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Authors to talk politics at world's top book fair

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Authors to talk politics at world's top book fair
Frankfurt Bookfair Director Juergen Boos said people can expect a very political statement at the end of the three-day book fair. Photo: John Macdougall/AFP
12:00 CEST+02:00
Some of the world's top authors will thrash out hot political issues at the world's biggest international book fair opening in Germany on Tuesday.

The writers will brainstorm at the Frankfurt Book Fair over three days to draw up what organizers dub a "present to politicians" under a new initiative called "Frankfurt Undercover".

Fair director Juergen Boos said the move reflects a "sense of self-worth" among authors in a world contemplating issues such as the NSA spying scandal, the impact of a looming transatlantic free trade deal and a dispute between publishers and online giant Amazon.

"I think we can expect a very political statement at the end of these three days," Boos told a press conference.

"I don't expect the message will be 'We authors are underpaid' ... I expect something really socially, politically relevant."

By holding the talks out of the public gaze and publishers' earshot, Danish writer Janne Teller, one of those behind the initiative, said she hoped writers would speak freely and come up with ideas that are "not filtered".

"Hopefully it will give new direction and possibility in a world, I feel, that is very stuck politically," the author, whose works include the critically acclaimed and controversial 2000 novel "Nothing", told reporters by video conference.

Topics and the line-up for the discussions are still under wraps, she said, but the aim is to compile a "compendium of ideas".

Renowned names set to appear at the five-day book fair include Brazil's Paulo Coelho, Nobel literature laureate Herta Mueller and Britain's Ken Follett, whose new novel "Edge of Eternity" is topping international bestseller lists.

Global presence

Around two thirds of the more than 7,000 exhibitors in the western city will come from abroad, while about 35 percent are German-language, tipping the balance from the three previous years' 50-50 split, Boos said.

Publishers from global hotspots Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan will feature among the stands from 100 or so countries, with Finland's literature and culture stepping into the spotlight as guest of honour.

The number of Asian exhibitors will be up to five percent on last year, with publishers from others parts of the world eyeing up markets that are large, young and education-hungry, such as in Indonesia, organizers said.

The increase is also driven by inter-Asian business, Boos said, highlighting the global prominence of the Frankfurt book fair, whose origins date back to the 15th century.

High-tech

Looking to the next generation of readers, the annual gathering seeks to be agenda-setting and likes to explore the future of story-telling in its traditional as well as new high-tech forms.

E-books and the rise of self-publishing have changed the face of the industry in recent years, while Europe's financial crisis also left its mark.

Spanish publishers of light fiction lost between 30 and 40 percent in sales in the past two years, Boos said, adding that demand from Latin America had helped but that the impact of the turmoil had been "highly dramatic".

The ongoing e-book pricing battle between US online retail giant Amazon and publishing conglomerate Hachette, which represents "Harry Potter" author JK Rowling among others, and Scandinavian publisher Bonnier will likely prompt discussion and scrutiny inside the fair's sprawling halls.

Hollywood producer Lynda Obst, who worked on movies including "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Flashdance", will delve into the challenges facing the film industry and bring her own insight into Tinseltown.

And, back to basics, book covers, layouts and graphics will contend for the The Beauty and the Book audience prize to be announced during the fair.

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