Are foreign publishers colluding to keep advances down? At least one American agent thinks so. Amid the regular appointments and deal-making in the rights centre, one thing that has ignited chatter is an e-mail message that Trident chairman Robert Gottlieb sent to a number of foreign clients just before the Fair. The mass e-mail, which PW obtained and which was sent to editors in countries including Germany, Italy and Holland, claims there has been “an increased level” of collusion among foreign publishers.

“Trident Media Group feels the proper authorities in the EU Government need to be alerted to the fact that European Publishers are in fact market fixing in their respective countries,” the e-mail stated, “and restraining trade by colluding to prevent authors/agents from operating in a free and unencumbered publishing market.” While some foreign editors said they largely dismissed the e-mail, since they were not involved in collusion, one publisher characterized Gottlieb as “having gone mad”. Others said that advances were dropping for various reasons, chief among them the global slump in the economy.

For his part, Gottlieb said that he was spurred to send the e-mail because collusion had “been a problem for years” and that, recently, he’d seen an uptick in it. Although he wouldn’t state which countries the practice was most prevalent in, he said it had been happening throughout the EU and that it was an issue he “wanted to discuss in the open and ask publishers to refrain from doing it”. While some foreign publishers claimed to be cancelling appointments, Gottlieb said he hadn’t experienced any backlash as a result of the email, with all of his client meetings continuing as planned.

Certainly many in the industry, on the American side, have been grumbling about advances being down. Whether collusion is to blame — a practice easy to do but hard to prove — may be a continuing discussion in the Fair’s final days.

Click here for more coverage of the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair from PW and BookBrunch.