Richard Charkin: Why I’m Attending Frankfurt Book Fair in Person

In Feature Articles, Opinion & Commentary by Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin says he misses not only those ‘incessant meetings with old friends’ but also that ‘slightly permanent hangover.’ He’s headed back to Frankfurt.

In Hall 4 at Frankfurter Buchmesse, 2018. Image: FBM, Niklas Görke

Editor’s Note: In its German and English news conferences today, Frankfurter Buchmesse is announcing that at least 1,500 organizations from 70 nations are registered to exhibit at the world’s largest book publishing trade show (October 20 to 24), with more than 200 authors scheduled to present new titles. —Porter Anderson

By Richard Charkin | @RCharkin

‘Cannot Wait To Be There This Year’
For the sake of transparency, I should say that I’ve been a member of the international advisory board of Frankfurter Buchmesse since July 2008 (how time flies) along with several other book-trade colleagues from around the world. However, that has, I hope, never shut down my opinions on the fair and indeed book fairs around the world.

Richard Charkin

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted, damaged, canceled, and/or delayed many such trade gatherings, but perhaps it has also focused minds on their importance and how they might adapt to a very different future or disappear.

That said, I’m intending to attend Frankfurt 2021 in person providing the United Kingdom (or German or European Union) authorities don’t perform yet another U-turn on the rules for international travel. I know many people and companies who aren’t going and understand their reluctance, but here are my very personal reasons to buck the international (at least anglophone) absentee position.

  • I’m fully vaccinated and, thank God, not in a high-risk group.
  • At Casa Nova on Stresemannallee in Frankfurt. Image: Richard Charkin

  • Having spent some time in France over the summer, I reckon I’ve mastered the intricacies of the bureaucracy associated with leaving and return to the UK. This included PCR tests before leaving the UK, again before leaving France, and again after arriving back in the UK, not to mention any number of government forms. One observation is that European PCR tests involve sticking a swab up a nostril until the cotton bud at the end feels like it is poking the back of your eyeballs which is pretty painful and unpleasant. The UK version is a gentle poke up each nostril and a waft at the back of the throat. The health professionals I asked about the discrepancy both claim their method is more accurate. They can’t both be right. It’s a characteristic of the public-health regimes’ responses to this pandemic that there have been so many points on which national regimes cannot agree with each other on the most basic of issues. The book trade, by and large, has been better at achieving international collaboration than the health industries. Who would have thought?
  • Richard Charkin’s favorite hotel in Frankfurt, Flemings, is temporarily closed at the moment. Image: Flemings

  • Brexit has damaged Britain’s relationships with the rest of Europe and indeed, in my opinion, the rest of the world. The least I can do as an independent publisher and a board member of a number of British publishing companies is to show my support for global collaboration in publishing–literature is more important than absurd politics and the book business will continue confidently and well.
  • The absence of so many of the big global publishers is an opportunity for English-language minnows like Mensch Publishing to nobble publishers from around the world to buy translation rights. A founding principle of this business was to acquire world rights in all languages and it’s my responsibility to the authors who have entrusted me with their books to do everything possible to find them readers in whatever language.
  • In addition to translation deals, Frankfurt is a place to find the unexpected, the start-up tech company looking for quality intellectual property, the film company hunting new ideas, the culture minister looking for ideas to justify their trip, the Internet bookseller needing to be reminded that authors are what matter rather than algorithms, and who knows what or who else is around the corner.
  • Image: Richard Charkin

  • There may be no better time to attend Frankfurt from a cost point of view. Hotel prices will be less exorbitant, although I was very sad to see that my regular favorite, Flemings on Hamburger Allee, is temporarily closed. On the other hand, the Casa Nova–which I’ve been enjoying for the last 30 or more years–is flourishing, having moved from a small bar-like place on the other side of the road to the spacious and posher restaurant of today. One thing for certain I shall order the same as ever, whether on the menu or not, wild mushrooms with lamb’s lettuce, gnocchi, and seabass oven-baked in salt. There will be plenty of tables available this year, I suspect.
  • Perhaps the most important reason is that while COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom have been loosened somewhat, enabling me to meet publishing colleagues and friends, I have found myself missing all those from overseas who haven’t been to London. I know many won’t be in Frankfurt either, but some will and those of us who do attend will form even stronger bonds. I’m missing the buzz of the fair, the incessant meetings with old friends (nowadays in both sense of the word), the slightly permanent hangover from the evening before, too much coffee, too much air conditioning, too much hot air, too much gossip, too many deals, too much hype, too many stands, the famous Holtzbrinck lunch, the fancy book fair dinner at Villa Merton, the bratwurst.

In other words, I’m missing Frankfurt and cannot wait to be there this year–my 48th–and even more next year when the hordes return en masse.

At Frankfurter Buchmesse 2012. Image: FBM, Marc Jacquemin

Join us monthly for Richard Charkin’s latest column. More coverage of his work from Publishing Perspectives is here, and more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin is a former president of the International Publishers Association and the United Kingdom’s Publishers Association. For 11 years, he was executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. He has held many senior posts at major publishing houses, including Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Current Science Group, and Reed Elsevier. He is a former president of the Book Society and non-executive director of the Institute of Physics Publishing. He is currently a board member of Bloomsbury China’s Beijing joint venture with China Youth Press, a member of the international advisory board of Frankfurter Buchmesse, and is a senior adviser to and Shimmr AI. He is a non-executive director of Liverpool University Press, and Cricket Properties Ltd., and has founded his own business, Mensch Publishing. He lectures on the publishing courses at London College of Communications, City University, and University College London. Charkin has an MA in natural sciences from Trinity College, Cambridge; was a supernumerary fellow of Green College, Oxford; attended the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School; and is a visiting professor at the University of the Arts London. He is the author, with Tom Campbell, of ‘My Back Pages; An Undeniably Personal History of Publishing 1972-2022.’