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An optimistic Frankfurt

11 October 2010

The 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. seems to have engendered a mood of optimism, in spite of the uneasy world economy and the particular preoccupations which are making book publishers feel as if the ground is shifting under their feet.

The numbers were up, with 7,533 exhibitors, an increase of 3%, and 522 agents registered in the Literary Agents Centre, 4% up on last year. This shouldn't be exaggerated as a factor, but some publishers who didn't make it to London because of the volcanic ash seem to have felt that a trip to Frankfurt was a necessity, although most of them would have been going to the German book fair anyway.

The difference seems to be that the international publishing business is experiencing some recovery, probably a bit uncertain, but nonetheless real enough to be encouraging. Book Sales in both the UK and the US have been better this year than last, even though there have still been some poor months. It's been a fair full of solid business, rather than razzamatazz, but that's only to be expected in these sobering times.

Simon & Schuster MD and CEO Ian Chapman, who did not attend Frankfurt in 2009, partly as a result of recessionary pressures, said: 'I'm just looking forward to going back. I have never had more meetings; it's back to back.'

Clare Harington, head of group communications at Hachette, said their appointment schedules were 'absolutely chock-a-block.. It's got off to an amazing start. The stand has been bursting with activity and it's nice to see everyone we didn't get to see in London.' Donald Greig, MD of Bradt, said the Fair's atmosphere was different from last year's. 'It seems much more upbeat and generally optimistic.'

Frankfurt is extremely expensive for publishers, with sky-high hotel costs (including the requirement to book rooms for the whole fair) and the expense of travel combining with the cost of the stand to make it an extravagant business. There were times when publishers would send a vast number of people, especially from London, but now they cut their staff to the bare minimum needed to man the stand and it is no longer expected or even felt desirable that editors, other than the top ones, should go to buy books.

The Fair was full of digital news, with the Tools of Change conference just prior to the Fair and also the announcement that Google Editions will launch next year. Juergen Boos, the Fair's Director, is making a strong pitch for an ongoing role for the Fair.

Continuum CEO Oliver Gadsby said: 'There have certainly been times over the years when I have questioned the cost of attending Frankfurt, but in this year of change, in our business and more widely, it seems more helpful than ever to be able to meet face to face.'

Inside Publishing on The Frankfurt Book Fair