Book traders who had come to think that each new Frankfurt Book Fair resembled the last one didn't think so this year (Oct. 10-15). The tragic events affecting the major player in the international book trade inevitably had their repercussions at the fairgrounds. Many of the American publishers and agents who make the fair what it is were missing--but it was America's week all the same.
On October 11--the one-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks--those attending the traditional luncheon thrown by Karl Blessing of his own Munich imprint heard their host say: "Who would have thought, a month ago, that our little book community would meet in Frankfurt once again?" In his first talk as new CEO of the Holtzbrinck group, Stefan von Holtzbrinck (younger brother of Dieter and Monika) offered "special thanks" to the Americans who had made it to the city. "This has been a very different book fair," Hans-Peter Übleis, CEO of Droemer Weltbild, told an overflow crowd at his group's traditional reception; it was a time for "seeing old friends." They included Americans--New Yorkers--to whom he offered "special greetings."
But there were some long pauses at the fair, inexplicable silences, empty stands, missing faces--not only of Americans. One of Italy's leading agents, who always attends international events with his partner/wife, was alone this time, for the couple had decided that "one of us should stay home with our young daughter." "We've all got CNN up here," said Argentina's Roberto Chwat, tapping his temple with a finger. "And we're waiting to get back to our hotels to turn on the TV again."
Security was reinforced--"massively," as fair management informed visitors. Access to Hall 8, housing the English-language contingents and the Israel collective stand, was controlled by guards checking briefcases and handbags. A special code word was circulated; its repetition over the public address system would signal that participants and visitors were to evacuate the hall at once. (The code word proved unnecessary.)
While there was no way to do a head count of individual participants, almost everyone one met had his or her own idea of how many people were missing from this stand or that, or from a table in the Agents and Scouts Center. Importantly, no significant American publisher or group was entirely missing. Still, it was always a surprise to find a full house--as at Simon & Schuster, whose Marcella Berger, director of subsidiary rights, said that many of her people were on the scene as early as Sunday morning--before the reprisal bombing of Afghanistan had begun--and almost none of their appointments had failed to show up. Of course, one could learn that there had been 56 stand cancellations, of which 34 were American (final figures); some Australians had also cancelled, but no Israelis did (nor did any Arab states, for that matter). And that still left over 6,600 individual exhibitors from 105 countries, showing on over 800,000 square feet of exhibition surface. The new floor plan, which drew major exhibitors closer together, included a splendidly designed Hall 3 (used as part of the German section). As always the fair included a dizzying number of sideshows--over 2,000 special events, including a focal theme (Greece this year). Leading foreign players managed to steer clear of all of them. Despite erroneous reports of party cancellations in the trade press (but not in PW), all of the traditional receptions took place--save that of the AOL Time Warner Book Group (still referred to as the Little, Brown party), "out of respect for the victims of this tragedy, and their friends and loved ones throughout the world."
But: "We're here, all the way from Argentina," one member of that contingent declared--and that from a hard-hit publishing economy. Inexplicably, some customary Nordic region visitors were reported missing, and yet one met some retirees--Denmark's Otto Lindhardt, Finland's Matti Snell--who just couldn't stay away. The publishers who make the Brazilian market for bestsellers--Sergio Machado of Record, Paulo Rocco of Rocco, and Pedro Paulo de Sena Madureira of Siciliano--were present and active on the floor and in the Agents Center. For Milan agent Susanna Zevi, all the important people were on hand except for half a dozen last-minute cancellations of the total of 40 appointments she had set up in advance, of which half were from the U.S.
Expectedly, the tension was contagious; public attendance had also fallen (by 14%, to 247,000 visitors), attributed to a general unwillingness to join crowds in tense times. Yet in the view of Eri Steimatzky, head of Israel's major bookshop chain and a publisher in his own right, the crisis is going to draw customers to bookstores everywhere, just as it has in his own country. (Since the latest Palestinian uprising, his stores are doing better than the general retail trade.)
As for what customers will be reading in the coming months, that's another story. Quite a number of Frankfurt traders think readers will want to know more abut their enemy. Thus there was a run on Taliban, subtitled "Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia" by Daily Telegraph expert Ahmed Rashid, a recent backlist publication from I.B. Tauris of London, whose owner and CEO Iradj Bagherzade (ex-Time Life books circulation manager for Europe) has been patiently building up a catalogue of books of serious nonfiction for years. It didn't hurt that Britain's PM Tony Blair and his chief aides were "heavily influenced" by the book, as reported in the British press, and during the Frankfurt week London agent Deborah Owen remarked that Bagherzade might be "the only person to have had a good fair."
Bagherzade himself confessed to PW that his staff had been feeling "a little uncomfortable" about the runaway success of the book since September 11, but the fact that Blair found the book essential eased their consciences. Translation rights had been sold in over 20 languages, including Catalan and Kerala (in southwest India). In the U.S., Yale University Press has over 100,000 copies in print, and during the fair paperback rights went to Macmillan/Pan for a six-figure sum. "At any other time and with any other subject," remarked Bagherzade, "we'd be throwing our hats in the air."
Owen Laster at the William Morris stand in the Agents Center was talking about another timely book, Conquering Terror: The History and Future of Warfare Against Civilians, by military historian and novelist Caleb Carr, sold before the fair to Random House, Little, Brown U.K., Germany's Heyne, Italy's Mondadori, France's Presses de la Cité.
Rizzoli may be pulling a rabbit out of a hat with a short essay by its star Oriana Fallaci, whose article on the effects of September 11 in Corriere della Sera (of Sept. 29) had created a stir; the expectation is that she will rewrite the piece as a small book, and Rizzoli had begun to offer foreign rights during the fair. Doris Lessing's agent Andrew Nurnberg said that his author had been persuaded to do a new introduction to her Afghan diary. And at the fair itself Rowohlt was showing its own contribution to the crisis: Dienstag 11, September 2001, a starkly attractive softcover containing articles and essays published immediately after the attacks by the likes of Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, John Updike, Louis Begley, and Paul Auster (with other pieces by German and other non-English-language writers). Auster's is a moving essay written for Michael Naumann's influential weekly Die Zeit, dictated over the phone by the author to Naumann--and translated by him.
Fairgrounds Sights and Sounds
The reorganization of the fair made possible by the addition of a greatly expanded central Hall 3 allowed for an enlarged Agents and Scouts Center as well--with tables spread over an area of 40,000 square feet. Some 223 agencies had booked 344 tables, providing working space for 386 individuals. And to the relief of the skeptics, who feared that fair management had once again isolated agents from their trading partners, the center turned out not to require more getting to than other necessary stops in the working day. One did find some empty spaces, for a number of agents had canceled, and some made do with reduced staffs. The unexpected absences, noted Carol Frederick, scout at the Sanford Greenburger agency, did allow time for unplanned meetings.
Frederick reports on the U.S. for 16 principals, among them S&S U.K., Rowohlt, Grasset, Feltrinelli, Albo, Norstedt, Salamandra, Aschehoug, Record, and Japan's Tuttle-Mori agency. Despite near shell-shock--losing much of the week containing September 11--she and her staff back on 12th Street in Manhattan had been able to e-mail a voluminous pre-Frankfurt report to their clients, followed by a last-minute hot list of some 20 titles. But a scout's job doesn't end there, for Frederick and her staff had to work out the fair appointments of each and every one of their clients. On the pre-fair Monday and Tuesday, when her publishers were working the lobbies of the Frankfurter Hof and Hessischer Hof, she kept in close touch with them, and then during the fair days via booth calls. Among big books available at the fair, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Philippe Mason (see "Hot Deals," Oct. 22) was the standout--and it had nothing to do with terrorism or indeed anything contemporary. (In Germany the novel had been preempted--with all that signified in terms of big deutschmarks--by Karl Blessing.) But another hot ticket was Grove Atlantic's Twelve, a nonfiction account of disaster movies and real terrorism, and then there were the other recent books and projects about present danger. Still, for this scout, there were fewer big books this year, fewer manuscripts to read overnight. Yet life went on, deals were done all the same. "In any case, with manuscripts circulating via e-mail, Frankfurt is now more about relationships," she summed it up.
Anglo-American agent Ed Victor seemed to be saying the same thing in his own way. "At Cambridge my very first lecture was given by an eminent professor; he saw that there were only six of us in the room and he said, 'Few but fit--let's begin.' There are fewer people here but they are focused, in a mood to work. In a certain way it's a better fair--you can find a taxi. And there were certainly enough sticks here to make a fire."
Peter Wilfert, head of Rowohlt Verlag and acknowledged to be one of the best of the latest generation of German publishers, found it to be a "subdued" Frankfurt, yet a solid working fair--"which is all you can hope for in a time like this." Everyone did his deals and participated in auctions, and saw a lot of booksellers in the bargain (for that is part of the raison d'être of the German contingent at the fair). "But all our conversations turned on September 11, on how it will affect business but also on the editorial side. Will there be books that we will no longer be able to publish? Everything will have to be looked at in a new way."
Wilfert saw the past 10 years in the international rights market as a "rat race." Now the tempo has slowed, and it's possible to think of the long term--building up authors, for example. "We're going back to the conservative publishing of 30 or 40 years ago."
"For many of us," Droemer's Hans-Peter Übleis said, "it was more important to feel that we were together with our publishing family than actually to do business. That is what will make this year's fair outstanding in the long run." But there was some business all the same, and the publisher was able to put finishing touches to his list, although one in 10 of his American partners was missing. There was a clear leaning toward nonfiction (he acquired Judith Miller's Germs, and will be the German publisher of Taliban).
Yosh Gafni of the Jerusalem Publishing House, which doesn't actually publish but packages for publishers, found that all of his best customers were absent this year. No matter; the defections gave him time to prospect for new publishing partners, including American university presses. (His biggest calling card was a 1,000-page Encyclopedia of Kabbalah.)
"One good thing about the situation," quipped Brazil's Sergio Machado of Record, "is that nobody thinks of complaining about how far away the Agents Center is." During the fair he made an offer for the sequel to Artemis Fowl, and the new Christian Jacq Egyptian series (he had published the two previous Jacq series). But he steered away from books on Afghanistan, sure that saturation would soon set in.
Off the Floor
There were as many parties as ever this year. Some were too crowded for comfort (like the first-time party of the expanded Axel Springer group, which seemed to have combined the guest lists of all the parties given by its components Ullstein, Econ, Heyne and more); there was also a first-time party by the French-Polish group Noir sur Blanc. As usual, the eve-of-the-fair Fischer Verlag party, held in the Frankfurt headquarters of that traditional literary publisher, brought together the elite of the trade, many of whom seemed surprised and delighted to meet counterparts from near and far who might not have showed up but did--even if that meant that one had to eat standing up. There was also standing room only at the traditional Jerusalem Book Fair editorial fellows breakfast. Standing or sitting, here were "the brains of the publishing world," as fair director Zev Birger told alumni fellows who attended the fair early in their careers and who have since become editors-in-chief and publishing directors.
Other traditional parties were smaller than usual, and one guessed that the downsizing had as much to do with a review of balance sheets as with the shortfall in fairgoers. Among the more intimate do's: New York agent Doris Michaels used Jimmy's Bar at the Hessicher to introduce author Jeffrey Fox to present and potential publishers (his books include How to Become CEO, already an international bestseller); a stand party staged by Laterza of Rome and Bari to celebrate its centenary; and a somewhat subdued gathering to honor the recently deceased literary agent Ruth Liepman, one of those who helped turn the postwar Frankfurt Fair into an international event.
On the morning before the fair, top executives of all the world's sci-tech community met for the 33rd general assembly of the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM)--except that the westernmost part of their world was meagerly represented this time--"for obvious reasons," as STM's chairman Robert Bovenschulte of the American Chemical Society--himself an American--observed. An estimated 75 of the 300 attendees had failed to make it. Yet membership in this influential lobby was up a notch (to 111 members, representing 238 imprints, despite all the M&A of recent times). Here the name of the game is copyright and protected delivery; the association's work is chiefly done in standing committees that cover legal affairs, innovations, library relations and serials.
There was also an oddly scheduled "Big Questions" conference (News, Oct. 15)--odd because the book fair's management, which sponsored the event, ought to have known that anyone who comes to Frankfurt as early as Monday is there to solve bigger questions than a seminar can deal with; few decisionmakers bothered to look in. And the fair's management also announced a highly controversial "Frankfurt in New York" rights fair to beheld in a Manhattan hotel next April 29 and 30--controversial because its dates place it just prior to the New York edition of BookExpo America, and not long after the London Book Fair (which was already proving problematic for BookExpo). Was the Frankfurt scheme a provocation against BEA's sponsor Reed? There were indications at this writing that the conservative German book trade association, which owns the Frankfurt Fair and finds some of its recent initiatives kooky, will act to keep Frankfurt at home in Frankfurt.
So the one sure thing is that there will be a genuine Frankfurt Book Fair again next year, October 9-14.
Photos by Marianne Veron