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The business of Frankfurt

4 October 2004

This weekend publishing people all over the world are packing their bags for the 2004 Frankfurt Book FairWorld's largest trade fair for books; held annually mid-October at Frankfurt Trade Fair, Germany; First three days exclusively for trade visitors; general public can attend last two., which starts on Wednesday. The largest annual gathering of the book world, the Fair is expected to have 6,648 exhibitors this year. The biggest international contingent will be the Brits, with just under 900 exhibitors, followed by the USA with 750. The Americans seem to be sending less people every year and American editors, with the cuts in publishing lists and the increasing reluctance to buy in from abroad, will be in short supply.

Diane Spivey, Rights and Contracts Director at Time Warner Publishing in the UK, has noticed that Americans are not buying at Frankfurt in the same way as they used to. 'There is a divergence in taste between Europe and the US, especially in the illustrated market. If a book is sellable in the US, it is less sellable elsewhere. There has been a real cultural shift and British tastes seem to be getting closer to the rest of Europe.'

At the first Frankfurt Book Fair 55 years ago 10,000 titles were exhibited. This year it will be around 350,000, of which 22% will be new publications. Last year there were 241 organised discussions, 444 readings and 219 film screenings, but the real point of the Fair is the thousands of individual publishers' meetings. For this is the international rights fair par excellence and together with BookExpo and increasingly the London Book Fair in the spring, it is the pivot on which the global publishing year rotates.

This year there have been a few concessions to the publishers' wishes. The Literary Agents' Centre - sold out weeks ago - has been moved closer to the action in the English-speaking hall. The Fair authorities are not insisting on the Fair staying open late on the Friday evening (as they did last year) and this year's Fair will close on the Sunday evening, a major improvement for weary rights sellers. Small concessions perhaps, but a recognition that the exhibitors are the Fair's main customers.

The 'focus on' feature has been reinstated and this year it will be, politically correctly in some quarters at least, on the Arab world, which contains 1,000 publishers and publishes 31,000 titles annually, nearly three-quarters of them school and university books. This year the Rights Directors' Meeting will concentrate on the four most important Asian markets - Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. These are the most dynamic new publishing markets, where everyone hopes to develop their business - and business is exactly what this enormous gathering is all about.

Inside Publishing on the Frankfurt book Fair