19 October 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

Prior to the start of the Book Fair there was a lot of speculation about what might happen: would attendance fall down thanks to economically collapsed budgets and exorbitant hotel prices? would the Fair be overrun with protests from Chinese dissidents angered by the selection of China as Guest of Honor?

Based on the first day and a half, things are clicking along as they should be. Juergen Boos, the Fair’s director, started off his special roundtable meeting by addressing the attendance question. Contrary to some people’s opinion that it “seems” less busy this year, the number of visitors to the fair dropped by a mere 0.8%, or 353 people, to 45,753. And in terms of the Rights Center, traffic is actually up by 5.8% to 3,850 visits yesterday. Obviously there’s no way to track the number of deals being done, but based on this level of traffic, it seems like business as usual. (I haven’t spent much time tracking down big book deals, but I did hear about an absolutely mental Michael Jackson graphic novel that’s coming out in the near future . . .)

A lot of questions at the “Meet the Director” lunch were directed at China being the Guest of Honor, and although he admitted that China could’ve done more in terms of freedom of speech and human rights, Boos was supportive of what China has done with this opportunity, pointing out that this was “a first step,” and the first time that China was presenting itself on foreign territory. Boos emphasized that this is the mission of the Frankfurt Book Fair: not to force the Chinese government to listen to dissidents, but to provide a platform where different people can interact with one another. A place where there are over 300 readings and presentations by dissident Chinese writers right alongside the thousands of official Chinese literary events.

The impact being Guest of Honor has on getting a country’s literature and culture out the rest of the world can not be understated. Last year only 8 works of Chinese literature (fiction and poetry) were translated into German. This year the total exceeded 160, including 60 titles that were subsidized by the Guest of Honor translation fund. And these figures are just for translations from Chinese to German—it’s virtually guaranteed that there will also be increases in the number of Chinese books published in English, Spanish, etc.

Another topic Boos touched on at the meeting was the future of the industry, shying away from making any definitive proclamations (no one can really predict the future), but drawing attention to the rise in mobile content, and his belief that this will dramatically increase over the next 3-5 years, especially in terms of STM and educational publishing.

The expansion of eBooks, mobile content, and the like, leads to the creation of a lot of new companies, and continues to provide a reason for people to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair even though more and more business is being done over e-mail and the Internet in general. As Boos said, you need to trust people to do business with them, and the best way to develop that trust is by meeting them in person. That’s what the Frankfurt Book Fair provides, and why the Book Fair continues to go strong despite the overall downturn in the economy.

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