Frankfurt Book Fair: Tradition Carries Day

Article excerpt

WHEN the first Frankfurt Book Fair convened, the jet age had just begun, television was still in its embryonic stage, and the word fax was a long way from breaking into the lexicon.

Now, 46 years later, communications can travel at hyperspeed, yet some things haven't changed. This year's fair, though wrapped in hype about the fabled construction of an information highway, was still mostly about the printed word.

"A genuine chance of achieving an appropriate professional position is only available to an applicant who is capable of abstract thought. But abstract thought can only be fostered by reading, never by the contemplation or use of a screen," says Klaus Saur of the German Book Retailers' Federation.

That's not to say the book fest, which ran from Oct. 5 to Oct. 10, completely ignored the new wave of publishing technology. Electronic publishing received lots of attention.

Computer-generated literature, mainly in the CD-ROM format, made its debut at the fair just seven years ago. This year, the display area of electronic-media marketers more than doubled in comparison with 1993 to about 9,000 square yards, according to fair officials.

But many exhibitors say that no matter how far technology advances, people will always crave the tactile pleasure of thumbing through a paperback or hardcover.

"There will always be books," says Karen Wilson of the University of Chicago Press. "You're not going to see a lot of books put on the Internet because they are too long. And besides, you can't read them {computer books} on the beach, or on the train home from work."

Despite the electronic media's rapid growth, computer-oriented publishers still accounted for only about 450 of the more than 8,600 exhibitors. Among the more than 700 American firms present were everyone from the big names such as Simon & Schuster and Random House to the comic-book kings Marvel and DC. …