Frankfurt Book Fair, Highlights and Outlooks: ‘Optimism and Confidence’

In News by Porter Anderson

The world’s controversies and struggles, say Frankfurt Book Fair organizers, are opportunities for the books industry to show the world the value of literature.

At Monday’s (September 18) news conference in Frankfurt. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse, Ines Bachor

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Publishing ‘Keeping Step With the Times’

The international rights trade is “booming,” according to speakers at a press conference held today in Frankfurt (September 18) by the Frankfurter Buchmesse administration.

In the run-up to Frankfurt Book Fair (October 11-15), the trade show’s organizers see challenging political developments in many parts of the world as a chance to demonstrate what “makes publishers extremely important.”

In his statement, Frankfurt director Juergen Boos, has told the media, “When world affairs become confusing, when deep rifts mark most societies, and when fake news challenges journalistic reporting, the desire for trustworthy sources of information, solid knowledge, and well-researched news grows.

“This makes publishers enormously important—a responsibility they know they have.”

Standards and commitment are the essentials now, Boos has stressed, saying that a look at the programming coming into place for October proves the critical importance of weighing information with care and sorting facts with nuance.

Juergen Boos

This year “will be remembered,” Boos said, “as a year that set the course at many levels–both in politics as well as in economic and social contexts, in Germany and in many parts of the world. Frankfurter Buchmesse brings together exhibitors from more than 100 nations.

“For five days, the focus is not only on the content business; rather, the book fair is the place where the industry proves that it’s keeping step with the times–open to innovation, stable in its economic development, and as opinionated as ever.”

Of course, however realistic Boos’ understanding of the importance of publishing in such conflicted times may be, the consumer-reader base is also distracted by the political construct, natural disasters and climate change, security struggles, economic swings, and other dynamics reflected in an interview with Knopf executive vice president and executive publicity director Paul Bogaards by the Associated Press’ Hillel Italie.

“People are indeed distracted,” Bogaards told Italie, “and there’s no sign of it letting up. Many are weary from their social feeds—mentally exhausted—and some, perhaps, are simply choosing to binge-watch their favorite television series and eat copious amounts of ice cream rather than read a contemporary, literary novel.”

And so it is that this, too, will be part of this year’s discussions at Frankfurt: how does publishing hold its base, grow its readership, amid such relentless demands for the attention of the consumers?

Several factors in Monday’s news conference presentation help give context to the upbeat perspective of Boos and his colleagues.

Internationalism in the Lead

This year, exhibitors at Frankfurter Buchmesse come from more than 100 countries. A new entry, the collective stand Publishers from Africa and Haiti, will feature 20 French-language publishers with titles from 13 countries. This will include the debut appearances at Frankfurt of Niger, Madagascar, and Gabon. You’ll find this signal group in Hall 5.1, very near the French collective stand at 5.1 E17.

As France comes in with Guest of Honor programming, French exhibitors have expanded their floor space by more than 12 percent over last year. Norway, Guest of Honor 2019, has grown by 23 percent. Canada, Guest of Honor 2020, has increased its 2016 bookings by 3 percent. Next year’s Guest of Honor is Georgia, and its space allocations this year are holding steady on a par with 2016’s.

Some interesting shifts reflect various energy points in the world industry. For example, North American, Western and Central European space reservations have remained stable, organizers say, floor space for Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East has grown considerably. At the same time, increases include:

  • Eastern Europe: +8 percent
  • Iran: +6 percent
  • East Asia: +5 percent
  • Switzerland: +14 percent
  • Kazakhstan, Estonia and Lithuania have also made increases in their presence
Rights on the Rise

Frankfurt is the international book industry’s biggest trade event of its kind, annually drawing more than 250,000 attendees. Rights trading is at the heart of the show and has continued to set new records in advance of October’s fair. The Literary Agents & Scouts Center (LitAg) has set a new record with 500 tables sold.

And in related events on Buchmesse’s program:

  • Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, is scheduled to speak on global developments in the industry at the book fair’s opening news conference (October 10).
  • The 10th of October, “Frankfurt Tuesday,” is also the date on which Frankfurt’s Business Club in Hall 4 will present its conference, The Markets, keynoted by one of the most powerful literary agents in the world,  Andrew Wylie. In The Markets’ closing discussion, five influential women managers will take the floor: Tracey Armstrong (Copyright Clearance Center, USA); Sophie de Closets (Fayard, France); Arpita Das (Yoda Press, India); Xandra Ramos-Padilla (National Book Store/Anvil Publishing Philippines); and Vicky Williams (Emerald Group, UK) will discuss career opportunities and obstacles.
  • At Frankfurt’s CEO Panel on the fair’s opening day, Wednesday, October 11, Carolyn Reidy, CEO of the American publishing group Simon & Schuster–the only woman to head one of the Big Five trade book publishers–will take questions from industry journalists. Also in that session, Guillaume Dervieux, vice president and CEO of Albin Michel, will offer information about the book industry in France, this year’s Frankfurt Guest of Honor.
  • In the Business Club, Nils Rauterberg, managing director of Audible Germany, will present the Audible Audio Compass 2017 and talk about the dynamic development of the audiobook as a mass medium.
  • In a discussion, “Reporting the Truth in the Age of Fake News,” Chad Thomas, Bloomberg Germany bureau chief, will be joined by Bloomberg executive directors Heather Harris and Matthew Miller to debate the media’s responsibility in the age of fake news.

Juergen Boos, director of Frankfurt Book Fair, speaks to media members at Frankfurt’s news conference on Monday (September 18). Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse, Ines Bachor

Weltempfang’s New Satellites, Arts+, and France as Guest of Honor

Always intriguing and frequently intense, the Weltempfang events on their own stage in Hall 3.1 turn on controversies of the day. This year, a trio of sessions will feature Boos in conversation with public figures on current events.

Among these sessions, each of which is at 9:30 a.m. at the Business Club:

  • Boos speaks with war correspondent Åsne Seierstad and Hans Leyendecker, one of Germany’s best known investigative journalists (October 11)
  • Turkish journalist Can Dündar and author Burhan Sönmez are Boos’ guests, talking about living and writing in exile (October 12)
  • With with Thomas Wagner, author of Die Angstmacher (The Anxiety) and Gerald Hensel, Founder of Fearless Democracy, Boos will look at the phenomenon of the New Right (October 13)

Meanwhile, as covered earlier here at Publishing Perspectives, The Arts+ program has a full schedule planned, including  appearances by Chris Dercon, artistic director of the Volksbühne Berlin, and Peter Weibel, chairman and CEO of ZKM (Center for Art and Media) Karlsruhe.

October 11, THE ARTS+ Innovation Summit will be held in cooperation with European institutions from politics, the creative industry and culture. In a workshop discussion, the artist collective robolab (ZKM Karlsruhe) will present its robot “manifesto.”

As covered many times this year here at Publishing Perspectives, France’s Guest of Honor program is a strong reflection for many of the bonds between Germany and France, understandably meaningful and impressive in such a year of political tests.

“France’s presentation as Guest of Honor,” Boos said Monday, “is under the aegis of the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and that alone shows the political dimensions of the occasion. In 2017, an election year, France’s presence at the fair is a powerful symbol of the solidarity and partnership between Germany and France within Europe, and a cultural highlight.”


Exhibitors and other attendees, remember to arrange your ads now in Frankfurt’s most widely distributed Show Daily from Publishing Perspectives, space is closing soon. Information is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.