A Sudden Reversal: Leipzig Book Fair Is Canceled

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The ‘imponderables of the pandemic’ and staff shortages, organizers say, have left exhibitors unable to commit to Leipzig Book Fair.

A billboard in Leipzig promotes the 2021 ‘Let’s Read’ event, a ‘Reading Extra’ program associated with the book fair, which itself was unable to produce a physical edition. The 2022 fair marks the third cancellation for this widely popular national fair in Germany. Image: Leipziger Buchmesse, Tom Schulze

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

Zille: ‘We Struggled Until the Very End’
Six days after confirming that it would go ahead with an in-person staging in March, Germany’s major Leipzig Book Fair has today (February 9) announced that it must cancel its scheduled March 17 to 20 staging, after all.

Speaking for the fairgrounds’ administration at Leipziger Messe, managing director Martin Buhl-Wagner is quoted by our colleagues this morning at Börsenblatt, saying, “Unfortunately, due to the imponderables of the pandemic, many exhibitors are currently unable to plan reliably for such a large public event. “This led to many short-term cancellations.

“It’s therefore with a heavy heart that we have now decided not to hold the Leipzig Book Fair. This cancellation is due to the special nature of the event and does not apply to other trade fairs and congresses at the Leipzig Trade Fair.”

The director of the fair, Oliver Zille, says, “The industry gave us clear signals to make the fair possible with all our might. We struggled until the very end to have it held.

“Let’s treat those who canceled their participation with respect and recognition. They acted out of a sense of responsibility and in no way out of exhibition fatigue.”Peter Kraus vom Cleff, Börsenverein

“Unfortunately, however, the volatile pandemic situation is leading to staff shortages for many exhibitors. In consultation with the advisory board, we have decided to cancel the event. We would like to thank all exhibitors for their trust in the Leipzig Book Fair and our loyal audience.”

Because the change in plan has hit the fair so quickly, organizers say that no digital evocation will be attempted. This is the third time Leipzig has had to cancel, and the move stands as a singularly potent reminder to the world publishing industry that even where the COVID-19 omicron variant’s punch is waning, the impact of the pandemic isn’t over.

What had triggered the show’s exuberant green-light announcement on February 3 was a new “Coronavirus Protection Ordinance,” passed by the state of Saxony on February 1, laying out plans to relax coronavirus COVID-19 spread-mitigation measures, and thus allows fair organizers some six weeks’ preparation time. Public-health models were forecasting a peak in the current wave of the pathogen’s presence at the end of February.

Schmidt-Friderichs: ‘You Fought Like a Lion’

At the last in-person staging of Leipzig Book Fair in 2019. Image: Leipziger Buchmesse

The disappointment today is palpable in an especially generous set of two open letters–”warm greetings and today with sadness–from the leadership of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, to Zille and his associates at the fair. Their messages to Leipzig reflect not only the collegial grace that has come to characterize the book business’ struggles with the pathogen but also the gravity of the loss of so many important fair and trade-show events for publishing.

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, the Börsenverein chair, in writing to Zille points up the fact that publishing is no more immune than are other industries to the staff outages triggered by the highly infectious omicron and its BA.2 subvariant.

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs

“Nobody wants to be in your skin today,” she writes. “You fought like a lion for the Leipzig Book Fair. For our chance to draw media attention to our industry and our new books, for the joy of seeing us again, for our encounters with the readers. With your small team you gave everything to be able to prepare the stage for us that we all need so much.

“They managed to get the courageous support they needed from the city and state and their ‘go,’ and now the coronavirus is pulling the exhibition hall floor from under your feet from the other side.

“The incidences are causing sick leave to rise, forcing many people into quarantine or worse and ensure that those responsible in publishing worry about the health and operational capability of their trade fair teams. A trade fair not only needs encouragement, but also enough exhibitors.

“Together with the trade fair company, the city, the state and the advisory board, you now had to make a difficult decision. The publishers certainly didn’t take their decision lightly either.”

The Börsenverein’s general manager and current president of the Federation of European Publishers, Peter Kraus vom Cleff, in his message, signals to the industry that neither the fair’s management nor the Saxon government can be faulted for the loss of Leipziger Buchmesse in this sudden reversal.

His points reference the occasional intra-industry snark that has accompanied moments when publishing’s exhibitors were unconvinced they could go forward with a fair, an unseemly form of schadenfreude picked up in some media reports and pockets of the book industry as book-fair administrators wrestled with volatile production conditions.

Vom Cleff writes, “Do not let grief turn to anger. And let us show our sympathy to Mr. Zille and his team and thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their commitment.

Peter Kraus vom Cleff

“We would also like to thank the political decision-makers who made the fair possible. That was an important signal that endures, even though things have turned out differently than we’d hoped. Please continue to support the Leipzig Book Fair and please continue to support Mr. Zille and the team, who are sure to be battered today.

“Let’s treat those who canceled their participation with respect and recognition. They acted out of a sense of responsibility and in no way out of exhibition fatigue, on the contrary.

“At this point, let us once again thank all those who, knowing about the coronavirus numbers, nevertheless offer the book a stage every day: the booksellers who are in constant contact with customers in order to awaken and serve the desire to read. And all those who work tirelessly every day to ensure that the books get to the shops and reach the readers.

“Their dedication and courage deserve applause. Every day. But today especially.”

Today’s announcement of Leipzig’s cancellation encompasses not only the central public-facing book fair but also the “Manga-Comic-Con” and antiquarian book fair that were slated to be produced in parallel, along with an associated “Leipzig Reads” program. Selected award ceremonies—including the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding on March 16 and the Leipzig Book Fair Prize on March 17—are expected to go forward and will be streamed. Details of those programs are still to come.

Industry professionals and consumers who had plans, tickets, and other arrangements in place for attending Leipzig this year will find many of their questions answered here.

The next dates for the Leipzig Book Fair are March 23 to 26, 2023.

A ‘Literaturcafé’ event venue in Leipzig, part of the ‘Reading Extra’ program associated with the canceled 2021 book fair. Image: Leipziger Buchmesse, Jens Schlúter

More from Publishing Perspectives about international book fairs and similar events is here. More on Leipzig Book Fair is here, and more on the German market is here.

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