhibitors) particularly irritated the company that owns the fairgrounds (owned jointly by the city of Frankfurt and the state of Hesse), which now is considering buying an interest in the fair. According to press reports, local politicians were not at all unhappy with the board's decision.
Speaking about the announcement, AAP president and CEO Pat Schroeder told PW, "I was totally jolted, like everyone else. Only last week at our board meeting we talked about Frankfurt. Everyone said they were pleased with how Neumann listened. We were happy." Schroeder noted that Neumann had done something about "everything he had jurisdiction over," such as canceling the Monday day of the fair and not continuing the Friday evening late hours.
"What I liked about Neumann is that he really talked with you and listened," Schroeder continued. "It used to be we heard, 'This is how it is.' If they go back to old way, we're in trouble."
Treeck said that the international aspect of the fair is "certainly a part of its future strategy," hinting that several projects would be on the board's agenda as early as this week.