Hosts of Book Fair Hold World's Publishing Crown GUTENBERG'S LEGACY

Article excerpt

IF the worldwide publishing industry can be said to have a hometown, it is Frankfurt, which has just played host again to the world's largest international book fair.

With its strong bookselling infrastructure and its affluent population, Germany retains a special place in the global publishing market. The German-language market has a strong appetite for literature and other works in translation. With their home-grown authors in something of a slump, readers of German absorb books and ideas from other countries like a sponge.

For authors writing in languages with only a small number of speakers, translation into German is often a first step to translation into other languages and to worldwide recognition.

Like apple pie and baseball are in the United States, bookstores are an inescapable part of Germany's cultural identity. Eugen Emmerling, spokesman for the German publishers' and booksellers' trade associations, says that in Germany one is typically not more than 15 to 20 minutes away from a bookshop.

The association is in effect a cartel, with fixed prices (as is the case in most of the European Union). And books here get a special low value-added tax rate of 7 percent.

It all adds up to a fairly strong print market, nearly $12 billion annually, with 3 percent growth last year and 2.5 percent expected for 1995. "In the second generation since television, reading is alive and well," says Mr. Emmerling.

The daily newspapers are filled with ads that make the authors look as glamorous as movie stars, but more thoughtful.

In smallish type across the bottom of the first page often reads that this or that work is translated "from the English" or "from the Italian" - or "from the American."

One book in 7 in Germany is a translation, Emmerling says, and some sources estimate a higher figure. The trend has been upward over the past decade, and in such areas as fiction and poetry, translations are more than 40 percent of the whole.

It is not this way in the United States, where, as one American editor puts it, "You don't get translated unless you're Heinrich Boll" or some other Nobel Prize-winner. …