A slightly shortened, slightly dramatic Frankfurt Book Fair ended Sunday, October 10, with the organizers, including lame-duck director Volker Neumann, claiming success. Reflecting the lack of a Monday exhibition day, attendance dropped from 289,000 last year to 270,000, but a day-to-day comparison showed a slight increase. (How many of the attendees were busloads of students remains unknown.)
While some noticed a slackening of traffic in the afternoons in Hall 8, where most English-language publishers had stands, many exhibitors and other attendees maintained that traffic is not an issue at Frankfurt. As one medium-sized publisher put it, "Think of the booths as similar to tables in the rights center. They're a place to hold appointments. You don't want more than one person to come down the aisle every 30 minutes."
Fair management highlighted the fact that English-language Hall 8 was SRO for the first time in years, but several attendees noted that a few professional and academic publishers had moved into the hall, which may have bolstered figures. The hall may be even more crowded next year: religion publishers, who were again in Hall 3, which is predominantly German-language, said that there is talk of the English-language religion publishers joining their secular brethren in Hall 8, in part to reflect the category's more mainstream appeal.
"Quiet, but still plenty to do" was how Jackie Kaiser at Westwood Creative of Toronto described the cavernous LitAg center, one floor down from last year's location at the top of Hall 6. Her table, like the tables of at least half of those in attendance, was occupied much of the time. Some, like France's Michele Lapautre, booked tables but chose to forsake them to tour the exhibit floors. Most agents continued to complain of the distance from the center of so much of their activity in Hall 8.
Many fairgoers were appalled at the odd situation involving director Neumann, whose current contract lasts until the end of 2005. Only weeks before Frankfurt opened, the Boersenverein, which owns the fair, announced that it would not renew the contract, a move that deeply disappointed Neumann—and many exhibitors, who view the former Bertelsmann executive as a hero for taking on both the fairgrounds and greedy Frankfurt hoteliers. During the fair, Neumann made the rounds and spoke his mind, defending his two-year record of steady attendance gains, more events, improved services and a turnaround in finances. Weirdly, headhunters were out in force, approaching a range of German publishers about the position, emphasizing the botched situation that will lead to the fair soon having its third new director in four years. Some Americans took the seemingly un-German turmoil as another reason to look more closely at London as the European show to attend.
On some nuts-and-bolts issues, Neumann was reassuring, saying that increased competition is helping slow hotel rate hikes: "In the past two years, a bunch of new hotels have opened and others are being built," he told PW.
Among new initiatives, Neumann said that the fair plans to work with the Berlin Film Festival in a kind of exchange program, so that book rights will have a presence in Berlin and the film festival will be involved in the book fair's Film & TV program, which made its debut last year and was expanded this year. The book fair has made a similar deal with the International Toy Fair at Nuremberg; in addition, the book and toy fairs plan a joint fair in Shanghai.
This year's guest "country," the Arab world, probably had its biggest success in acquainting the German public and German publishers with Arab literature and culture. The display of some 10,000 Arabic books caused some controversy. At least one protesting group had a booth off the fair grounds, and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris challenged the legality of a few of the books. (Books that deny the Holocaust, instigate hatred or crime, or are pornographic are banned in Germany.) The fair, which emphasized that it cannot make such a judgment, called in the public prosecutor's office, which determined that the books, while highly critical of Israel, were not illegal.
Many Large, but No Big, Books
While the stereotypical "big book" became virtually extinct at the fair several years ago, a number of buzz-laden proposals and manuscripts were in evidence at the show this year.
Robert Gottlieb's Trident Media made a big push for American hits Jon Stewart's America: The Book and Paris Hilton's tabloid-ready tome Confessions of an Heiress, while Ira Silverberg looked to do the reverse: sell sensation Arnon Grunberg's new Dutch bestseller The Jewish Messiah in the U.S. (Grunberg's The Story of My Baldness is coming out this fall from Other Press, but there's no official contract for Messiah.)
Another big international deal-in-waiting came for a book by two former members of Michael Jackson's entourage, Marc Schaffel and Stuart Backerman. Hollywood entertainment lawyer Bill Grantham was shopping the title to many U.S. houses on the basis of a chapter and synopsis, though he said the book was already finished. He hopes it could be released to coincide with the start of Jackson's criminal trial in early 2005.
Love Walked In, a novel involving an obsession with The Philadelphia Story and a Cary Grant look-alike, being repped by Jen Carlson, was also getting attention from the after-hours Frankfurter Hof set. Also popular in the lobby: Rebecca Lee's The City Is a Rising Tide, a novel about the misdoings of a nonprofit worker, which went to S&S courtesy of Doug Stewart and for which international sales are still being sought. One notable international sale that did take place was by the Frankfurt stalwart Ed Victor, who sold an iPod-themed memoir by GQ editor Dylan Jones to a number of international publishers.
And just days after word came of a Richard Clarke novel going to Neil Nyren at Putnam, Public Affairs' Peter Osnos reported to PW that he bought a book from the Century Foundation whose lead writer is none other than... Richard Clarke. The book, titled Defeating the Jihadists, is equal parts analysis of and prescription against the global jihad threat. It will be a co-publication of Public Affairs and the nonpartisan Century Foundation, due out right after the election.
A range of exhibitors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Independent Publishers Group, from the University of Michigan Press to Australia's Allen & Unwin, described days full of the usual Frankfurt back-to-back meetings, in some cases more than ever.
John Sterling at Holt had an "excellent" fair, commenting that interest may have been greater than usual because most of the Holtzbrinck Group sat out the fair last year. Drake McFeely at Norton also reported a very strong fair, and editor Bob Weil, busily discussing rights for some of his recent significant acquisitions by giants of the graphic novel genre like R. Crumb, felt that Europeans in particular had come to terms with what used to be called "comix."
At his 24th Frankfurt, Gary B. Wilson, chairman of Humanics Publishing Group, Lake Worth, Fla., reported "brisk traffic" and "more energy than last year" on the floor. The self-help and personal development publisher had seen buyers from as far away as Korea and, surprisingly, Argentina. The company's deal last year "selling to Russia" has turned out to be a good experience, Wilson added. Perhaps Wilson was also just happy to be in a dry place. After several of Florida's four hurricanes this season blew through the Palm Beach area, the company's office recently had no electricity or running water and Wilson's house had sustained $450,000 worth of damage, Wilson said. Humanics' stock was not hurt, since its warehouse is in Nashville, Tenn., but "the future has been affected," Wilson said. "We're a month behind on the spring list."
B&N's large presence focused on its publishing program, yet the company spent much of its time continuing to search for titles from around the world that can be sold in the U.S. but don't have distribution there. CEO Steve Riggio called the show "good" and thought BEA should consider letting in the public at some point, as the Frankfurt Book Fair does on the weekend.
Al Cummings, chairman of Madison Press Books, a major Canadian book packager, said he has noticed a decline in American attendance, which he expects to continue because Americans prefer London. "Many of them feel they see publishers when they come to New York prior to Frankfurt," he commented. Nevertheless, he emphasized that despite fax and e-mail, fairs are still important for the initial meeting with a potential client, especially if the person is not comfortable with English.
Ingram's Wendell Lotz disputed the notion that exhibitors might choose between London and Frankfurt, saying that the two fairs "give us a chance to see people twice a year and to see people we otherwise don't see."
Probably the happiest man at Frankfurt this year was Michael Heyward, publisher of Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, who described himself as still "dazed with happiness" after Text's recent "marriage" with Canongate Books, a move that saved Text from being swallowed up by a much larger publisher. "Everyone's happy to see an independent preserved and they're especially happy about how it was done," he said. "It's a new way for independents to join up around the world." Already the two publishers, both 10 years old, were savoring what Heyward called "the best part" of the deal: bidding for rights together.
Don Katz, chairman and CEO of Audible.com, was a first-time Frankfurt attendee, and used the usual adjectives to describe the globe's biggest book fair: "gigantic, unbelievable." Impressed by "the celebration of books," he added, "Now I realize why German-dominated media companies dominate world publishing." At the fair in connection with Audible joint venture launches in France and Germany, Katz offered an amusing reason for being excited about doing business in Germany: the country, he said, has a large middle class; reads more newspapers and books than Americans; and, perhaps most important, "now has traffic as bad as ours."
Selling Rights in Asia
The international rights directors session focused this year on a group of Asian countries and drew more than 300 people. Moderated by Robert Baensch of the NYU Publishing Center, the session offered a keynote on "Doing Business in Asia" by Y.S. Chi, chairman of Random Asia, who asserted that, with careful tending, the Asian market is a flourishing one and is likely to become more so.
Li Pengyi of the Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press, one of China's biggest importers of books and rights, said Chinese publishing has enjoyed "unprecedented growth" since the country joined the World Trade Organization three years ago. Currently its copyright trade—meaning rights bought and sold—was 11 to one in favor of imports. Areas of particular interest are English language teaching, economics, management, computer science, art and children's books. More strategic partnerships are being formed with Western houses, and the piracy situation has improved. Publishing is still not open to foreign investment, however, and publishers need to know how to handle politically sensitive subjects. Overseas publishers looking covetously at the colossal population of 1.3 billion should realize that less than 20% are potential readers.
Annete Beetz, who handles rights for Munich publisher Graefe & Unzer, spoke of the sale of complex Chinese language rights (meaning to Taiwan) as more important so far than those of simplified rights (mainland), but the latter are gaining. A typical print run is 5,000 copies for a trade title, though business ones can double that. List prices of books are very low by Western standards, which is reflected in tiny advances—most between $800 and $1,200, though business titles by well-known authors could reach $5,000.
Korea's Jiwon Park, foreign rights manager at Gimm Young, said that about 30% of the titles published there last year were translations, with comics making up the majority. The depressed economy leads readers to look for books of hope. Fiction sales can be misleading: The Da Vinci Code may have sold 500,000 copies, but most were discounted so much as to make very little profit. A multifaceted industry is giving way to a few giant combinations. Joost Sonne-Nijhoff of Berlin's Tivola Baumhaus found some bright spots in the Korean market: for example, textbooks and reference books.
Rika Ito of Iwanami Shoten in Tokyo spoke of the decline of academic books in the current economic climate, noting that he looks mostly for books on political theory, history, modern philosophy and current social sciences. English, German and French are the principal languages of origin for translations; the chief problem he has in dealing with overseas publishers is their long silences and frequent unresponsiveness.
Rarin Utakapan of Samarin Printing and Publishing in Bangkok had an optimistic view about Thailand. He saw a book market growing by 10%—15% a year, led by a desire to pursue knowledge to achieve greater success in life, as well as by a rapid rise in the retail infrastructure. Translations are more popular than they used to be, led by the Harry Potter success, and are now 10% of the total. Trends closely follow those in the U.S., with crime, chick lit and mystery popular fiction genres. He also deplored the slow response to rights overtures by many Western houses.