Armed with rosters of tightly scheduled appointments, the 4400 foreign attendees (including 1100 exhibitors from 63 countries) weren't bothered by the cool and rainy weather front stalled over Europe for much of the annual Children's Book Fair, held April 14—17. Chronicle Books' Anna Erickson kept things in perspective when she said, "It's springtime in Italy with books—how bad could that be?"

Most publishers in attendance assessed this year's fair as a quiet one, with less traffic in the aisles than years past. The lack of roaming crowds is a mostly welcome development, however, largely a result of the ongoing efforts of fair organizers to keep tighter control of local attendees. But the appearance of fewer people certainly did not mean less business. "There hasn't been a lot of booth traffic, but I'm booked solid," said Sarah Wuerth, subsidiary rights director of Harcourt's children's books division, echoing the responses of many of her colleagues.

Another factor contributing to the fair's low-key tone is an increase in some publishers' foreign travel throughout the year. "U.K. agents and publishers come to New York more often these days," said Megan Tingley, editor-in-chief of children's books at Little, Brown. "I've met with many of them in the last couple of months and I have already seen everything they had to offer. That's changed the tenor of the fair, I think."

With fiction sales breaking through one barrier after another, publishers tended to concentrate on the next big fiction success (rather than on picture books, the longtime star of the Bologna show). As Cally Poplak of Egmont U.K. said, "The difficulty is that we are all too focused on fiction. Its success highlights the fact that picture books are so expensive in comparison."

Tingley noted that the continued dominance of fiction at the fair has also had a quieting effect. "It's harder to create a buzz with fiction," she said. "I'm taking home a lot of things I'm excited about, but I won't know for sure until I read them."

Caution about overpaying for authors is increasingly affecting the buying of fiction. Last year, Macmillan publisher Kate Wilson warned that there were too many books for which too much had been paid—and so it has proved. Sally Gritten, managing director of children's books at HarperCollins U.K., summed up what many publishers seemed to think when she said, "You don't come to the fair to buy. There's a danger of making a mistake." Her colleague at HC, Amanda Ridout, expressed belief in picture books—if output was kept focused. "Focus is needed to develop creativity," she said. "We've also become more strategic so that our output is carefully planned." At Bloomsbury, Sarah Odedina told a similar story. "There's no way that we're getting out of picture books but we are getting smaller," she said. "We want each one to be completely special." Odedina believes that both in the U.K. and abroad buyers want less challenging picture books. "Having a joint U.S. and U.K. publishing operation and a German market, too, we can put together a decent print run. That makes it possible for us to live with our picture books."

General shifts in the rights arena are taking a toll on fair business in some cases as well. "More and more agents are now keeping all their rights, so I only have three fiction titles to sell," said Wuerth. "It's a new development that I don't like so much. We're publishing more fiction than ever and you wouldn't know it from what I have to show people."

Proceeding with Caution

As the euro takes hold overseas, currency concerns around the globe are a caution signal for rights deals. The relative strength or weakness of a country's currency of course affects printing and production costs. "The dollar is noticeably weaker than it was nine months ago, so European co-edition prices are coming in a bit better," said Karen Abel, subsidiary rights manager at Chronicle Books. "The euro conversion is still sorting itself out and it's been difficult to get the pricing right in countries like Italy and Spain. But the offers are better now."

Wavering consumer confidence in any economy affects book-buying as well. "We're seeing fewer Asian countries than in the past," Abel continued. "A few years ago it felt like a free-for-all and the Korean publishers were buying all our things. Now it seems like political unrest is affecting the business. We're still selling a lot to them, but they are being more picky."

Wuerth concurred. "Korea is finally settling down and specializing as a market," she said. "They are finding what works for each house and what they like and don't like."

Conservative buying may have contributed to the fair's subdued mood, too. "Publishers tastes have become more pronounced," said Donne Forrest, director of subsidiary rights for Dial and Dutton. "People looking for picture books, especially, are seeking a very specific style—they're not going far afield from their corporate essence."

At Holiday House, editor-in-chief Regina Griffin commented, "We're only looking for things that are so outstanding and so different from what we do that we feel we have to have them. We don't want to duplicate our list; we want to enhance it."

See and Be Seen

The number of film agents and scouts coming to Bologna continues to increase. Early Hollywood interest in a book property is a natural buzz-generator and the film world continues to have a hearty appetite for family- friendly projects. "The opportunity to talk with some serious film people was the highlight of this year's fair," remarked George Nicholson of Sterling Lord Literistic.

Principals from Walden Media, the production company behind the feature film Holes (based on Louis Sachar’s novel) and the in-the-works The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, completed a maiden voyage to Bologna, and will soon be announcing a co-publishing arrangement with a major U.S. publisher, both for books related to film projects and for original works.

Newly minted Hyperion editor-in-chief Brenda Bowen noticed a trend of studios and production companies buying and optioning picture books, not just novels. "Deals are being done for picture books that you'd never think to send," she said, giving as an example the seven-figure deal Nickelodeon recently did with S&S for Duck for President.

Not everyone was entirely smitten with the proliferation of Hollywood types, however. "I met with some film people and I can understand why they want to be here," said one American rights director. "But it’s hard to balance so many appointments during the span of this fair; I wish they [the film people] would go to BookExpo instead."

And in what some observers have characterized as a slippery-slope situation, buyers from Barnes & Noble (in conjunction with the retailer's Sterling publishing arm) were out in full force. One American publisher told PW, "B&N was everywhere. I heard that the retail buyers were sitting in on meetings with the acquisitions editors. These days you're not just in competition with other publishers, but with some of your biggest accounts as well."

Business news floating through the halls included French publisher La Martinière Group's acquisition of Seuil Jeunesse in March. Just last year Seuil made news at the fair when it announced a co-venture with Chronicle Books. "Everyone's wondering what will happen," said Abel at Chronicle. "But things have been great for us with the Seuil line since the beginning, and it's still business as usual."

Chronicle has made an acquisition of its own, as well, recently taking on the SeaStar imprint that was formerly part of North-South. "The SeaStar books are in a more traditional style than many of our books," said Abel. "Other publishers are interested—people who have not been interested in our books before. It's broadened our market."

These days, what's a publishing gathering without some celebrity glitz? Faber & Faber, having announced Sir Paul McCartney's forthcoming picture book at the London Book Fair, entertained offers (reportedly in the seven-figure range) from American houses at Bologna. As of press time a U.S. publisher hadn't been announced; according to Suzy Jenvey, children's editorial director at Faber, "We're not auctioning the book, but are looking for the right relationships. It's very important that we get it right with each country." High in the Clouds, which will be co-written by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Geoff Dunbar, will come out in England in October '05.

Faber had more star wattage on display, too—a picture book called Flanimals by Ricky Gervais, the British writer and actor recently feted Stateside with two Golden Globes for his comedy series The Office. Again, publishing partners for the book (due out this October, and illustrated by Rob Steen) were not decided at the fair, though Jenvey headed home with several proposals. "It got blank stares where [The Office] isn’t known," Jenvey said, "but publishers from all the countries that the show's been in wanted it straight away."

Further upping the buzz-inducing-Brits ante, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson was on hand in Bologna, escorted by her publishers on a walkabout of the fair and honored with a cocktail party celebrating her Little Red picture book series (S&S in the U.S. and U.K.). Little Red's Christmas Story, illustrated by Sam Williams, is due out in October.

Fiction Flying High

As it has for the past several years, fiction dominated this year's fair. Demographic patterns in a majority of countries continue to reflect larger populations of middle-grade- and young-adult-aged readers than of kids in the picture-book set. Fantasy is still king (though some believe it's on a somewhat unstable throne) following a Harry Potter release year in which the fifth volume of J.K. Rowling's series set sales and print-run records around the globe, and newer players like Eragon by Christopher Paolini and Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor have become international bestsellers as well.

"Everyone is still looking for fantasy," said Wuerth of Harcourt, "and I’ve had lots of requests for adventure novels." Margaret Raymo of Houghton Mifflin observed, "I'm still seeing fantasy trilogies, and I saw two quartets. Next year it'll be quintets." And she mused, "Why are people buying books if they are not yet written?" Maria Kjoller, subsidiary rights director at FSG, said, "I've heard lots of people say 'enough with the trilogies already.' Fantasy is not dead, but you need to find really good fantasy in a crowded market."

HarperCollins is one publisher that has seen no slow-down in the fantasy feeding frenzy. Subsidiary rights director Joan Rosen spoke of several deals firmed up just prior to Bologna. "[Executive publishing director] Elise Howard bought a novel called The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber. It's his first children's book. We also hold world and film rights to a fantasy trilogy by John Berkeley which begins with Palace of Laughter," Rosen said. Berkeley's books will be published under the Julie Andrews imprint and rights have recently been sold to S&S U.K. At the fair, Hachette made a pre-emptive bid for French rights, and a German translation is in the works. Rounding out a fantasy trifecta is The Riddles of Epsilon by British author Christine Morton-Shaw, which generated "a huge amount of interest," according to Rosen, and is scheduled for summer 2005 from Harper U.S., which holds English language rights. Also under the Harper banner, Greenwillow publisher Virginia Duncan mentioned her recent six-figure purchase of The Spook's Apprentice by debut author Joseph Delaney, first in a trilogy from Random U.K.

News of other fiction genres included Charlie Higson's new series of prequels starring a young Etonian James Bond, in a clear hope of capturing fans of Anthony Horowitz's enormously successful Alex Rider series. Puffin will publish the two titles in 2005, the second to coincide with the release of the next Bond movie.

Chick lit is also a popular category in many countries, though some editors were wondering if it has peaked. Angharad Kowal, sub-rights manager at S&S, found that publishers were saying, "We're looking for something different than fantasy and girl fiction." Historical fiction and thrillers were two categories of fiction in demand, Kowal said; she sold Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls (an adventure novel set in the eighth century, based on Norse folklore) to 20 foreign publishers ("it's optioned everywhere"). A pleasant surprise was the international reception to the revamped Nancy Drew series, for which Kowal saw "a lot more interest than I thought I would"; she did deals with the U.K. and Japan, expects a French offer, and has strong interest from Sweden and other countries.

As Linda Biagi, Scholastic's international rights director, put it, "There's so much fantasy out there, and so much of it is sub-par. Publishers are being very discriminating." But Bowen at Hyperion observed, "There's a gargantuan thirst for fantasy and for romance that never goes away."

This thirst is certainly not limited to English-speaking markets, either. "Fantasy is still very strong for us," said Margherita Forestan, children's book director of Italy's Mondadori. "After Harry Potter we saw trilogies one after another, nothing new. But now readers have learned to appreciate good fantasy and the better titles are succeeding." In addition, Forestan noted, "We are succeeding quite a lot with Italian authors who are writing about important themes of adolescence."

Fiction—both homegrown and imported—is gaining more of a foothold in France. Franck Girard, children's book director of Bayard Jeunesse, said, "Fiction is very important and is giving us a real presence in the market as a publisher of high-quality books." He points to 95 Pounds of Hope, a novel by Anna Gavalda that was published in the U.S. by Viking last fall, and The Orange Trees of Versailles by Annie Pietri (Delacorte, May) as examples of this success.

The prolific author Anne-Laure Bondoux (incidentally, a former Bayard staffer) has written La princetta et le capitaine, a novel that has compelled Hachette Jeunesse to make a foray into fiction. Phi-Anh Nguyen, the company's international publishing manager, said, "I just started selling rights 10 days ago and we have interest from the U.S. and the U.K., which is new for us. The feedback has been incredibly good. We're concentrating on this one title for now and if it works we'll do more."

Tingley of Little, Brown is among those American publishers who ventured into other territories. "I've seen a lot of interesting things from Germany," she said. "Because of Cornelia Funke, people want to see the next undiscovered author." On the homefront, Tingley said that Twilight, a YA novel about a teenage vampire by Stephenie Meyer, "by far generated the most interest." Scheduled for fall 2005 in the U.S., the book's film rights have been sold to Maverick Films (Madonna's production company) and MTV Films; Time Warner Book Group has the book in Britain. "We sold Finnish rights here to a publisher who showed up with her offer in hand," Tingley said. "And Russian rights were also bought sight unseen."

Also racking up foreign partners was a novel that FSG bought from Andy McNichol at William Morris before the fair. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin is a first novel due out next year about life after death, starring a teenage girl who is killed by a hit-and-run driver. Sales to other countries have mushroomed rapidly, including Bloomsbury (U.K. and Germany), Albin Michel (France), Vassalucci (Holland), Keter (Israel), Rocco (Brazil), Sperling (Italy), Richters (Sweden).

"Historical fiction is the new fantasy" was a popular quip among rights directors, reflecting a theory that this genre might be next to ignite. Kjoller of FSG cited enthusiasm from publishers for a new novel by Suzanne Fisher Staples that is set in 2001 Afghanistan. "Everybody wants to see it," she said. "Shabanu was well received in Europe and the fact that Staples was a correspondent in that area gives the book authenticity." FSG has scheduled the book for fall 2005.

Pictures Telling a Smaller Story

"Soft" is perhaps the gentlest adjective currently bandied about to describe the generally difficult state of the picture book market. "It's really down," said Mary Cash, executive editor of Holiday House. "All the British houses in particular have cut back. We are seeing a huge number of packagers, though."

Cash is not alone in her observation; the proliferation of packagers and novelty publishers was evident everywhere. "Value-added" seems the new buzzword, but according to packager Working White (which has just launched a publishing list, Ruby Red, in the U.K. trade), the "added value" must be an integral part of the book, not just an add-on. That and the concept of learning through play, they believe, makes their books more interesting than a straightforward picture book.

In fact, at least three new novelty/packaging operations made their debuts at the fair. British-based author and publisher David Bennett, formerly of David Bennett Books, unveiled his start-up called Boxer Books. "It's a niche list," said Bennett. "The books are illustrator-driven and they are mostly new illustrators. We'll only do four or five books a year. As always, the U.S. has been brilliant in supporting us."

Fellow Brits Tony Potter (of packaging concern Tony Potter Publishing) and Peter Bridgewater (co-founder of illustrated-book publisher The Ivy Press) introduced fairgoers to their joint venture, Inky Press. Inky's first 23 titles are landing on shelves this month in Canada, France and the U.K. Though the company is primarily a packager, Potter said, "We will probably publish in the U.K. eventually. London and Bologna have been really good for us."

Handprint Books publisher Christopher Franceschelli found Bologna the ideal time to launch Smart Ink Books, a packaging line created in partnership with Norm Sheinman, who has previously designed and published projects for Intervisual, Piggy Toes Press, White Heat and other companies. Among the first Smart Ink titles are Woodkins: Kirsty's Big Adventure and Woodkins: Kelly's Great Day, two books due out this September that incorporate dress-up-paper-doll play by using wooden dolls and pieces of fabric. "Eventually we want to publish," said Franceschelli. "Norm and I have always wanted to work together, but Handprint wasn't the vessel for these titles. So we decided to start a new line."

The move is in step with other avenues of expansion for Handprint that include joining forces with Front Street Books, and the publication of Handprint's first novel, The Genie in the Book by Cindy Trumbore, due out in October. Bologna was also the occasion for Handprint to do business with Reader’s Choice Books, a soon-to-launch display marketing company founded by Stephen Rosebrough, who previously worked with Books Are Fun.

Another Stateside publisher experiencing a growth spurt in the novelty arena is Innovative Kids. "Our foreign business is growing and our co-productions have increased a hundredfold," said publisher Shari Kaufman. The Now I'm Reading, Memory Match Game, and Soft Shapes series "cross all market channels," Kaufman noted. According to Innovative Kids CEO Michael Levins, "People are appreciating the educational value of our titles. They're not just novelty for novelty's sake."

Kaufman’s trips to Bologna have been fruitful in other ways as well: the fair has proven a golden opportunity to hire illustrators for her company's books. "We set up appointments with illustrators prior to the fair, and we've found several here," she said.

Debra Dorfman, publisher of Grosset & Dunlap and a Bologna first-timer, found that it was truly a buyer's market when shopping for new novelty formats. "I was able to tell people about the properties I own [Miss Spider, The Wiggles, Strawberry Shortcake, etc.] and ask them to come back to me with something interactive and unique," she said. "They were excited about being challenged. I had not one bad meeting. I've seen a few interesting things and I'm just waiting for some pricing to see if we can make them work."

The traditional picture book is far from extinct, however. Many U.S. publishers cited continued strong sales to Korea, and a slight upturn in business with Japan, as bright spots. "Our picture books got a lot of attention and we have had tremendous luck with the Korean publishers," said Kjoller of FSG. "The Tree of Life by Peter Sís won the Bologna Ragazzi award this year and lots of people came by to see it. We turned away a lot of disappointed people [because the vast majority of rights were already sold], but I actually did sell a couple of new countries."

A picture book called Anne Frank received a great deal of attention as well, largely due to its arresting jacket, which was on prominent display on an outer wall of Random House's stand. The Hutchinson title, from the team of Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett (who previously collaborated on Snow White and Joan of Arc), had gone to Knopf before the fair, but Random U.K. rights director Linda Summers said that several U.S. publishers came by to see it though they knew it was already sold. Summers reported firm sales in Japan and Italy; further sales (subject to terms) in France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Brazil, Greece, Portugal; and strong consideration from Iceland, Israel, Korea and Taiwan.

Spanning the Publishing Globe

Like other international book fairs, Bologna offers a focused opportunity for spotting industry trends that can affect business at home and elsewhere. Politics, economics and demographics all have a role to play in shaping the current children's book scene.

After at least five years of what Girard at Bayard Jeunesse characterized as a "dynamic and good market" spurred by steady growth, France's market has shifted to "dynamic but difficult. We have too many books being published and too many new companies and imprints," he said. "We are coming to this later than Germany or other countries, but we are approaching a troubling situation; there will have to be some shakeout with so many books and companies." Nguyen at Hachette agreed. "The market is still OK in France after lots of growth over the past three years. But the market is very competitive and space in bookshops has shrunk."

The German market, according to Charlotte Larat and Kerstin Michaelis of Beltz & Gelberg, remains "difficult." Michaelis added, "It's getting better, but it's a very slow process. In Germany, many small publishers have been sold to larger publishers, which makes it harder for medium-sized publishers to compete." Their two biggest successes at the fair were for Philip Waechter's picture book Ich, sold to France and Holland, with interest and offers from Finland, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Japan and Korea; and a 400-page collection of 43 Hans Christian Andersen tales, with 120 illustrations by Nikolaus Heidelbach.

In Italy, children's book sales across the board have improved slightly, but results are still not where they should be, according to Forestan of Mondadori. "We had an increase last year, but mainly due to Harry Potter," she said. "If you exclude Harry, the market is flat." Among the factors hampering sales is a reorganization of the Italian school curriculum. "Sales of extra school books [ancillary trade books] are suffering and teachers don't know what the new school year will bring." Further hindrance has come from Italy's difficulties with the conversion from lire to euro. "The costs of some basic goods—rent, car, food—have increased for many people. A family that might have purchased three books in a month now may purchase two books or even less."

Forestan believes that recent months have brought some positive changes, however. "Libraries are buying again; local governments are investing in books on that level." But Forestan also reasons that any significant change in book sales has to come from innovation. "You cannot rely on what you've done," she said. "You have to keep pushing forward." To that end she mentions some of her company's latest strategies which include producing a guide for teachers that shows them how to use trade books—from all publishers, not just Mondadori—in conjunction with the new curriculum. "It’s the first time in Italy and the first time for Mondadori," she says of the project. A second venture is a line of branded books created with clothing chain United Colors of Benetton and starring the company's cuddly sheep mascot named Benny. "If we move books from the traditional bookstore to other retail venues like clothing stores and pharmacies maybe it will help," she said. "People who are intimidated elsewhere may buy books in these new locations."

Italian publisher Piemme continues to bask in the glow of its white-hot signature property Geronimo Stilton. Books by and about this mouse journalist dominate the country’s bestseller lists and sales show no signs of slowing; 5.5 million Geronimo books have been sold in Italy in just three-and-a-half years and the titles have been translated into 25 different languages.

The picture book market in Sweden is "still very difficult," said Magnus Nytell, managing director of Bonnier Carlsen. Fiction is stronger since Harry Potter, and fantasy is still big, though Nytell admitted being "fed up" with it, saying, "I'm looking for ordinary life drama." Offsetting the softness in picture book sales has been a boom in sales of manga, which Bonnier Carlsen has been publishing for four years. "There's been a manga explosion in Sweden," Nytell said, a development that is driving teenagers into bookshops. "Germany was 10 years ahead of us," he added, "but manga is now rolling across Europe."

Picture books are also "difficult" in Holland, according to Mirjam Bonting, publisher of Van Goor. "People are buying them, but there are so many. It's a small country and many publishing houses." Van Goor publishes big-name fiction authors like Philip Pullman, Roddy Doyle and Celia Rees, and Bonting said that the Dutch market is receptive to foreign authors. At the fair she was especially looking for projects in the preschool age range, but had seen "lots of good things in all age groups," from British, American, French and German publishers.

Groundwood Books rights director Susan Renouf reported that the children's market in Canada is currently very tough. "The amalgamation of chains has been catastrophic for kids' books," she said. "The big box structure doesn't work for these books and 50%—70% of the market is chains. Library funds have been down for a number of years as well and the clubs are not nearly as big as they once were. All our markets, like dominoes, have toppled within three or four years of one another." As a result, "people are taking smaller stands and doubling up, sometimes in other halls. The Canadians are here, but a bit more modestly," she said.

Nonetheless, Renouf pointed to Groundwood's Breadwinner trilogy of novels by Deborah Ellis as a particularly bright beacon. "The books continue to sell and have been published in 20 countries now." Looking ahead she commented, "We are a huge country with massive distribution issues and a small population. We survive by export in tough times and are looking at the U.S. as a market not for selling rights but selling direct. It's always been tough, but we are survivors."

By contrast, Greece's children's market is flying high. "Our market has been increasing and expanding for the last five years," said Zefi Batziania of the Hellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers. "If you look back seven years ago, it's like we didn't have children's books compared to now. We still need new titles and many publishing companies that weren't involved before are getting into children's books." Indeed, several American rights directors mentioned that they had received a surprising amount of interest from Greek publishers at this year's fair. Greece's favored nation status as this year's guest country of the Bologna fair also proved a boon. Greece will be in the world spotlight more than ever in just a few months as host of the 2004 Summer Olympics, and according to Batziania the spectacle can’t some soon enough for Grecians. "The whole land is a hole," she commented. "More than anything the people want the Olympics to start so that the construction will end."

After 10 years of decline, the children's market in Japan is improving. "Since 2001 we have slowly started to recover," said Masaki Imamura, publisher of Kaisei-Sha in Tokyo. "Fantasy sells best for us; we have had success with several fantasy crossover books that appeal to both adults and children." Editor Yoko Hirayanagi of Komine-Shoten has a similar assessment. "Five years ago, the situation was not so good," she said. "But we are seeing things move upward a little bit. Harry Potter and many other fantasy books in translation have done well." Hirayanagi said she was buying an S&S picture book, I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long, and was on the lookout for interesting fiction. "Japanese girls like witches," she added.

Lois Kim, rights and international sales director for Woongjin in Seoul, noted that many Korean publishers are still buying a lot of foreign titles. " 'I have nothing left to sell you' is what some of the foreign publishers say to me," she said. She estimates that 70%—80% of picture books are translated. "If you buy market-proven titles the cost is less than it would be for us to develop titles," she reasoned. Kim also explained how her country's culture has created a children's book market that is rapidly approaching capacity. "Korean parents have an extremely high passion for reading to their children. And when there is only one child per family, parents want to give as much educational opportunity to their children as possible." Kim cited the lack of a good infrastructure for working mothers as one reason for a dropping birth rate. The situation has become so serious, she said, that the Korean parliament is discussing incentives—tax breaks, free education for young children—to encourage Korean citizens to have bigger families.

The Spanish-language market continues to boom, according to Lectorum president Teresa Mlawer, not just in the U.S. but across Latin America. "The Latin American publishers I saw were buying in full force," she said. More and more, she reported, publishers in Spain are realizing that to sell to Latin America and the U.S., a Latin American edition is required. Mlawer is doing an increased number of co-editions with Spanish publishers, where she adapts the text for her market, and the printing and translation costs are shared.

Educational publishers were out in force at the Global Learning Initiative. Launched last year and organized by the Association of Educational Publishers, the GLI is now housed in its own hall. The program showcases new print and multimedia products and provides informational programming. Exhibitors were up from 18 to 38, and an estimated 300 people participated in the sessions. Harold Underdown, who manned a stand representing Charlesbridge Publishing’s educational products, said, "I met with 12—15 serious people and made contacts with most of the markets we hope to get into. If two or three of those pan out over the next year, it will have been worthwhile for us to be here."

Building Business Bridges

At its best, the new "quieter" Bologna reflects publishing practices and strategies that are changing and evolving. The fair has in some ways become a more important venue for strengthening creative and business alliances. Following the success of last year's event, HarperCollins once again gathered its foreign publishing partners (more than 35 of them) of the Series of Unfortunate Events series for a "Snicket Summit" during which marketing and promotional ideas and publishing strategies for the property were discussed. At Disney Publishing Worldwide, Lisa Holton spoke of the company's new strategy for building global books and how Bologna helps to facilitate it. "We can gather our licensees from around the world and have the editors and designers plan ways to work together to develop titles that work in each market, rather than just licensing characters," she said. An example of this new method is Disney Fairies, a book by Gail Carson Levine ("We asked her to bring Tinkerbell's world to life," Holton said), illustrated by David Christiana. The volume is scheduled for a simultaneous worldwide launch in fall 2005. From this original property, Disney plans to spin off various characters created by Levine and Christiana in a variety of mass market titles and formats. As a second example, Holton mentioned a Disney Learning series called Magic English, which is essentially an ESL program for children starring Disney characters. The materials and launches for those books have been carefully coordinated and jointly created as well. "We’ve been evolving into this, and at this fair, it's come together," Holton said.

Duncan of Greenwillow is in the large camp of publishers who appreciates the face-to-face interaction with international colleagues that makes Bologna special and keeps it vital. "We published The Oracle Betrayed by Catherine Fisher last winter and here at the fair I was able to meet with her British editor and her agent," said Duncan. "I think making that kind of connection is extremely useful. Even though we've seen most of the major projects before coming here, there are constantly new things and always lots of follow-up."

Bloomsbury children's publisher Sarah Odedina found this year's fair "utterly focused," saying, "We're all here to buy, sell and talk about children's books. Even if there isn't a deal, it's all about relationships and finding out where tastes match. We all want to make a success out of this business." And certainly no one would argue with that publishing goal. Next year's dates: April 13—16.