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Frankfurt Book Fair Opens With a Fear of Terrorism

October 01, 1986|ELIZABETH VENANT | Times Staff Writer

FRANKFURT, West Germany — Besides the inevitable traffic jams and packed hotels and the high pressure of international deal-making, the 38th Annual Frankfurt Book Fair opens today against a backdrop of international tension, religious controversy and the heightened excitement of a major publishing takeover.

Among early arrivals seeking preliminary contacts before the official six-day event, the significant news was last Friday's announcement of the purchase by Bertelsmann, the German publishing conglomerate, of the American publishing firm, Doubleday & Co.

American publishers, many of whom learned the news after leaving their New York offices, conceded that the acquisition will represent a sizable foreign impact in American publishing. By acquiring Doubleday, Bertelsmann, which already owns Bantam, the mass-market paperback publishing house, acquires the Doubleday subsidiary Dell, another mass-market house. A question on some publishing minds is whether both houses will be allowed to continue in competition under their now common management. A parallel question touches hard-cover publishing at the two houses, for under Bertelsmann management, Bantam began a small but extremely successful program of hard-cover publishing, its most notable success being "Iacocca."

An equally prominent topic here was the clash of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana, on Saturday with the fair's schedule. Putnam's and a handful of smaller American publishing companies and agents are not attending the fair in protest of what they say is management indifference to their religious obligations. Among Jewish publishing representatives here, there is a marked feeling of discomfort. "I will be working on Rosh Hashana," said Harcourt Brace Jovanovich's subsidiary rights director Carol Lazare, "but as a Jewish person in publishing, it's a very awkward situation to be in. If it's within the possibility of human planning, I hope it won't happen again."

Said the fair's press director, Helmut Von Der Lahr, "We understand that it's very hard (but) whenever we would have planned the fair in October, we would have hit a holiday. Later in the month is the holier holiday of Yom Kippur."

The fair's management, the exhibiting agency of West Germany Borsenverein, which is the combined publishers and book sellers association, cites potential terrorist attacks as the primary reason for a drop in American participation, down from 596 publishing houses last year to 547 this year. "We're having security problems here," admits Von Der Lahr, who says Libyan publishers will be present and also points to possible contention by Sikhs protesting this year's cultural theme, "India: Change and Continuity."

The fair's director, Peter Weidhaas, however, has assured participants that everything possible has been done to make the fair safe, with more than $250,000 being spent on security measures.

Yet despite a dip in the American presence, the fair is being touted as the biggest ever, with a 7.3% increase over last year's showing, or 6,920 publishing houses coming to bid on books. British participation is up nearly 10% over last year, with 705 publishing houses attending, while the number of French publishers has risen from 246 to 261 this year.

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