Frankfurt Book Fair: Booming Business for Trade Visitors, Reflections of German Politics Play Out

In Feature Articles by Hannah Johnson

Publishers and agents report positive meetings and rights sales, and Frankfurt responds to political disputes by reaffirming its commitment to freedom of expression.

From left: Frankfurt Book Fair’s director Juergen Boos, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and German Publishers and Booksellers Association director Heinrich Riethmüller at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair (Image © Marc Jacquemin / Frankfurter Buchmesse)

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

Booming Business at Frankfurt
The 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair saw an increase of 6.5 percent in weekend visitors and stability in the number of trade visitors, down just 0.2 percent from last year. In total, 286,425 people came to the fair, which closed Sunday (October 15).

And with some 7,300 exhibitors from 102 countries and a record 500 tables sold in the Literary Agents and Scouts Center (LitAg), business was booming, according to a number of publishing professionals.

Steve Rosato, business development executive at OverDrive, told Publishing Perspectives that he and his colleagues had “packed schedules” with “key decision makers representing every possible market” for the company, which distributes digital content to libraries and schools.

“People fixate on attendance figures for these international book fairs when the only thing that matters is your meeting schedule, and that is never a question with Frankfurt,” said Rosato. “If I had to call out one thing that was different this year, [it was] the number of chance meetings, the serendipity of catching key people you weren’t scheduled to see—it was off the charts this year. I will be busy with follow up well into 2018.”

From Canada, Kids Can Press (KCP) rights director Adrienne Tang said, “The fair was great for KCP. It was really busy.” Tang also said that she saw “strong interest in our fall 2018 YA titles” including Me & Me by Alice Kuipers and The Last Wish of Sasha Cade by Cheyanne Young. From KPC’s children’s list, there was also interest in board book Zoom Along by Jessica Phillips “because the die-cut illustrations are genderless and skin tone is avoided,” said Tang.

“I also felt a lot of enthusiasm from German publishers as we ramp up toward FBM2020, when Canada is the host country,” she said.

Norway, another future Guest of Honor in Frankfurt, also reported growing international interest in its literature. Margit Walsø, director of NORLA, said, “The great interest we see for Norwegian literature has never been experienced like this at the book fair.” The Norwegian stand was “busy and vibrant,” she said, and Norwegian agents reported “many sales for both fiction and nonfiction at this fair.”

Also from Norway, Even Råkil of Oslo Literary Agency said he and his colleagues “had a brilliant fair. It was hectic and fun with many sales over the table, due to a very strong list of internationally hot books and authors.” He said that the agency’s top fiction title for fall, Blue by Maja Lunde, sold into eight territories so far, with more to come. On the nonfiction side, Råkil said, Frankfurt brought in more sales for The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl, ”a popular science book on the vagina,” which has now been sold into 30 territories so far.

“One of our highlights was also an illustrated book for children by Klaus Hagerup and illustrator Lisa Aisato called The Girl Who Wanted to Save the Books, with six sales in a few days,” said Råkil. “In general after Frankfurt this year, we are a happy and exhausted agency.”

Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos told Publishing Perspectives, “The people I spoke to in the halls, at dinners, and at the Frankfurter Hof told me that they’d had a fantastic fair. The business meetings were very productive. Seeing events with big-name authors at the fair—including Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Robert Menasse, Leïla Slimani, Alain Mabanckou, and many others—gave people a chance to connect over our common passion for books and publishing. And France put together a wonderfully diverse program that really brought the francophone literary world into focus.”

From left, at the Prix Goncourt shortlist announcement in Frankfurt: Judith Roze, language department director, Institut Français; Marie Dabadie, secretary general, Goncourt Academy; Francoise Chandernagor, writer; Tahar Ben Jelloun, writer; Pierre Assouline, writer; Leïla Slimani, writer; Bernard Pivot, president, Goncourt Academy; Jérôme Ferrari, writer; Philippe Claudel, writer and film director; Patrick Rambaud, writer; Didier Decoin, writer; Virginie Despentes, writer; Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, writer; Paule Constant, writer. (Image: Johannes Minkus)

Politicians and Politics in Frankfurt

2017 was also a more political year for Frankfurt Book Fair, where discussions about current events, freedom of expression, and cultural dialogue took place. At the opening ceremony, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron gave speeches about the importance of culture in Europe, and a number of minsters of culture also attended the fair. Events on various stages addressed ongoing political situations around the world, with subjects like “Can Culture Save Europe?,” “Translating Literature from War-Affected Areas,” and “In Search of a European Islam.”

Tensions over Germany’s domestic politics flared between right- and left-wing political groups during a protest at the fair on Saturday over the presence of far-right publishers and politicians in Frankfurt. Protesters disrupted an event with Bjorn Höcke, a politician with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, as well as a reading on the same day with two far-right authors. Police and fair security were called in to de-escalate these situations.

“Freedom of expression is at the core of the publishing industry and the Frankfurt Book Fair,” Boos told Publishing Perspectives, “and for this reason, we cannot and do not exclude publishers from the fair based on what they publish. I understand that the physical altercations at this year’s fair were upsetting to people. We take safety very seriously, and our security and the police responded very quickly to these incidents. What happened was a result of increasingly polarized politics in Germany today. We condemn violence as a form of resolving disputes and call on people to use words instead of fists when they encounter disagreement.”

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.