The 17th Annual Salon du Livre
is Bigger than Ever

The Japanese at the Salon

And So Is Its Press Kit;
Your Reporter Nearly Collapses

Paris:- Wednesday, 12. March 1997:- A whole series of little 'bits of business' have slowed down my arrival on the first day of the Salon Logo Salon du Livre. Waiting to buy métro tickets is not serious. All the students in the métro on their way to the same destination was curious, but not a hindrance.

The usual sign-in at the salon's press office is no more complicated than usual. I even astound them by giving them a print-out of last week's 'Coming Events,' announcing the salon.

For this, they give me the 'press kit.' The catalogue is two shrink-wrapped books, about the size of the Word 6 user's manual, and the bound 'Dossier de Presse' is much thicker than the European edition of Time Magazine, much thicker and heavier.

At the top of the stairs I stuff all of this in my bag. The vast Hall One at Paris-Expo has exhibitor stands and booths going to the distant horizon. The bag's strap pulls my left shoulder towards the floor. I attach my new badge and descend the stairs without the faintest idea of what I am going to 'find' at this salon.

The first thing I do is decide not to ask the information booth just inside the entry for anything; it looks like they are in chaos. The floor plan the 'Routard' Guides is posted above some benches where weary salon attendees are collapsed.

As I am search for the location of - what? Whatever it was, it is at J27 and as I am leaning over and trying to figure out where this is in reference to where I am, one of the collapsees rises and says, "You are Internet?"

Ah-ha; an alert badge-reader! Who turns out to be Mr. W. F. De Bruyn, a publisher of an extremely large and thick, hardcover guide full of four-color reproductions, to the Internet - to the Web part of it specifically.

Mr. De Bruyn tells me his company is based in Hong Kong or in Apledoorn in Holland, or it is moving to Belgium - anyway it is something complicated. In a kidding way I ask him if he isn't a bit worried about all the trees he has had knocked down in order to print this monster of a book - still warm with its press smell - this book that is out-of-date?

He is a good fellow who likes a joke like a lot of the Dutch and I don't follow his commercial reasoning and when his daughter shows up she is a good fellow too, and she does the English for him although he did it pretty well on his own. Sometimes she tells him stuff in Dutch - and I catch the nouns - and sometimes the three of us switch to German - which the Dutch don't like speaking as a rule - but business is business after all!

We exchange cards. I correct the mis-prints and typos on the one I got out of a robot-machine. Their card only has fax numbers on it, and I never do find out how they managed to produce their huge book without being online. Some guys in Hong Kong did I guess.

At 15:45 the impromptu meeting is over and I still have the whole salon to cover and stand number J27 to find. I'd like to eat something too, and a drink wouldn't be bad either.

This is my fourth major exhibition since the beginning of the year. The coverage of the Salon du Livre in 1995 was my first Web-reporting job, so this is truly my second anniversary on this gig and my third take of the book salon.

Because of the editorial nature on Metropole, I feel that a report on the book salon is necessary because it will be a reflection on a very vital area of French culture - the French literary scene. This is its annual high point. For the French language, Paris is the centre of the world this week.

Today, it looks like another gigantic commercial bazar. I am facing 561 stands spread over 35,000 square metres. There are 1,167 French publishers represented here, and 347 foreign ones. Including the little revues, the section on printing trades, and the multimedia producers, there are 1,800 exhibitors in all under one roof.

During the salon there will be, starting today, more than 200 conferences and debates and author's readings, and more than 1,000 living authors will be making appearances on their publisher's stands to sign their books, talk to their fans or to participate in the conferences.

In addition to this, the salon features an annual 'Country of Honor' - this year it is Japan - and this generates yet more readings and authors and conferences. If this were not enough, the organizers hope that 300,000 members of the public will show up and fill the alleyways between stands and booths, buy some books, attend some conferences, and gawk at everything.

Frankly, it is too much. It is too late and my bag is too heavy.

As I start my trudge towards 'who-knows-what?' I notice that there are not, in fact, very much of the 'public' about. Yet, while coming in, there were hordes of students coming here too.

After blundering into an obscure corner, I pass through a small doorway and presto! I am in another salon. It is the Salon du Lycéen et de l'Etudiant and although I go no further than the first booth, I notice the noise level is quite a number of dB's higher than where the books are. (More on the education salon in the other salon feature in this issue.)

Back where I'm supposed to be, I remember why I'm looking for stand J27. Quite some time ago, some hitchhiker types started up a guidebook, called the 'Routard,' which means traveller or hitchhiker. The early versions of this guide showed a bell-bottomed jeans type striding along with the world as sort of a knapsack.

'Le Guide du Routard' has since expanded into a whole cascade of guides, covering not only France and Europe, but with editions covering 28 other countries or regions as well. The old 'Europe on $5 a Day' is long gone - a Metropole reader mentioned there is a 'Europe on $50 a Day,' but I have never seen it - and the 'Routard' sort of takes this up, by pointing out reasonably-priced, but especially sympathetic, places to lodge, eat, drink and while away the time.

I know all this because I have a recent copy of the Paris edition, which I consult fairly often - especially with prices being what they are - and the descriptive content is quite informative as well as being readable.

The Japanese Master

So I thought I'd say 'hello' to them at stand J27. However, it turned out that this is Hachette's travel-guide stand and nobody from the 'Routard' was on it. In fact, many of the stands are manned by temporary help who know little other than a bit about the products on the stand. They can sell you a book, just the same as in a bookstore.

As at past Salons du Livre, I tend to give the 'Country of Honor' stand a pass in the report, because they are not French - although I look the stands over out of respect for the featured country's authors and also for fact that these stands feature the translations brought out by French publishers.

At first I thought this year's Japan stand was just a bit too spare. Open, functional, but lacking in decor and personality. But, for other reasons - being lost - I found myself going around the Japan stand several times and on each pass finding more things to see.

Later, I bumped into a fellow - a teacher - who I'd shared a métro seat with on the ride down. As he was 'live' I asked him if he had seen anything interesting at the salon, and he cited the Japanese stand. He told me that the number of Japanese books translated into French had increased dramatically in the past few years, and he found the viewpoints expressed in them to be highly interesting.

I had a sandwich. That there were any left at 17:30 was an indication that there was no great number of visitors; usually the sandwiches are all gone by 14:30.

The bridge over to the video and multimedia stands in Hall 2.1 was decorated by posters for movies that had won the Palm d'Or at Cannes in the past and it was hard to see them all, even though I have an swivel-neck, developed from checking out the billboard-sized posters in the métro every week.

I saw very little in the multimedia section, for the following reason: I spotted the stand of a French publisher from whom my wife had bought a title by mail-order. It was out of an English catalogue, for a version in English, for a PC. It clearly says 'for PC' on the still shrink-wrapped box, but it might have not been so clear in the catalogue - and it needs to be exchanged for a Mac version if it is to be of any use.

It might be possible to exchange it for a Mac version, I was told, but probably in the original French. That would be okay because the kids are bilingual, and I got a phone number.

On the back side of this stand, I found a mail-order outfit called 'Kid CD.' Not many families in France are equipped with home computers, and fewer still are multimedia-capable. Despite this, there are a fair amount of CD-ROM titles produced in France, and some of them are pretty good. Others are not.

Some moms got together several families of informal 'testers' and they have put out a quite respectable 32-page mail-order catalogue that contains descriptions of the titles, based on these 'user' tests by real people and their kids. Their specialty is titles for kids of course.

CD-ROMs are fairly expensive in France and buying ones that are not much good are a pain in the wallet. The catalogue also clearly says what the technical requirements are - so there is no excuse for buying Mac titles that will not run on PCs - thus avoiding another potential pain in the wallet.

It seems to me that prices in the catalogue, if they are not under the normal shop prices, are very competitive. The catalogue contains about 100 titles, all in French and many of them are French productions, that are possibly not exported - not in French in any case.

It is exit time and I pass the tiny booth of Logicom, the company that put together the Web site for the salon. Behind it is another, equally small booth, for the Pagina Web site.

Alexandre Rosa is celebrating the first anniversary of his Pagina, the 'French publisher's Web magazine.' Actually, the contents are by writers A View of the Salon and about writers, not publishers, and since the site was launched it has featured reviews of 380 French books and some 35 CD-ROM publications.

Mr. Rosa told me that Pagina had once been in English as well as French, but the statistics showed there was little interest in the English version and it has since been dropped. If you want to keep up with French literature, in French, via the Web, be sure to check out this well-done site.

As Mr. Rosa was engaged with a reader, fan, editor, or teacher when I left, I said goodbye to his capable press-attache, Beate Mundinger, in German. Ciao.

Other Web sites related to the Salon du Livre are worth checking out. For a sort of online and interactive literary game try the 'Nuit du Web'next Sunday, 20. March - which is also the 'Day of Francophonie.' More on Francophone books, including interactive novels, can be found here.

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