The 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse: A Time Line

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The world’s largest international book publishing trade show opens its 75th iteration with ‘chronicles’ of its past right up to this year.

A collage in ‘The Time Line of Frankfurter Buchmesse From 1949 to Today.’ Image: FBM

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

‘Important Signals Across the Globe’
As international publishing professionals’ agendas for travel and meetings are coming together for the remainder of 2023, Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s 75th iteration (October 18 to 22) today is highlighted by the release from Frankfurt’s communications and content chief Torsten Casimir of new online livery for Buchmesse.de, with a compelling time line as its centerpiece.

The world’s largest publishing-industry trade show is themed “And the Story Goes On,” reinforcing the annual integration of this seminal trade fair—like the book business it supports—with cultural, political, and economic dynamics. By 1953, the event we all refer to simply as “Frankfurt” had become a gathering of more international exhibitors than German ones. That’s one reason the center of overseas publishing rights trading and bookish energies finds its gravity strongest each year at Messe Frankfurt.

Foreign rights has never been the correct term in such a polyglot arena. We are all foreigners, and natives, in this context.

The extensively researched Time Line of Frankfurter Buchmesse From 1949 to Today is found here online.

The time line’s 1949-through-2022 dash across events and influences is built in a familiar decade-by-decade format, part of a campaign created with Vier für Texas GmbH, a Frankfurt-based agency.

‘A Space for Understanding and Dialogue’

From the 1960s in ‘The Time Line of Frankfurter Buchmesse From 1949 to Today.’ Image: FBM

The thematic line for the trade show’s contemporary following in today’s announcement is laid out this way: “Even now, after crisis-ridden COVID-19 years, Frankfurter Buchmesse continues to focus on today’s major issues: war in Europe, climate change, structural racism, freedom of speech, human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, diversity, digital transformation, and much more.

“At a polarizing time of international upheaval, the anniversary fair in 2023 will once again create a space for understanding and dialogue, sending important signals across the globe.”

That’s both the need and the intent, and readers will find that holding the mission front-of-mind makes peering into the past less chaotic. Otherwise, you may find it at times unsettling that the swirl of familiar and not-so-familiar personalities and events held so much importance in their spots on the time line. Today, many such moments hold almost no heat, and yet they all seemed “polarizing times of international upheaval” as they were lived, of course. What’s great is that the industry and its people are still here to look back and contemplate. An emotional industry by nature, the book business might find this look back over the years comforting.

Xi Jinping and Angela Merkel in an archival photo in the 2000-2009 section of ‘The Time Line of Frankfurter Buchmesse From 1949 to Today.’ Image: FBM

Many will want to move to the last decade first, the one most familiar to them, to get their bearings.

Then, with the reassurance that a digital delivery of the BookFest program reached 1.5 million people here in “our” 2020s, it seems easier to start looking back into the mists of time to find famous names and faces, two of them in one archival photo being those of the smiling Xi Jinping and an uneasy-looking Angela Merkel.

For that matter, the 200 or so publishers at Paulskirche in 1949 may hardly have felt at all comfortable if they were transported forward to our decade. And maybe there’s solace here. Perhaps that captures part of the importance of Buchmesse—and of this look back over its long run: Its long-running iterations have spanned, successfully, so many discomforts.

The thing that makes these faces of public figures and literary souls seem connected is the march of challenges overcome, crises survived, hostilities eased.

To that most important end, on May 3, Buchmesse and the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, will together stage a joint event at St. Paul’s Church—the first Agora of the book fair—in consecration of Germany’s Freedom of Expression Week, which we’ve written up here.

Perhaps in its 75th year, Frankfurt Book Fair, under the direction of president and CEO Juergen Boos, will send us all back to our respective world markets determined to create a national Freedom of Expression Week. That is, finally, what we are learning is the most essential engine of the book publishing space. We seem to forget that less frequently now, which is good.

‘A Polarizing Time of International Upheaval’

Many in the Publishing Perspectives readership will note that today’s (March 15) announcement of the campaign and some of its accoutrements is itself a sign of the times.

Promotional campaigns nowadays not only are created and operated in public channels in order to guide attention and contour perceptions; they’re also announced as news, themselves—a reflection of this age’s dominance by many communications media forces, a recently arrived time in the “chronicles” when those behind the messages step right up to tell you that they’re messaging you and to tell you what their messages will be.

This particular tenor of the times lacks subtlety, no question about it.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a paucity of content. Archival photography and a regular infusion of attendance figures march through the compilation of highlights by Frankfurt’s Tamara Weise with English translation by Tim Schroder, and the opening of the 75th year with this remembrance of continuity over three-quarters of a century is valuable even for the newest arrivals at the upcoming trade show in October.


More from us on Frankfurt Book Fair is here, more from Publishing Perspectives on the German book market is here, more on the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels is here, and more on the freedom of expression and freedom to publish 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.