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News from the Frankfurt Book Fair

17 October 2011

'On the surface, there is little to distinguish this year's 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. from any other but beneath the frantic meetings, crowded aisles and over-priced hotels the subtle shades of digital are stealing across the landscape... a new global market in English-language e-books is fast developing as the growing number of English-speaking readers worldwide opt to buy the cheaper English variant instead of the more expensive local-language product,' says Publishing Perspectives Editor-in-Chief Ed Nawotka.

The Fair has reached its full capacity with 7,500 stands. This included 761 exhibitors from the UK and 604 from the US, with between 280,000 to 290,000 visitors going through the doors, of whom around 150,000 were trade visitors.

The Literary Agents Centre has expanded from 5,260 square metres to 6,130 square metres to accommodate the increased number of agents coming to the Fair. Traffic there was up 11% over 2010, with more stands, more space, and a flurry of deals being reported.

The climate in the world book business has changed a great deal since last year. The shift to digital, ebooks and online selling are all major trends. The rise of ebooks, although only slowly affecting countries in Europe, has rocketed in the US and followed a similar but rather faster growth pattern in the UK. We're only just beginning to grasp what enormous changes this will bring in the publishing business. Suddenly agents are on the one hand demanding 50% royalties for their clients' ebooks and at the same time they are setting up their own ebook businesses, often in a way that many would see as potentially competitive with publishers.

The technical changes involved in the growth of digital publishing are also so great that it is difficult to come to terms with them. It's still not yet clear how fundamentally digital will affect everything.

On the bricks and mortar side the last year has seen major changes, most of them bad, with Borders going down in the US, Redbook in Australia and Waterstones in the UK being seen as wobbly until it was bought by Russian investor Alexander Mamut, who promptly installed James Daunt as CEO. The swing to Amazon continues apace and an increasing number of independent booksellers are being squeezed out of business.

It's hard to say how all this will affect writers but publishers seem a bit more upbeat than might have been expected at the Fair, although this doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to start buying any more books anytime soon.