What was most certainly the biggest rights market ever staged—and by all accounts the most efficient and agreeable—took place just above the exhibit floor at this year's London Book Fair. It was also the biggest handselling rights fair—not one of the 316 tables sported a computer screen. There is a tendency to set aside ever larger areas for agents and scouts at the world's megafairs, but nobody seems to be able to draw as many warm bodies to the tables as London does now.

The Rights Centre's airy environment, members-only protection and sweeping view of the action on the ground floor below was a magic formula for success. "You're bound to see everybody you're looking for," exclaimed Maggie Doyle, publisher of the foreign list at France's Robert Laffont. That, and scheduling the fair at the right time of year—halfway between autumn Frankfurt fairs—makes London, in the words of publisher Luigi Brioschi of Italy's Guanda, "the world's best."

London's only close competitor, Frankfurt, insists on relegating its agents and scouts to sites sufficiently distant from traffic lanes to discourage regular use—"as if we were Trappists," comments a would-be user.

Americans Attract

For most of the rest of the world, the increasing attendance of American agents and publishers at each successive London fair is what counts most, since America's commercial successes usually become European, Latin American and Japanese successes as well. Brazil's leading buyers of Anglo-American fiction—Paolo Rocco of Rocco, Sergio Machado of Record—were present and busy this year. Machado publishes 350 new books annually and 70% of them are translations. "So we have to find things here. It's like driving to a clothing outlet in New Jersey—you rent a car and pay the tunnel toll, so when you get there you know you've got to buy," he said. The biggest translating houses of Germany were represented by their chiefs: Karl Blessing of his own Bertelsmann imprint, Lothar Menne of Axel Springer's flagship Ullstein, Hans-Peter Ubleis of Droemer Weltbild and Peter Wilfert of Rowohlt. Ruth Weibel of Zurich's Liepman agency, which sells into German-language territory, thinks that agents don't have to go to the United States anymore—"for everybody is here."

Same for Italy's Gianni Ferrari, head of the Mondadori trade group; Rosaria Carpinelli and Mario Andreose of the Rizzoli group; and Luigi Brioschi and Luigi Spagnol of the Longanesi group. They represented the critical mass needed to get auctions going.

The presence of so many publishers of books printed on paper provided a reality check at a fair that, like all the other majors these days, featured panels on the electronic future. "Nobody talks about electronic rights here in the agents center," declared a leading German publisher.

As at BookExpo America, the London fair has opened its rights center to publishers as well as agents (the former pay a higher fee); thus one saw signs on tables for Random House, the Bertelsmann Reference Group, Hyperion, Harcourt and many more American visitors, as well as leading European houses.

Two at a Time

PW talked to Carla Tanzi, publisher of Italy's bestseller logo Sperling & Kupfer, whose stars include Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon and Barbara Taylor Bradford. Tanzi can't remember having missed a London fair—which she uses not only to meet the British but to see what fellow continentals are up to, in an atmosphere less hectic than Frankfurt's.

Some publishers believe that book fairs have become less necessary now that the world is tied together by e-mail—but Norway's June Heggenhougen still swears by London; she has even forsaken BookExpo and New York scouting trips for the fair. It wasn't a good year for discoveries, since she knew just about everything in advance, yet still she spent every fair evening reading instead of partying.

While America's New York— based scouts are now a familiar presence at international fairs, London offered an opportunity for them to meet some of their British counterparts. And two made that meeting pleasant and easy by throwing parties. Upscale scout Koukla MacLehose, who reports on British publishing for France's Gallimard, Germany's Carl Hanser, Italy's Einaudi, Neulenhoff of the Netherlands and Anagrama of Spain, among others, cohosted a party at the French Institute with French cultural attaché Xavier North and drew a crowd worthy of the rights center. The invitation of London's Van Lear agency directed guests to "the Duke of York's Headquarters" in Chelsea, which one might have assumed was a pub, but it really was the Duke of York's regimental headquarters (guarded by soldiers). Van Lear's eclectic client list includes Germany's Droemer Knaur and Schneekluth, Denmark's Lindhardt & Ringhof, Sweden's Egmont Richter, the Netherlands' Veen Group, Portugal's Don Quixote, Italy's Il Saggiatore group and the Japan Uni Agency.

New German agent Dorothee Grisebach was making her first appearance at an international fair in her new role (News, Mar. 19). Another new German agency—actually a Swiss-based agency targeting German-language markets—introduced itself at a fairgrounds party. H&B is not a whiskey but a partnership of former publishers Dieter Hagenbach (ex—Gaia Media) and Hans-Joachim Bender, former publisher of the Swiss Holtzbrinck imprint for commercial fiction Scherz Verlag. H&B will represent foreign publishers (particularly small U.S. imprints) and English-language authors; Bender will also be handling his own stable of German authors. They can be reached at Gutenberstrasse 20, CH 3001 Bern; fax 41-31-381-6677.

Speaking of agencies, Japan's Tuttle-Mori sent a team headed by its CEO Kenichi Mori, with Anne and Nina Martyn of its London office and agents from Tokyo specializing in fiction, nonfiction, children's and illustrated books. Luc Kwanten, of Big Apple Tuttle—Mori in Taiwan and mainland China, and Korea's Eric Yang were also part of the crowd. For Carole Blake of London's Blake Friedmann, "it's just like Frankfurt." Foreign publishers began turning up in droves 10 days before the fair, and she felt as if she were seeing them all. She could have used a couple of additional fair days, and in fact was going to invite more agents to her office on the Wednesday and Thursday after the fair closed. "It's exponential growth," she said. "Fantastic!"