The 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair
The 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair won't be confused for one of the best fairs since the event with its beginning in the 15th century resumed in 1948 following the Second World War.
The official post-fair statements acknowledged a "slight" decline in both exhibitors and visitors.
In reality, the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair was a classic illustration of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Many publishers and editors, believing that the international financial situation meant there would be very little business done at the fair, stayed away. In doing so, they brought about the very situation they feared.
Ironically, the editors and publishers who did come to the fair came to do business and they did quite a bit, at least with us.
Shortly after the end of the fair, we had contracts offers for or interest in books from 2/3rds of our publishers and authors. In an obvious down year, we think that this is an excellent initial result from any fair. And these numbers do not include Indian interest in animating our children's titles.
Interestingly, we had a number of publishers meet to discuss buying books they first saw with us at last year's Frankfurt Fair.
Our books most popular with editors and publishers were Happiness, written by Mathilde Apelt Schmidt; The Leadership Integrity Challenge: Assessing and Facilitating Emotional Maturity by Edward E. Morler, MBS, PhD; and Finally Growing Up: Living an Authentic Empowered Life, also written by Dr. Morler.
Metaphysical books had a fair run. Fiction also, but what the foreign fiction editors wanted was so scattered across all the sub-genres of fiction that no clear picture emerged of which novels have the most promise and which do not.
Memoirs were like fiction: some worked well, other did not. Again, there was no consistency in what visitors sought: ties to Europe sometimes mattered, with other buyers, they did not.
What didn't work: in spite of pretty decent response to self-help books, relationship books went hurting; we thought we had some outstanding titles in this area.
Several books for children/juveniles/young adults also deserve mention. Ocean Waves and Other Tales by Helen Kimbrough (AK Classics), and Vesna Bailey's two books, Notes to My Daughter-Before You Go and Notes to My Son-Before You Go received especially serious contract interest.
Kudos to Alicia for seeing the connection between Ms. Bailey's books and Helen Exley Giftbooks, one of the world's largest publishers of gift books, then calling around her stand to get an appointment with Ms. Exley herself about them.
What about the fair as a whole?
For the past four or five years, the Frankfurt show daily newspapers have not reported any megasales. They have reported only a few sales of books that reached six figures.
In spite of the problems of this year's fair, that changed.
The largest single sale reported in the show newspapers was for an unnamed novel forthcoming from the author Yann Martel (The Life of Pi) that had reached $5,500,000 by the close of the day on Thursday.
In spite of those numbers, the same issue of The Bookseller (UK show daily) at Frankfurt reported that the 2009 Frankfurt Book fair's hottest fiction title was The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Viking, USA). The novel is aimed at adults and set in a world where four species-vampires, witches, demons, and humans-co-exist. Although there is a covenant preventing inter-species relationships, the female protagonist of the novel falls in love with a vampire.
The non-fiction title absolutely accorded 'Star of Show' status was the collected unpublished writings of Nelson Mandela with many serious and substantial bids.
Of interest to us were statistics we came across in an issue of the PW, show daily that documented the fact that Bertelsmann is not the largest publisher in the world (based on 2008 revenues). Ranking fifth, Bertelsmann was passed in ascending order by Wolters Kluwer of The Netherlands; Thomson Reuters of Canada; Reed Elsevier of the UK, Netherlands and the U.S.; and the world's largest publisher with 2008 revenues of almost 7.5 billion dollars, Pearson of the United Kingdom.
As many of you already know, there were issues, some of them major, with China's status as "Guest of Honor" at this year's Frankfurt Fair, finally leading to the firing of the fair's program director a few days after the fair at the request of the Chinese government. The issues involved repression of thought and censorship of publishing and printing in the People's Republic of China and the attempt of its government to extend that suppression into other countries.
Andrew Wilkins, publisher of Wilkins Farago in Australia made some vital comments on the issues and the fair in one of the extra show dailies (Publishing Perspectives) that sprang up this year in response to the Chinese presence.
Mr. Wilkins had purchased the English language rights to a beautiful children's book, The Red Piano, from a French publisher earlier this year. The book is a fictional retelling of a real episode from China's Cultural Revolution. The author is Canadian, the illustrator French, and the publisher is, of course, Australian.
In spite of the fact that China's Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, Mr. Wilkins' usual China printer refused to print his edition, telling him up front that the edition would never pass the required PRC censor.
The book was printed in Singapore with equal quality but at a slightly higher cost.
Ironically, the fact that The Red Piano couldn't be printed in China is now a selling point for him and has resulted not only in brisk sales but also has led Amnesty International to promote the edition around the world.
Mr. Wilkins made these points in the article:
"At the heart of publishing is the idea that no-one has a monopoly on the truth and that the truth is open to interpretation. That's what makes publishing such a dynamic and interesting industry. That's why the Frankfurt Fair exists.
"If the official Chinese delegation takes one message home from this year's fair, I hope that it's this: censorship of the truth is self-defeating. Somehow, somewhere, the truth gets out. And it's not to be feared."
We tell everyone in our fair materials that there are many reasons beyond sales to send a book to Frankfurt.
Photos from the Fair: some are self-explanatory while others require brief comment.
Visitors to our stand included Italian/French agent Marinella Magri and Irish publisher John Spillane. John came by hoping to find books with Irish themes; alas, this was a year when we were without.
The night photo shows fair participants exiting the meeting grounds to the trains via the Messe Torhaus. In spite of its enormous size, it's not one of the six buildings housing exhibitor stands.
The German people love trade shows. The last two days of Frankfurt are open to the general public. We wondered where they go when there's not a show going on. A large sign near our hotel gave one answer: chariot races.