The world's biggest book fair opened here on Tuesday with the spotlight on children's literature, traditionally an "under-recognised" sector but now seen as a driving force in publishing.
More than 7,000 exhibitors are expected from Wednesday at the five-day Frankfurt Book Fair, which this year also puts the literary traditions, arts and culture of New Zealand in the spotlight as its guest of honour.
"Childrens' books have been doing very well around the world," Richard Robinson, president and chief executive of the publisher and distributor of children’s books, Scholastic told a news conference.
"In the last 12 months, children's publishing has been the top category in general trade publishing, leading families, readers into the bookstores," he told reporters ahead of the fair's inauguration.
Around 1,500 publishers who deal exclusively with the children's and youth market are expected at the showcase, according to fair director Juergen Boos, who has described the sector as "a prototype" for the industry.
He pointed not only to the availability of playful apps for smartphones and tablet computers as well as interactive games, but also to changes in style and content of children's books reflecting today's society.
"Children's publishing, always an important but somewhat under-recognised part of the book industry, may likely become the leader in pioneering new forms of reading because as we all know from watching babies with iPads, children are intuitively digital readers," Robinson said.
However he predicted that print books would "survive and prevail as core children's literature" adding that many schools or families would likely not be able to afford or have access to digital ebook readers.
While electronic books have been all the talk of the Frankfurt fair in recent years, ebook sales in Germany still only account for two percent of the market share, Gottfried Honnefelder, president of the German Booksellers' and Publishers' Association, told reporters.
That compared to about 20 percent in the United States, he said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, at the opening ceremony, described New Zealand as a "neighbour" despite its great geographical distance from Germany because, he said, the two nations shared "common values".
"These include democracy and rule of law, the need for international cooperation and the primacy of international law. We share the belief in the value of individual freedom," he said.
For Germany, New Zealand embodies both the familiar and the exotic, he added pointing to the culture brought by European immigrants with that of the indigenous Maori population and influences from Asia.
"We New Zealanders regard ourselves as practical people, pragmatic, sports loving, but we are also dreamers, writers and prolific readers," New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Bill English told the ceremony.
"We have the space to contemplate, our nearest neighbours are 2,200 kilometres away," he said adding however that although isolated, the country of 4.4 million people was not "insular".