FRANKFURT: The world's largest book fair opens to
the public here Wednesday under the cloud of a world financial
meltdown that its celebrity invitation list of writers and politicians cannot dispel.
The malaise has reached the doorstep of the literary world as well:
Business is down three percent over the first nine months of this year,
according to a recent survey of 90 German publishers.
The jitters are evident in other numbers. The 7,000 exhibitors from
101 countries expected at the fair suggest stagnation compared
to last year's turnout.
Still, industry players remain stubbornly optimistic, banking on the
potential of electronic books and arguing their market operates under separate conditions, according to trade magazine Buchreport.
The Frankfurt book fair is showcasing Turkey this year, an aspiring
EU candidate that has special significance in Germany, home to 2.4 million Turks.
Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk counts among some 300 Turkish authors –
out of 1,000 writers in total — invited for the four-day event.
Both Pamuk and Turkey's President Abdullah Gul are expected at
the fair's official opening, Tuesday night.
Author of the acclaimed novel “Snow,” translated in some 40
countries, Pamuk remains a highly divisive figure in Turkey
who faced charges for his controversial remarks about the World War I massacre of Armenians.
Other celebrity authors include German novelist Guenter Grass and
Brazil's Paulo Coehlo, who celebrates some 100 million copies of
his books sold worldwide.
Coelho is to receive a Guinness award for the world's most translated
novel – “The Alchemist,” which has been published in 67 languages.
Besides Turkey, China — the special guest of next year's Frankfurt
fair – will also play a prominent role here this week,
with representatives from 108 Chinese publishing houses attending.
In a sign of changing times, traditional books will account for only
42 percent of the fair's offerings, with the rest split among
audio and video, cartoons, educational softwear and other items.
Indeed, this year's stars are electronic books, allowing readers to
download whole novels from the Internet that they can read on pocket-book-size portable screens.
Widespread in the United States and Japan, e-books have yet to make
their mark in Europe.
The Frankfurt fair is the occasion — and for big-time manufacturers
like Amazon and Sony to strut their wares in e-book related
areas like stockage capacity or reading comfort.