Frankfurt gets bad reviews

Variety editorial

QUESTION: How would they have staged the Frankfurt Book Fair had it taken place in Poland?

ANSWER: Exactly the same way.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is the most unpleasant book show in the world and will probably remain so — at least until they decide to stage one in Uganda.

This year’s fair, in my opinion and that of many other industry observers, was the low-water mark in the Fair’s history. The result will be that the event will become less important, less visited and of less industry significance in every ensuing year.

First of all, the Frankfurt Book Fair is so humongous that attendees were obliged to take a bus from hall to hall; and the vast majority of the visitors never ventured through the entirety of the Fair.

All the foreign publishers were treated as if they had the word “SUCKER” tattooed on their foreheads, with every possible outrageous charge being foisted upon them, leaving them feeling like cows hooked up to a mechanical milking machine that no one turned off until the Fair was over.

The Frankfurt philosophy is to jack up every price between 50% and 100 % — one small example being that many hotels doubled the price of breakfast for the duration of the Fair. A hotel room at a second-rate Sheraton ran well over $400 a night, and there were surcharges for everything imaginable — indeed, the charge for a bucket of ice was $3.

In their infinite wisdom the Fair management decided to open the exhibit halls to the public on Friday night in an attempt to make extra money for themselves and, in the process, turn the booksellers into sideshow attractions for the locals, who would see books from every country that had only one thing in common: Most were not for sale in Germany, and probably never would be.

Show officials, smelling disaster and resentment in the air, gave out bottles of an inferior wine and a bookbag (of all things) to exhibitors, probably as a thank-you for not rioting.

Pat Schroeder, president of the AAP, was so outspoken and bitter regarding the mercenary attitude of the fair and the locals that at the vaunted Publisher’s Weekly dinner, held at a castle, remarked that she needed a food taster.

Many people, myself included, felt that allowing the public to attend was a way to disguise the fact that attendance this year was significantly down, despite the official numbers, which seem to have no grounding in reality.

So what is the future of the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Bleak. The London Book Fair is so much more relaxed and conducive to doing business that it seems certain that more of the international book business will migrate to London every March.

And if rumblings are true and the London Book Fair is moved to September, Frankfurt’s slow but steady disintegration will become rapid, since no one goes to Frankfurt for the weather, the accommodations or the food, all of which are regrettable.

Frankfurt show officials have now instituted a policy of offering discounts that could amount to 12% to those who are willing to sign up for the next three years in Hell — excuse me, I mean Frankfurt — in advance.

Internationally, the audiobook business is still somewhat feeble. England has quality productions, and Germany has a burgeoning audio market, but most of the other countries are spotty at best.

Most major audiobook publishers say privately that they are looking at cutting back their Frankfurt presence, and many top execs usually present are finding that their schedules are “too busy” for them to make it.

The biggest news from this year’s Fair is that Woody Allen may write a book (if someone’s willing to fork over mega-millions for him to do so!), and rights were being sold internationally. Also during the event, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California and made a whole series of victory speeches in German, which seemed to many to be eerily appropriate.

But the overall feeling was that we didn’t have to trek halfway around the world for that.

(Michael Viner is president of New Millennium books and writes a frequent column for Audiobookstoday.com.)

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