Although the final numbers are likely to be down, the atmosphere at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair was better than in 2008, when many attendees, especially the Americans, were preoccupied by a tanking economy, crashing stock market and pending job cuts. Attendance figures for the first two days of the event suggest that both the world economy and the book business may be stabilizing. Total attendance for Wednesday and Thursday was off only 2.6%, while traffic in the agents' center was up slightly.
The comparative tranquillity doesn't mean there wasn't some controversy, however. Even before the fair began, there was grumbling about advances being down and speculation that the size of the rights deals at Frankfurt would be down. Trident Media Group chairman Robert Gottlieb put a spotlight on the issue when an e-mail he sent to editors in a number of European countries charging that they have been colluding to keep advances down was revealed. The charge was dismissed by European publishers at the fair, but Gottlieb stood firm, claiming that collusion has been going on for years and had recently increased.
While the number, if not the size, of the deals being done at the fair seemed to have picked up, another sign that the health of the publishing industry is slowly returning was the number of new ventures and partnerships announced. Former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman used the fair to officially unveil her new venture, Open Road Integrated Media. The new, “multilayered” company, as Friedman calls it, will focus on the publication of both backlist and original e-books, while also doing print-on-demand, producing films for theatrical release and promoting e-books from other companies on a proprietary marketing platform. None of Open Road's offerings will go live until early 2010.
With China as the guest country, it was no surprise that a couple of agreements involving that country were announced. Penguin, which opened an office in China in 2005, announced a new program highlighting writing about and from China. The list will feature translations of Chinese-language works as well as books originally written in English. As of 2010, Penguin China will publish five to eight books a year, fiction and nonfiction.
In a deal between professional publishers, John Wiley signed an agreement with Chinese science and technical publisher Chemical Industry Press to publish a co-branded Wiley-CIP series imprint. The partnership will result in a series of English-language advanced textbooks and reference books for postgraduates, researchers and practitioners, the first due out in 2010. At the outset, the line will encompass engineering, materials science and chemistry. The house plans on publishing between five and eight titles over the next two years, possibly going up to 10 to 15 titles in its third year.
The newest entrant in the digital reading space came from Baker & Taylor, which announced a partnership with inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, CEO of Kurzweil Technologies. Under the deal, B&T will supply digital content for K-NFB Reading Technology, a newly developed e-book reading software created by Kurzweil in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind. The software will be offered to consumers for free, and the new reader is planned to launch in the U.S. at the end of November.
Kurzweil said consumers can buy e-books directly through the application and there will be “a full-featured online store including metadata, advanced search features, inference engine and more.” He added that the venture will offer access to a “million” public domain titles and a “million” for-pay books. “A number of first-tier publishers signed up on the first day of the Frankfurt Book Fair,” he said. “We take in books from different publishers in a variety of formats and convert it to our own format.”
Although there was no official announcement, news broke at the fair of a letter sent from Penguin chairman John Makinson to group employees about a new approach to its global management and digital publishing strategy. Makinson's goal is to combine a local market focus with a global publishing approach. The CEOs of four Penguin subsidiaries—David Davidar (Penguin Canada), Gabrielle Coyne (Penguin Australia), Peter Field (Penguin UK) and David Shanks (Penguin USA)—were put in charge of overseeing expansion opportunities in different parts of the world.