Neither Frankfurt's fair nor Bologna ever bothered to attach "international" to its logo, and they are the best. London, on the other hand, was calling itself international years before it became so. The trouble was that British publishers didn't play the game, preferring to greet overseas visitors in their downtown offices, and Americans avoided fair week because they knew they wouldn't find anybody at the booths.
For a number of major buyers and sellers, London suddenly began to look brighter in 1997, particularly after some bad experiences in Chicago. German groups now do some of their big spending closer to home. Last year also proved fruitful for one of France's big spenders, Leonello Brandolino of the Havas paperback division, who returned this year as CEO-elect of Havas's bestseller imprint Robert Laffont. "London has taken off," he said simply. Credit the agents and scouts for that.
One of the latter, who reports to one of Germany's biggest buyers of Anglo-American rights, offers a good reason for London's blossoming. "We find more exciting books from British writers and British-published Irish writers than from America -- where bestselling authors keep rewriting their successful books." For this scout, who shall be nameless because she continues to work both sides of the ocean, asking prices are also lower in London.
But what seems to have made London the spring fair, a neat counterweight to Frankfurt in autumn, is the remarkably sited, roomy and user-friendly agents center sponsored by PW. At times it contained more big names, representing more big money, than the main trading floor itself. Every leading German group was present and active, together with the agents who sell them Anglo-American authors -- three Zurich-based agents, Eva Koralnik, Sabine Ibach and Peter Fritz; and the two best-known Munich agents, Ursula Bender and Michael Meller.
Lothar Menne of Munich's paperback giant Heyne (now doing both hard- and softcover) has become a London regular. As an indication of his buying power, note that Heyne d s between 900 and 1000 titles annually, up to 80% of them translated -- and nine translations in 10 come from English. His predecessor at Heyne, Hans-Peter Übleis, was shopping for his Verlagsgruppe Dr mer Weltbild. "We all like this fair," said Übleis, who had just bought two big books and was sweating out two auctions when PW sat down with him. "American agents began coming here last year, along with American foreign rights managers -- so everybody is here now." Peter Wilfert, managing director of the Holtzbrinck imprints Wolfgang Krüger and Aragon Verlag, finds that although London is growing rapidly -- growing at the expense of BEA, he said -- it is still relaxed compared to Frankfurt. "Here you can take a full hour. I rarely make a high offer at a fair, but yesterday I did -- to an American agent for an American book." Wilfert now finds more of his upmarket literary and commercial fiction in London, and better nonfiction from the U.S. (and he was not the only buyer to say that).
You had to know your foreign publishers, for most of them came to the fair without stands. Thus PW stopped a lone ranger browsing among the British, retiring German Bertelsmann Club director Gert Frederking, who is developing a new Bertelsmann paperback venture.
Over 100 French publishers -- CEOs, publishing directors, editors and rights managers -- worked from the collective France Edition stand sited front and center on the main trading floor. It was Pierre Marchand's first foreign show since leaving Gallimard Jeunesse to take over the illustrated, practical and children's book department of giant Hachette; he likes this fair at which "you find someone you want to talk to every 10 yards."
Heads of Italy's leading trade houses were active in the agents center, among them Mondadori book group director Gian Arturo Ferrari and Mondadori's publisher for fiction and nonfiction, Marco Vigevani; Rizzoli publisher Rosaria Carpinelli; Bompiani's Mario Andreose; the Longanesi group's Luigi Brioschi and Luigi Spagnol. And, of course, Milan's agents were on hand to serve as their liaison with the Anglo-American world. One of the latter, Luigi Bernabò, had some sharp comments on the Frankfurt Fair shift of its rights center to the outfield; he was seriously considering skipping that fair to concentrate on London. (A number of international agents expressed similar concerns and wondered how to make their protests against the Frankfurt decision effective.)
Small markets often have big pockets, which is certainly true of the Dutch, well represented by the likes of Het Spectrum's Joost Bl msma and his team; De B kerij's Marijke Bartels; Luitingh-Sijthoff's Hanca Leppink; and J.M. Meulenhoff's Chantal d'Aulnis. Prometheus/Bert Bakker publisher Mai Spijkers was in town wearing his new hat as co-director of the Netherlands' megagroup Meulenhoff. And leading Dutch agent Marijke Lijnkamp, who had been working with her publishers at London for a number of years, suddenly saw an influx of the Americans she represented: "It's really an international fair now!"
American agent John Brockman, an experienced fairg r, observed that British publishers were thin on the ground. "My main European customers are here," he said. "The British are not." On Sunday, nevertheless, when traditionally "British publishers don't show up," one did find Mark Barty-King and Patrick Janson-Smith at Transworld; on Monday there were sightings of Eddie Bell of HarperCollins, Tim Hely Hutchinson of Hodder Headline, Ernest Hecht of innovative Souvenir Press, Peter and Martine Halban of Halban. Smart fairg rs, however, visited London publishers in their offices, often just before or just after the fair.
It should come as no surprise that London is dropping "International" from its logo. It has become superfluous, as the fair's marketing manager Allison Jones noted.