Spiritual comfort and Harry Potter were highlights of the year:
- The search for spiritual sustenance after last year’s September 11 attacks has boosted the profits of religious publishers while children have demonstrated an insatiable appetite for the exploits of a boy wizard.
With the industry hit by the current global downturn, the number of companies attending this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair has dropped four percent — but there are still 6,375 exhibitors from 110 countries.
At Tuesday’s media launch of publishing’s biggest marketplace of the year, organizers were quick to pay tribute to two of its stars.
“The industry depends on two young men: Jesus Christ on the one hand and Harry Potter on the other,” said Dr. Hubertus Schenkel, chairman of the fair’s supervisory board.
Spiritual advice was in demand, he said, particularly in the United States. “Especially after the attacks of September 11, religious publishers around the world have been able to make gains,” Schenkel told reporters.
“Anything to do with trying to understand the meaning of life is also doing well — from the Bible to esotericism and psychology and including how-to guides on keeping the peace in the family,” he added.
In a media age where so many children’s lives are dominated by Pokemon and PlayStation, the industry lauded author J.K. Rowling for re-introducing kids to the joys of reading.
Schenkel was among those to marvel, noting that more than 150 million copies have now been sold of the four Potter books.
“And just how much the market is waiting for Harry Potter was revealed by the reaction when author Joanne Rowling hit the headlines in September with reports of her pregnancy and that she had almost finished number five in the series,” he said.
He forecast that publishing companies will in future depend even more on the pulling power of their best-selling authors.
“For several years now, many publishing companies have acted on the assumption that 80 percent of their sales come from 20 percent of their titles,” he said.
No fewer than 80 percent of the world’s rights deals are clinched every year at Frankfurt, viewed as unmissable by industry big hitters, although some U.S. publishers did cancel last year after the September 11 attacks.
Book Fair Director Volker Neumann, bemoaning the slight drop in companies attending, said: “We are going through difficult times — but we are confident that after this decline, things will be better again this year.”
With a number of publishing companies and old-established bookshops going out of business, he said: “The media industry as a whole is going through difficult times. This is true of book publishers as well.”