Fed up with the hassles and high price of the Frankfurt Book Fair—and contending that much of the business conducted there can be done just as well in other settings—Holtzbrinck USA is sending a bare-bones representation to the event this year.
"With other fairs being available, as well as the fact that we travel extensively to Europe without Frankfurt, and with the advent of e-mail and use of the Web, it got to the point where, given the cost and inconvenience of travel to the fair, it made sense for us to reduce our representation," John Sargent, president of Holtzbrinck USA told PW . Among the more onerous aspects of attending, said Sargent, are hotels' requirement that rooms be booked for an entire week, and the extended Friday evening hours on the exhibit floor. Fair executives have been working to ease the financial burden of attending the fair and were successful in wringing some concessions from the Frankfurt grounds management and from hotels.
But now, hotels that originally agreed to changes in price and minimum-stay requirements for the 2003 event have reneged on that promise, said fair spokesperson Holger Ehling. "We have a written statement about which hotels will stick with the agreement [in 2004]," he said. "Whether they will stick to this promise is not up to us to say."
Sargent characterized the change in Holtzbrinck's attendance this year as a "very significant reduction," but did not reveal specific figures. He said the companies within Holtzbrinck USA each go independently and that the number and type of employees attending will vary among publishers — though Sargent has the final say.
"I had discussions with each of the publishers to get their point of view and I made the decisions with their point of view in mind," said Sargent. Those decisions have employees—including some at very senior levels as well as those in rights—scurrying to cancel or reschedule appointments made when they expected to be at the fair. Farrar, Straus & Giroux will have a booth, but other divisions will make do with a presence in Macmillan's booth. The decision does not affect Holtzbrinck companies outside the U.S.
Holtzbrinck's dissatisfaction does not appear to be shared by other publishers. U.S. attendance is expected to match that of 2002 and the amount of exhibit space rented is up 3%. Ehling said, "We feel very confident" that American publishers will support the fair.