Friday, October 17, 2008

A Puddle of Calm for Global Panic

The Frankfurt Book Fair kicked off yesterday with perhaps less than its customary sizzle. As the Guardian’s books blog reports, this year’s Fair is a puddle of “calm amid global panic.”
Hundreds of thousands of people who love books all in the same place - it must be fun, right? Not exactly. Frankfurt Book Fair, which kicked off today, might be buzzy, busy, exhilarating, exhausting – but most people aren't here to muck about. The biggest event of the year for the publishing industry, this is where the deals are made, from foreign rights in an obscure British textbook to the mega-bucks deal for the yet-to-emerge “book of the fair” (which at the London Book Fair in 2007, incidentally, was Aravind Adiga’s Booker-winning The White Tiger).
Part of the reason for the ultra-calm is due the nature of the Frankfurt Fair. Though this is a large and important stop for the international book scene, Frankfurt is known more as a rights fair than anything else: the place where publishers and their agents go to buy and sell international rights to new and already published works. As the Guardian explains:
Although there are lots of authors here (Orhan Pamuk, Karin Slaughter and Gunter Grass, to name a few), this is really a trade event. The German public will descend en masse come the weekend to snaffle new titles from their favourite authors, but for the rest of the week, it's business first.
And of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is this: how will an international financial crisis impact on the book industry? The answer: it already has.
There are fewer exhibitors here than there were last year (7,373 compared to 7,448), and a recent survey of 90 German publishers shows that business was down 3% in Germany over the first nine months of the year.

But publishers here are resolutely optimistic about the fate of books in a recession - one agent said that “books are good in the good times, and great in the bad times”. In the words of Richard Charkin, former Macmillan chief, now Bloomsbury executive director, “banks may crash, derivatives flounder, hedge funds wither, dotcoms rise and fall but somehow or other writers, publishers, booksellers, literary agents, publishing consultants and old bookish friends always manage to congregate for the autumnal bunfight known by the single word, Frankfurt”.
Personally, I’m with Louise Tucker who offers up a thoughtful “Prescription for Thrift” for the Fifth Estate:
I’m not sure that a few sessions with Alain de Botton could do much for our failing banking system but, unlike the economy and the economists, most of us are not beyond bibliotherapy. For a start, compared to a cinema ticket in London, a £7.99 paperback is still a bargain, since, if loved, it provides several hours, or even years in the rereading, of pleasure. Having scoured my shelves at work and at home I came up with three suitable books for this current climate: two practical and one pleasurable.
Tucker hits it perfectly, too, going from necessary generalities to ending on a specific:
My final prescription is for a novel, for my favourite life-affirming, light at the end of a tunnel book: The Shipping News. If Quoyle can survive his various depressions and disasters on the bleak Newfoundland coast then so can we all…
One can almost -- thought not quite -- take that to the bank.

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