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New book fair with int’l flavor comes to N.Y.

Is Michael Cader trying to upstage Book Expo America?

Cader, publisher of Cader Books and presiding spirit of the electronic news service, Publishers Lunch, has partnered with the Frankfurt Book Fair and publishing consulting firm the Idea Logical Company, to create a “permanent, annual New York-based trade show” called Frankfurt in New York. It’s meant to be a Stateside variation on next month’s Frankfurt Book Fair — the world’s biggest book confab. The event will take place at the Pennsylvania Hotel April 29-30.

But that’s less than a week before the May 1 opening day of BEA. After more than a decade in Chicago and other locales, the BEA is returning to Gotham next year. It runs May 1-5 at the Javits Center across town.

It’s not the first time someone has mounted a challenge to BEA, which despite considerable growing pains in recent years, remains the largest North American gathering of publishers and booksellers.

In 1997, American Booksellers Assn. exec Eileen Dengler spearheaded an alternative to BEA called the Literary Congress. It billed itself as “David in hot pursuit of Goliath.” But it fizzled when the 1998 show in Nashville attracted just 450 people.

While the focus of BEA has always been bookselling, there have always been plenty of publishing forums, author events and a brisk rights market that fair sponsors assumed would gain momentum in the New York locale. Last year there were 21,000 visitors. (BEA is owned by Variety parent company Reed Elsevier.)

But Cader says BEA is not all things to all people in publishing.

Frankfurt in New York, he says, will focus on rights and editorial business that’s recently taken a back seat to book and author promotions at BEA. “We’ve never had a show anywhere in America focused exclusively on core publishing transactions — selling rights, developing ancillary markets, transacting editorial business and bringing publishing leaders face to face without other distractions and competing interests.”

BEA organizers may take umbrage at the implication that their fair does not focus on “core publishing transactions.” And it can’t help matters that Cader and his partners did not notify BEA that they planned to hold a rights fair a week in advance. BEA director Greg Topalian was not available for comment Tuesday.

But Cader is hardly the first American publisher to say BEA has lost some of its relevance.

Part of that is attributable to the rise of the London Book Fair, held each spring several weeks before BEA, as the dominant American and European rights fair after Frankfurt.

Even as a bookselling fair, BEA has struggled to keep up with an industry transformed by electronic commerce and the decline of the indie bookselling biz.

“Like so many things in publishing, it’s a bit antiquated,” one frequent attendee said. “So much less of our business, for good or bad, is face to face.”

But Cader says the high volume of rights traffic that’s done by phone and email these days has made personal contact at confabs such as his more important than ever.

“BEA does many wonderful things for the business,” he says. “It’s a great show. But I’m not sure one big supershow trying to serve every constituency in publishing necessarily serves all those constituents in an excellent fashion.”

CADER’S ANNOUNCEMENTS came at a time when publishing execs wary of international travel have been re-evaluating the importance of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Only a few scouts and rights managers have decided not to go this year; and again there will be a smattering of film execs and agents. CAA’s Robert Bookman is still planning to attend, as is Miramax exec Jennifer Wachtel.

But the tenor of the fair will be different, as rights deals come to reflect the editorial and marketing mood that’s taken hold in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Publishers have not been yanking books as film studios have — most of the fall’s books have already shipped. But as some books on hot topics are crashed into the market, jackets and promotional copy on other books are being carefully revised. And editors are taking another look at recent acquisitions that may not be as compelling as they were two weeks ago. That’s likely true of Lincoln Child’s thriller, “Utopia,” in which a group of terrorists take over a theme park and threaten to kill thousands of people if their demands aren’t met, which sold to Doubleday earlier this month.

But Putnam publisher and editor in chief Neil Nyren, who happens to be Tom Clancy’s editor, says that mood is likely to evaporate in due course.

“I’m sure there are some books being postponed. You’ll see less skyscrapers blowing up,” he says.

“I also think eventually people will go back to reading what they always read.”

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