Ladies and Gentlemen,
his being the last Frankfurt Book Fair of this century, may I ask you to bear with me as I pause for a moment to take stock of where we stand.
For the Frankfurt Book Fair as the largest showcase for the international publishing community, this may also be worth doing because publishing companies - our exhibitors - convey to their public the whole diversity of the cultural expressions of our times. This means that with a little effort of the imagination, anyone walking through the halls and gangways can experience something akin to a tour around the state of our world. And I think this is true not just in an abstract sense, but also has its practical, indeed controversial aspects.
Looking ahead to the new millennium, the internationally famous magazine, the "National Geographic", recently published a lavish special issue on the subject of "global culture". In this, two basic trends were perceived to emerge for culture in general - and with slight variations, they also offer a valid picture for our sector.
On the one hand, a culture has emerged in which certain topics, certain successful voices, registers, moulds, are not only disseminated by the media around the entire globe, but also assert themselves as cultural role-models throughout the world.
In Book Fair terms, these are such differing writers and works as the thrillers of John Grisham from Memphis, Tennesee, the mythological writings of a Paulo Coehlo from Brazil, the story of a family rooted in Kerala in southern India by Arundhati Roy or, to include an example from Germany as well, the philosophy of Jürgen Habermas who lives here in Frankfurt. It really seems here as if cultural and linguistic frontiers represent less and less of a barrier. On the contrary, contributions such as these have actually produced a new world literature and world culture which is global, and for which trading in rights has its most important centre right here at marketplaces such as the Frankfurt Book Fair.
On the other hand, the "National Geographic" came to the conclusion that numerous facets of culture are threatened with extinction because they do not achieve global success, for whatever reason. This applies as much to small cultures as to the socalled "small literatures", whereby it goes without saying that the world "small" has nothing to do with their cultural significance.
The Frankfurt Book Fair has developed its own tradition of always seeking to draw the attention of our public to these regions outside the limelight and beyond the eye of the cameras. Remember, for example, focal themes such as "Africa" in 1980, or India in 1986.
This year, you will think of course of Hungary, our Guest of Honour for 1999. It is astonishing, on the one hand, to realise the tremendous international standing achieved by certain authors from this small country. Péter Esterházy who will be making the literary opening speech for this 51st Frankfurt Book Fair in a few hours' time, is just one example. But at the same time, we must be quite clear that German-language publishers would hardly be producing about one hundred new Hungarian publications this year alone, if Hungary were not the focal theme in Frankfurt.
The fact that the mainstream and the niche markets are drifting so far apart is something which we can see from many examples at the Book Fair and which should give us pause for thought.
This trend is also apparent as soon as we attempt a slightly more detailed analysis of the exhibitor statistics for the Frankfurt Book Fair.
This year, we welcome 6,643 individual exhibitors from 113 countries. This represents a decline in exhibitors over the previous year of approx. 2.9 per cent. However, these exhibitors occupy about 5 per cent more space than in 1998. This is a development we are now seeing for the second year in a row. At the same time, exhibitors now come from more countries than ever before.
The decline in individual exhibitors is a visible sign of the worldwide process of agglomeration among publishing companies. Larger and larger groups and corporations emerge and in tightening up their internal structures, they have long since ceased to register every imprint under its own name at the Book Fair.
At the same time, however, competition is growing between individual publishing companies. After all, the number of new publications and the overall total of titles on exhibit still continues to increase too. We see the emergence of cut-throat competition. In striving for a distinctive profile, publishing companies are making big investments in advertising, marketing and communication, including with the aim of reaching their customers at the Frankfurt Fair as effectively as possible.
The general trend in exhibitor numbers and space occupancy is also reflected within the various subject groups and in the overall situation of the various countries. Almost all subject groups show slight declines in exhibitor numbers and growth in exhibition area.
In regional terms, the strength of the Anglo-American book market is unmistakeable. Hall 8.0 is crammed full, although we have had to move the Centre for Literary Agents into Hall 10.1 which was also because the big increase in the number of agents simply made the space too small.
Simultaneously, exhibitor statistics reveal various parallel trends. In the case of several countries, such as Denmark, but Hungary too, exhibitors are increasingly inclined to get together under the umbrella of a national stand. And the number of shared national stands has also increased significantly from 78 last year to 87 this year.
This does have to do with cost. Although participation on a joint stand may perhaps restrict publishers in their individual presentation opportunities, it is more economical. We are also experiencing the fact that in countries such as Russia, but also in the economically less successful countries of central and eastern Europe and in parts of eastern Asia, more general economic difficulties are making themselves felt in the publishing industry as well and are reflected in turn in their presence in Frankfurt.
The basic trend arising from globalisation on the one hand and with it, the increasing pressure on evolved structures made up of small elements on the other, results in radical changes affecting culture as a whole and with it, our business as booksellers and publishers.
In times of dramatic innovation, it cannot be the task of the fair to oppose these changes. But what the Book Fair can do for all its various clients is to develop suitable aids that make it easier to get one's bearings in the midst of the confusion and the proliferation of innovations. On this point too, allow me to attempt to link certain general observations to practical consequences.
Whilst the agglomeration process among publishing companies was certainly the most controversial topic at last year's Book Fair, considerable attention is focused this year on bookselling, prompted in more than one respect by the Internet.
The most common example comes from the online bookshops. At work or at home, more and more people have access to the Internet and a great many Internet users have already shopped via this new medium, mostly buying a book to start with. At the same time, the Internet has penetrated profoundly into our everyday handling of information, its use has become a commonplace.
After initial fears that this would inevitably happen at the expense of the independent book retailers, this development is now viewed in a much more discriminating light. A steadily growing number of bookshops are now already using the Internet themselves and the diversity of specialised and targeted offers is also on the increase.
You are provided with a good insight into this development here at the Fair with our electronic special theme entitled Buch@Internet. We have also launched a competition with prizes for the innovative selections offered by specialised bookshops. Of course, Buch@Internet informs you about the market leaders in this field as well.
The booksellers are not alone in exploiting the Internet. There is also increasing use by another key sector at the Frankfurt Book Fair, namely that of business in rights and licences. When we decided on the topic of "Selling Rights via the Internet" for this year's International Rights Directors Meeting, we never suspected that this would appeal to more interested participants than ever before. Many professionals regard it as a certainty that the Internet will lead to a massive expansion in rights business.
By the way, if you are unable to get into the Rights Directors Meeting which begins this afternoon at 2 o'clock, please do not worry. The papers presented there are published immediately - on the Internet of course.
As it is known, the Frankfurt Book Fair has gone over itself to publishing all its important information on the World Wide Web: the Calendar of Events, press releases and even updated current news during the Fair itself, in cooperation with Germany's book trade journal, the Börsenblatt, Hessischer Rundfunk and the international trade publications "Publishers Weekly" and "The Bookseller".
We have also pushed ahead with development of the "Virtual" Book Fair, supplementing the tangible presentations in the halls. All exhibitor data, Who's Who at the Book Fair as well as rights and licence titles from 56 languages and 75 countries are available online at our "Frankfurt Book Fair Virtual".
Also new is the possibility for exhibitors to carry on updating and adding to these titles during the Book Fair itself. The search tools have been substantially improved, so that information can be sorted according to subjects, products or regional criteria. It gives us great satisfaction to note that Frankfurt is the first book fair worldwide to be able to offer an information system on the Internet which is fully in line with professional standards.
Another new feature of the Virtual Book Fair, at least for the German-language sector, and one which will be very popular with the wider visitor public, is the option provided in partnership with "Buch & Medien Online", that is to say the cooperative Internet bookshop of the German retail book trade, listing all new German-language titles published by our exhibitors and making it possible for them to be ordered from your bookshop at the click of a mouse.
Does this mean that the future is digital through and through, you may ask. The clear answer is: absolutely not.
We are interested in innovative opportunities and do our very best to exploit them. This can never replace the vitality of the Book Fair, the reality of people getting together. Let me go back to the beginning of what I have said.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is particularly attractive and successful where it manages to preserve biodiversity in the rain forest of ideas - and to use this with care.
At times it can perhaps be difficult to spot this creative and colourful diversity within the overall picture of the Book Fair, in the midst of so much busyness and business. With this in mind, I would like to mention one place in particular where this can be seen, as if through a magnifying glass. In Hall 9.1, we have set up our "International Centre", the venue for a steady stream of events, day after day, almost without a break.
Here - to mention only a few examples - you will come across a discussion of post-colonial literature in India as well as market analyses of the Chinese book market. There is erotic literature in the afternoons, but also a political debate on women in publishing in the Arab world. Star authors such as the French writer Michel Houellebecq will be at the Centre alongside Iranian dissidents with whom we will be discussing the current situation in the opening-up of the fundamentalist regime. There will be small roundtables of experts with only a few listening in, but there will also be live TV broadcasts.
The International Centre is one of the places where we hold political discussions on the freedom of the word, but also where we look at the intellectual and material circumstances without which there can be no cultural openness and therefore no freedom of speech either.
This reality is highlighted this year by two focuses of subject-matter. On the one hand, Iranian publishing companies are exhibiting again in Frankfurt for the first time in ten years. We had excluded Iran because the Iranian government officially supported the fatwa which threatened the writer Salman Rushdie with death. It was time to reconsider that decision when the Iranian president Chatami distanced himself from the fatwa last autumn. We observed very closely the without doubt highly contradictory process of liberalisation within his country and in the end, came to the conclusion that precisely the open forum of the Book Fair would be an important arena for new and independent voices from Iran.
A total of five Iranian publishing companies have registered to exhibit. Two of them, "Chesmeh Publishing Company" and "Roshhangaran Women Studies Publishing" come at the direct invitation of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
"Iran. The aesthetics of resistance" is also the subject of a public panel discussion scheduled for Saturday, 16 October 1999, in the International Centre of the Book Fair in Hall 9.0, with the participation of the invited Iranian publishers as well as the writers Mahmud Doulatabadi and Faradj Sarkuhi.
Another key political issue this year has been the war in Kosovo and the process of social disintegration in former Yugoslavia which still goes on even after ten years. The Book Fair has taken the initiative here and invited 15 well-known writers from all regions of the former Yugoslavia to a meeting leading up to the Book Fair, as well as a press conference to be held tomorrow, the first day of the Fair.
This has been in response to an idea put forward by Freimut Duve on behalf of the OSCE and the Croation publisher Nenad Popovic.
The aim of this initiative which is provisionally entitled "Group 99", is to restore the shared discourse which has in part collapsed among intellectuals too as a result of the wars and conflicts of the past decade, and which is also a prerequisite for cultural and political new beginnings and for the restoration of freedom of speech and an open cultural climate.
You are cordially invited to see for yourselves what has come of these first talks by coming here to the Congress Center and the "Spektrum" Room at 11 o'clock tomorrow. And next Sunday, some of the authors will be taking part in a reading in the International Centre.
The global cultural diversity which I referred to briefly at the outset and which I perceive as an outstanding value for our day and age, can be experienced in reality here at the Frankfurt Book Fair - this is where it actually happens.
At the risk of sounding very banal, I must point out that in order to cultivate and care for these values we must support the stand rental fees of the small stands with the revenue of the large ones, entirely in keeping with the publishing tradition of the mixed calculation.
It is also a matter of catering for the very different, in part highly heterogeneous groups of trade visitors by providing places where they can feel happy and work efficiently. We have developed a whole range of specialist centres over the years, most of them familiar only to their respective target users. There is the centre for illustrators in Hall 3.1, for the electronic media in Hall 4.0, for librarians in Hall 9.2 and for retail booksellers in Hall 6.3, the East-West Service Point in Hall 9.2 and the Publishers' Point in the Galleria.
Almost as a fair within the Fair, Hall 3.1 is home to art, art books and highly specialised editions from studios producing for the art lovers and connoisseurs. This is an area which has slightly slipped from view for some in recent years, but we are making a very special effort this year to recapture their attention.
In the end, we have managed over the years to build up two solid foundations for this Frankfurt Book Fair. One facilitates the business of business between publishing companies, booksellers and agents, professionally and efficiently. The other enables the professionals, you, the journalists, the authors, and also the many readers, to embark on an annual voyage of discovery through a proliferous world of books, information and pictures.
When I hand over to a successor after this 51st Frankfurt Book Fair, this too should represent the laying of a solid foundation for the future of this event which means so very much to us all.