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Frankfurt under threat?

13 October 2003

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., just drawing to a close, is still the biggest international book fair by some considerable margin, but there are signs that its pre-eminence is being challenged by smaller fairs. The London Book Fair, for example, is more user-friendly for the publishers who gather from all over the world to buy and sell rights. BookExpo AmericaBookExpo America, commonly referred to within the book publishing industry as BEA. The largest annual book trade fair in the United States can be more glamorous - and more useful if it takes place in New York.

There is increasing resistance in a cost-conscious industry to the escalating cost of going to Frankfurt. This year some publishers, such as the American companies owned by Holtzbrink, have decided not to send anyone to the Fair. The Fair authorities have negotiated down the exorbitantly-priced minimum stay insisted on by the hotels from 6 days to 3 and offer a 12% reduction in stand costs, but these changes will only take effect next year.

There has also been much resistance to increased admittance for the German public (the German publishers' attempt to stimulate interest in books in a flat market), which means that stands had to be manned till late on Friday evening. This is deeply unpopular with people who have worked hard all day and want to turn their attention to the important business of partying in the evening. Ronnie Williams, chief executive of the British Publishers' Association said: 'The core business of Frankfurt has always been the rights selling - if you dilute that then publishers are getting less of a return.'

Although this year saw 6,611 exhibitors, up 3% from 2002, international exhibitors decreased significantly from 4,248 to 3,876. Around a thousand authors will also be attending the Fair to promote their books. Perhaps it's just a side-effect of a sluggish book market, but smaller fairs such as London can benefit from their very size. It's easier to find the people you really want to talk to, and many international visitors prefer London as a destination. But in the end Frankfurt's dominance is about its size. Where else would you meet such a large concentration of publishers from all over the world? You may not like Frankfurt, but for most publishers a presence there remains an essential part of the publishing year.