A Touch of Hubris, or Beginner’s Bad Luck

Leaving the Rathaus, Vienna’s first Buchmesse disappoints

TVR Books | Guy Kiddey | December 2008 / January 2009

Signs of scepticism came from Vienna’s publishing houses in the countdown days to Vienna’s first commercial book fair, conceived as a much younger sister to the internationally renowned, and huge, Frankfurt Book Fair.  Managers and editors in Vienna’s publishing houses mentioned poor organisation and too much going on in too little time, a phenomenon made even worse by unsatisfactory promotion.  Alongside the Fair, Vienna’s first Lesefestwoche - a Reading Festival Week - was underway.

Many events were lucky to attract two or three people.

For the last 60 years, an annual, somewhat esoteric but clearly successful book fair has been held in the Rathaus.  It was a chance for Austria’s smaller publishing firms to strut their stuff, played against the backdrop of the Christkindlmarkt outside.  But Reed Exhibitions then took over the concept, and managed the first large-scale book offering this year out at the Messe Zentrum alongside the Vienna Boat Show.

It quickly became clear that the gamble had not paid off, as the bookish lot were outrun by boaties next door.  It got to the point where boat show visitors were offered free entry to the book fair – although not the other way around.  Book lovers could only imagine what lay in the next exhibition hall.

It was all well-intentioned.  The Ministry of Culture, Education and Art stumped up 50,000 Euros for the reading festival, as did the City of Vienna.  Another 200,000 Euros came from the Depature Program, a Vienna business and culture initiative, to promote the Book Fair.

Maybe confusion cursed the enterprise.  To have the Reading Festival and Book Fair at the same time was perhaps a mistake.  Who did the market research?  An idealistic urge to excite the public in a literary way was clearly no foundation for success.

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