There should be no bad surprises at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair (October 10—15): everybody who has ever been there or who has any reason to go there will show up once again. (As usual, the lone exception will be Ernest Hecht of the U.K.'s Souvenir Press, who will throw his usual London party for returnees, offering solace and aspirin with the cocktails.)

To hear Frankfurt's organizers tell it, this year's fair is about convenience; it's about a tighter floor plan that reduces endless hiking, and it's about the long-awaited opening of a subway station smack at the main entrance to the fairgrounds. All this, says Frankfurt Fair director Lorenzo Rudolf, promises to "make distances shorter and networking between exhibitors much more efficient."

In brief, hall 9, the exhibition building farthest from the town center, has been scratched; the non-English-speaking contingents from Europe, Africa and Japan that occupied it are being repatriated to centrally located halls 5 and 6. (That makes English-speaking hall 8 the fair's western frontier.) The Literary Agents Center, which logically should be the focal point of the fair's rights business, is relocated to hall 6.2 (two floors above the ground), which the organizers say places it "right at the crossroads between the English-speaking hall 8 and the German and French sections of the fair." A "convenience" some agents question, as those extra minutes looking for escalators, and then the constant roundtrips to hall 8, are expected to take a heavy bite out of appointment schedules. On the other hand, in recognition of the fact that many agents begin the fair well before the official opening day, the Agents Center will open on Tuesday, a full day earlier—an unprecedented measure for a fair that has always played by the rules.

What made a more compact fair possible was the inauguration earlier this year of a super hall 3, conceived by British industrial designer Nicholas Grimshaw, built over the former railway goods yard just behind the fairgrounds, and offering some 430,000 square feet of exhibition surface on two floors. Enough (with a spillover to the lower floors of hall 4) to contain Germany's trade, art, travel, religious and children's book publishers—with comic book houses thrown in among them.

These changes have not created a larger exhibition area; quite the contrary. English-speaking hall 8 is already completely booked and there is a waiting list; the expectation is that there will be a slight decrease in the number of Anglo-American exhibiting imprints—compensated for by demands by the large groups for an increase in stand surface. Not that the big fish will be allowed to crowd out the small ones. Frankfurt believes in keeping its fair accessible to small and independent players, as well as to publishers from emerging markets. "We feel that Frankfurt's mission," Rudolf tells PW, "is even more than ever to guarantee that the book fair is a level playing field."

More changes: with their hall 4 location taken over by German print publishers, electronic media will move back to their original place in hall 1 near the town entrance to the fair. STM publishers keep their usual positioning on the top floor of hall 4. Meanwhile, alongside new hall 3, a reconstructed state-of-the-art Forum offers 24,000 square feet of ground-floor exhibition space, an equally large conference area (occupied this year by the focal theme country, Greece) and a large new restaurant.

Frankfurt Virtual...

In its early years, the Frankfurt fair rights directory, originally conceived to give a break to smaller Third World publishing countries not tied into the international marketplace, seemed an oddity, almost an anachronism, in the universe of killer agents. Things didn't get much better when Frankfurt moved on to Rights-on-ROM. Would Internet make a difference? The luck of fair management was to possess an infrastructure that gave it staying power, and with the present downsizing of its commercial competitors, Frankfurt's enhanced online services may turn out to be the only surviving show in town.

Last month Frankfurt went live with a virtual meeting point, combined with the online rights catalogue accessible via the fair's Web site. After consulting the catalogue, users can open a dialogue with the person or firm controlling rights, moving into a secure environment for that purpose. It then becomes possible to send or receive manuscripts and illustrations, and to make them available for downloading.

It isn't even necessary to be a fair participant to get into the catalogue; for a fee of DM400 (plus 16% value-added tax) anyone—publisher, agent, passerby—can be registered in the online catalogue, which comes with an individual access code. The "virtual exhibitor" can then list available rights for a 12-month period on the following fee schedule:

1 to 25 titles—DM100 plus VAT;

26—100 titles—DM300 plus VAT;

101—200 titles—DM500 plus VAT;

more than 200 titles—prices available on request.

Note also that a U.S. dollar now buys about DM2.30. So a rights seller who wishes to list 25 titles would pay DM116, tax included, or about $50, meaning that each title listed would cost about $2.

There is no charge at the moment for back-and-forth transmissions between would-be buyers and sellers, including negotiations, but that should change in the future.

The Frankfurt "Who's Who" has been restructured; those listed in it can enter or update personal data directly online (no fee). Publishing and media professionals—whether or not they are attending the fair—can be registered as contacts. (For further information, contact Marifé Boix Garcia, director of e-business, Frankfurt Book Fair.)

...And Frankfurt Visual

Once again the fair will host an International Rights Directors Meeting—the 15th of the series—on the Tuesday afternoon preceding the official opening day (from 2 to 5 p.m.)—open to all (for a fee). This year's theme is Branding, Licensing and Merchandising, to be addressed by experts, with input invited from the audience; a reception follows.

The formal opening of the fair takes place on Tuesday afternoon in the presence of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Simitis, who will introduce this year's focal theme, Greece and its contemporary culture. (Theme exhibits and events will occupy the upper floor of the new Forum building.)

Once again, the fair plays host to the Frankfurt eBook Awards, to be announced at a formal ceremony on the fair's opening day, October 10.

As in previous years, the first three days of the fair, Wednesday through Friday, are open exclusively to trade visitors (from 9 to 6 p.m.); the general public is admitted—for a fee—on Saturday and Sunday (same hours). Monday, the final day (9—2 p.m.) of the fair, is again restricted to professionals.