A high risk affair

<p>Relief that no serious incidents occurred at the high-risk Paris Book Fair was palpable when the organisers debriefed on the six-day event just before it closed last Wednesday (March 19th).</p>
<p>Before the opening, Israel's presence as the guest of honour in the country's 60th anniversary year had triggered calls for a boycott from Arab and Muslim countries. Security was inevitably tight, when Israeli President Shimon Peres inaugurated the fair on 13th March.</p>
<p>Tension ran high, especially when the pressure of the crowds brought a stand board down on Peres and French culture minister Christine Albanel. Security men prevented it from landing on the VIPs, but it injured a photographer.</p>
<p>Three days later, the authorities had to clear the fair because of a bomb alert that they euphemistically called a 'technical control' and which anyway turned out to be a hoax. But that was enough to reduce visitor numbers, as many did not return, according to Serge Eyrolles, president of the French Publishers Association or Syndicat National de l'Edition (SNE). Instead, they flooded the local bistros and talked to people they would never have met if they had stayed put, one editor noted.</p>
<p>Altogether, an estimated 165,300 people visited the fair, down 8% from 186,000 in 2007. The number of professional visitors on their special day declined 4% to 17,500 from 18,300, but the number of school children rose by 14% to 11,500 from 10,100. Overall, publishers sold fewer books than last year, but tight security helped reduce theft. One elderly man had stolen so many books that he couldn&rsquo;t carry them. &quot;Perhaps he should have been allowed to get away with it,&quot; Eyrolles joked.</p>
<p>Despite the controversy, Israel and its 39 invited authors or 40 including Peres, were a resounding success. The queues were long at the Gibert Joseph stand, which sells books from the invited countries, and sales totalled a record-breaking 21,000 to 22,000 of books in French and Hebrew, compared to 17,000 for India in 2007 and about 20,000 for Russia in 2006. Israeli ambassador to France Daniel Shek was vindicated. He had had difficulty convincing his bosses in Jerusalem that accepting the invitation was worth the big investment. &quot;It wasn't really reasonable for us,&quot; he said.</p>
<p>Another star of the show was the 500-Square metre (5,400 square feet) 'reading for tomorrow' section that displayed all relevant things digital and will be repeated next year.</p>
<p>Visitors applauded the new-look brighter salon with its spacious aisles, the demonstration of the Gallica 2 digitised book project, higher quality books in general, and the wide variety of events. Lectures and debates were packed and left standing only on the professional day for topics like independent bookshops' concerns for the future and how the internet can help them sell more books. The latter session was organised by Google France.</p>
<p>Mexico will be the guest-of-honour at next year's Salon to be held on 13th-17th March.</p>