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Business

Publishers Hope Book Fair Will Help Ailing Industry

The world's biggest trade fair for books opens on Tuesday evening in Frankfurt/Main. The 55th Frankfurt Book Fair could provide a badly needed boost to an industry in crisis.

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Russia is this year's focus country at Frankfurt.

Just like every year at this time, Germany's banking city metamorphoses into a city of books, as authors, literary agents, publishers and readers descend upon Frankfurt for the book fair. The fair's organizers expect around 270,000 visitors from October 8 to 13, 2 percent more than last year. More exhibitors have registered, too -- 6,611as opposed to 6,388 in 2002. The industry is starting to show signs of cautious optimism.

"The book industry has been freed from a deep recession," fair spokesman Holger Ehling said. "There are signals that the industry is recovering, but a turnaround hasn't been achieved yet."

Publishers still expect to end the year in the red though, Dieter Schormann of the Association of German Publishers and Booksellers said on Tuesday. Although book sales went down by 4.9 percent in the first half of the year, the industry has started to profit from the German economy's sluggish recovery. Christmas book sales, publication of the newest "Harry Potter" book in German and the Frankfurt Book Fair itself should help the industry finish the year with only a 2 percent decline in profits, better than some feared.

Focus on Russia

Despite the fair's high profile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will not be making an appearance. Neither will his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, despite the fact that the fair is meant to be the highpoint of the "Russia Year in Germany."

The country of Dostoevsky, Gogol and Solzhenitsyn is the "guest of honor" at the Frankfurt trade fair and the Russian government has spent more than $5 million (€4.2 million) on its appearance there. The Bolshoi Ballet will perform in the city and local museums are planning exhibitions on Russian themes. More than 100 Russian writers are expected to be in town, including Russian-German literary star and Berlin club impresario Wladimir Kaminer. Kaminer and consorts have committed to putting on one of their legendary "Russian discos" at the fair on Friday night.

World records and laureates

Paulo Coelho

Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho

Finger cramps are likely to plague Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, who will be aiming to make the "Guinness Book of World Records" for the most foreign-language books signed when he presents his new novel "The Alchemist," published in 56 languages. Nobel prize laureate Günter Grass will also be on hand -- along with a band -- to read from "Last Dances," his latest book, and then take to the dance floor. On Sunday, American writer Susan Sontag will be awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, which is bestowed annually during the fair.

The Frankfurt Book Fair originated in the 15th century shortly after Johannes Gutenberg invented the first method of printing from movable type and the city developed into the most important center for books in central Europe. It has taken place in its present form since 1949.

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