Frankfurter Buchmesse Is a Go: A 2020 Physical-and-Digital Fair

In News by Porter Anderson

Anticipating in-person participation from across Europe—and from abroad as travel restrictions allow—the fair will go forward, today called ‘part of the DNA of this city’ by fairgrounds executive Uwe Behm.

A view of the Agora at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FBM, Peter Hirth

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

Boos: “More Than Ever Important To Hold the Book Fair’
Following today’s approval by the supervisory board of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels—Germany’s publishers and booksellers association—Frankfurter Buchmesse president and CEO Juergen Boos has announced a plan to stage both a physical book fair and “an extensive virtual program.”

Closely watched by the world publishing industry, the decision to move forward with the 72nd iteration of the world’s largest book trade show has become a symbol of the book business’ struggle during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. A topic of speculation for many weeks, the news that a major undertaking will be mounted stands as both a symbol of Germany’s commitment to its place in the international industry and, for many, a signal of light at the end of a terrible tunnel.

“This year,” says Boos on informing the news media, “it is more important than ever to hold Frankfurter Buchmesse.

Juergen Boos

“With our presence at the exhibition center, book events on-site and virtually, we create publicity for authors, for the industry, for our topics.

“Because of the coronavirus, the Frankfurt Book Fair 2020 is a special edition—a program on-site combined with future-oriented digital formats.

“We thank the prime minister of the State of Hesse, Volker Bouffier, the minister of economics Tarek Al-Wazir, the minister of finance Michael Boddenberg and the mayor of the City of Frankfurt am Main, Peter Feldmann, for their great support.”

Siegmar Mosdorf,

Speaking for the Börsenverein’s board, its chair, Siegmar Mosdorf, has joined Boos in the announcement this afternoon, saying, “Frankfurter Buchmesse is the showcase of the international book industry and has therefore been increasingly popular in recent years–not only among the specialist public and in the rights trade, but also among readers.

“It has become an international agora of intellectual exchange.

“We want to use this element–the fair’s component of discourse—even in times of crisis and maintain it for the future of the book industry.”

Organizers messaging the media from Frankfurt’s offices on Braubachstraße today describe the plan as utilizing space—both physical and digital—in unusual ways to accommodate the safety requirements of the pandemic.

“It’s planned to have the Buchmesse on the exhibition site,” they say, “and decentralized in the city of Frankfurt am Main—and at the same time virtually.

“The basis for the implementation of the on-site event is a detailed health and hygiene concept that implements the then-applicable protection regulations of the State of Hesse and ensures the safety of the visitors, exhibitors and employees participating in the fair.”

As many of Publishing Perspectives’ international readers know, Germany is a federation of jurisdictions, not unlike the United States, and it’s only with the approval of the Hessian government that the program has been allowed to proceed.

“The public order office and the health office of the city of Frankfurt,” say organizers, “were won over by the hygiene concept developed jointly by the book fair and Messe Frankfurt,” the latter, for those not familiar with the event, being the sprawling exhibition-center campus on which Frankfurter Buchmesse is held.

“Because of the dynamic situation,” organizers say, “the continuous professional evaluation of the overall situation and constant adaptation to the applicable legal requirements will be essential.”

Uwe Behm

And Uwe Behm, managing director of the fairgrounds, Messe Frankfurt, is quoted in today’s news, saying, “Frankfurter Buchmesse is part of the DNA of this city and also an icon of the trade fair industry. We’re very happy that the industry has chosen to stage a 2020 book fair, sending a very positive economic signal.

“As is always the case at Messe Frankfurt, the safety and health of all participants has top priority. We’ve planned extensive measures regarding distance rules, visitor guidance, and hygiene, and will adapt the concept to current knowledge and requirements.

“The implementation will be very structured and we’ll support Buchmesse with our full commitment.”

Early Details: A Work in Progress

As announcements are made, admission to Frankfurter Buchmesse is being planned to be contactless after pre-registration and activity is expected for now to be centered in Halls 3.0, 3.1, 4.0, 4.1, 6.0, and 6.1. Image: FBM, Peter Hirth

An early detail that will be of keen importance to literary agents: The “LitAg,” as it’s known–the annual Literary Agents and Scouts Center–is planned for Hall 6.1.

What’s more, Guest of Honor Canada is, at this point, being advised by fair organizers of “a concept that’s tailored to the situation.” In consultation with the Canadian ministry of culture and Canadian Heritage, then, further decisions will be forthcoming on the guest of honor plan for the fair.

“This year, it’s more important than ever to hold Frankfurter Buchmesse. With our presence at the exhibition center, book events on-site and virtually, we create publicity for authors, for the industry, for our topics.”Juergen Boos, Frankfurter Buchmesse

Frankfurt is working with the leading German houses including the Random House publishing group, the publishers of German Bonnier, the Holtzbrinck publishers, and the Bastei Lübbe group. These publishing powers have initiated a new event concept, for which more details soon will be known. They’re working now with Buchmesse on that concept, its communication, and implementation. There are other proposals being put forward by parts of the world industry, as well, and they’re engaging now with Frankfurt on those.

In his communications today, Boos clarifies that the amalgam of both physical and digital elements of the fair are at this point still in development but are meant to be all-encompassing so that participants either on-site or off will have the access they need to the fair’s activities. “We’re currently developing a number of digital formats,” he says, “that respond precisely to customer needs and enable the participation of companies and players from the publishing and related industries worldwide at the 2020 fair.”

What he’s describing is a presentational capacity that will enable publishing players with company and product presentations; occasions and formats for initiating business; contact with business partners; an explication of market trends; and further educational elements.

To keep consumers and reading fans close to the special life of the 2020 fair, a weeklong online program is being planned around a BookFest center from which the fair and its media partners can initiate discussions and present new titles and authors.

Technical Points: Setting the Stage

In Hall 3.0, one of the halls being used for the 2020 fair at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Program planning and extensive coronavirus protection particulars are expected by the end of June. Image: FBM, Peter Hirth

While a great deal of planning still is to come in terms of pandemic-related safety precautions and programming (expected at the end of June), there are a series of physical-site details available for us to share with you today:

  • Trade dates: As originally scheduled, Frankfurter Buchmesse is to take place from October 14 to 18
  • Public weekend: The fair is also to be open to the public on the weekend, October 17 and 18
  • Admitted number of visitors/distancing: The number of visitors admitted to the site at one time will depend on the gross area occupied in October
  • Hall occupancy: Planning is currently concentrated on six hall levels – 3.0 and 3.1; 4.0 and 4.1; 6.0 and 6.1
  • Placement: The placement is expected to be completed in mid-July
  • Stand space/distancing: The smallest possible stand space will be eight square meters. Exhibitors who have booked a four-square-meter stand will receive an additional four square meters at no additional cost. All other stand sizes will also be increased, cost-neutral, according to a scale model
  • Aisle space allocations/distancing: In addition, each stand is allocated 1.5 meters of the aisle width in front as an extra communication area
  • Aisle width/distancing: The aisle width in the halls is between 6-8 meters.
  • Rights trading: As previously mentioned, the Literary Agents and Scouts literary agent center, the LitAg, is to be set in Hall 6.1 and is also available to licensees from publishers this year
  • Workspaces: In addition to the offer to rent a stand, Buchmesse offers interested parties daily workplaces in its Frankfurt Workspaces at every hall level
  • Stages: The large stages will generally be replaced by digital options or more widely spaced physical venues
  • Book sales: Visitors can buy books at the legally bound retail price on Saturday and Sunday
  • Admission: Admission is to be contactless after pre-registration and a self-assessment on each attendee’s health status
  • Registration and ticket purchase: Possible only online after full registration and self-disclosure (on health status)
  • Ticketing: For trade visitors, ticketing should open August 1

At this writing, the 1:32 p.m. ET update (1732 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports Germany–currently with the eigth largest caseload in the world–with 181,524 cases and 8,134 deaths, in a population of 83 million.

Reuters’ Sabine Siebold, Michael Nienaber, and Madeline Chambers are reporting today that Germany is expected to lift a warning against travel to 26 sister member-states of the European Union, starting June 15, according to comments from Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister. In addition, Reuters has been told that non-EU states Britain, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein are to be included.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse  is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.