By 4 p.m. local time today, the witching hour when they threw the doors open to the public, a few things had become clear about this year's Frankfurt Book Fair: Attendance in the English-language hall was initially light, although it picked up a little starting Thursday afternoon. Traffic in the rights center was calm but thick enough; still no mega deals, minus some Woody Allen waffling with HC UK and Robert Gottlieb's sale of two Deepak Chopra children's books. And the German publishing business, lethargic at the country's bookstores, was anything but inside the fair's halls. At the booth for Bertelsmann's Der Club, for instance, a planned event for German uber-celebrity Dieter Bohlen attracted so much interest that it was moved to a new wing and wound up bringing in as many German reporters as, well, the last Bohlen event (200 by one official estimate). Legal wrangling over possibly libelous passages in the book resulted in some being struck out by pen - and created a bullrush to the bookstores before an injunction kicked in.
In fact, the biggest book at the fair was as much a giant media event as book project. Goat, Taschen's Muhammad Ali tribute, (the acronym stands for Greatest of All Time), brought the champ himself in on Thursday to stand in a makeshift boxing ring on the show floor for what, at either 3,000 or 7,5000 Euros (about $3,500 or $9,000; the pricier version will be signed by Ali and packaged with a sculpture), may also also be called Priciest of All Time. A spokesman at the booth said that Taschen has plenty of interest worldwide for the largely photographic tribute and will make it available via the Taschen site and as a special-order at many stores. The company will also take its promotion, and possibly even Ali, to consumer fairs in the U.S. such as the Miami Book Fair. About 10,000 copies will be printed, 1,000 for the high-end edition. And, oh yes, the book will weigh more than 70 lbs.
Just when Ali took the media-frenzy to a canine-like pitch, along came the circus of Friday, with an event this evening that will see Paulo Coehlo sign books in a (Guiness) Record-setting number of editions outside one German hall, to be followed by a Russian Disco - named for the popular German writer Wladimir Kaminer's bestselling book - in another, to be followed by Guenter Grass and Susan Sontag events tomorrow.
The Friday bustle occured against a backdrop of concerned English-language publishers. But the feared abandoment of English halls never really materialized. Some publishers, like Phaidon, took advantage by actually selling some titles, while others posted "Kein Buecher Verkauf" signs telling spend-happy locals that there were no books to buy. Meanwhile, insiders at the fair continue to be somewhat befuddled by publisher concerns about the hours issue. One noted that, just as the rights section of the fair was facing pressure from London, the consumer side of the fair has to deal with competition from Leipzig, and its decisions must therefore be understood in context.
A fair that has at once become more consumer-friendly has of course meant a less promintent role for New York and London rights people. Still, many American publishers were trying to see skies sunnier than those outside the convention-center windows; one impresario saw his Hefeweizen glass as half full when he said he was happy with the lack of a big book, because "it means I don't have to go back to the hotel and read every night."
It's always interesting to cruise around the halls and see what publishers are displaying at their booths, as it would seem to represent, roughly, what they think has big international potential. This year: the cute (the Olsen twins' autiobiography), the unsurprising (Michael Moore), the even less surprising (XXX: Portraits of 30 Porn Stars ) were all displayed in life-size fashion.
After hours, last night's swank Bertelsmann event brought in well over 1,500 people with publishing people from all over the workd attending. Finally, the fair's biggest newsmaker - for what he decided not to to do - was candid yesterday about his pre-show move. "We made our decision," said John Sargent "We'll have to see after the show was whether it was a good or a bad one." This year, the jury, like the Hall 8 crowds, are still somewhat out.