Frankfurter’s News Conference in Germany: ‘The Democracy Fair’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Frankfurt Book Fair’s one-month-preview news conference emphasized the show’s programming in ‘politics, philosophy, and poetry.’

Frankfurter Buchmesse president and CEO Juergen Boos speaks at the trade show’s preview news conference in Frankfurt. Image: Publishing Perspectives, FBM

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

Boos: ‘A Time When Uncertainty Can Be Seen Everywhere’
With one month to Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s opening on October 18, organizers of the 75th edition of the trade show led a German-language preview press conference today (September 20), emphasizing the world’s largest publishing show of its kind as a center not only of the business of books but also of the ethos of literature and reading.

Like the book industry itself, world publishing’s largest trade show is an amalgam of both commercial and cultural interests. And to a degree, the commercial side’s signals tend to precede those of the cultural.

A signal of the trade’s commercial drive surging back into place—after the long walk out of the pandemic—arrived in mid-July, when the trade fair announced that its Literary Agents and Scouts Center (called the “LitAg”) had sold out all 584 tables, exceeding both pre-pandemic records of 528 (2018) and 522 (2019).

“From its beginnings in the years following the war until today, Frankfurter Buchmesse has stood for democratic exchange and for interactions in a peaceful and safe environment.”Juergen Boos, Frankfurter Buchmesse

Organizers also have signaled that sales of exhibitor stands and “workstations” are running high; ticket sales are looking very good; Asian companies’ representatives are much better able to return to Germany this year for the show than in recent years; and the Frankfurt Rights program has been rolling out its rights-trading programs for weeks in advance of the on-site fair’s run, October 18 to 22.

By late October, Publishing Perspectives could report that the 2022 show had drawn 93,000 trade visitors—a figure soaring past the 36,000 trade visitors who attended its 2021 iteration. With 456 LitAg tables sold in 2022, it was clear that the traveling business corps was returning, and so were the local fans of the show, the public-facing weekend programs drawing 87,000 visitors. And those who listened for clues to the cultural context of the big show already were hearing “more political than ever,” as Frankfurt’s trademark sensibilities to the times were aligning with the key concerns rocking so many of its international markets.

It’s no surprise, then that the emphasis in today’s news conference at Frankfurt’s Evangelische Akademie was keyed on that calculus, captured in three terms: politics, philosophy, and poetry.

Now well beyond concerns that the industry’s business engines are revving—even a focus on supply-chain challenges has eased somewhat—the show’s focus and messaging are turning to the necessity of the times: As Frankfurt president and CEO Juergen Boos said to reporters, “We are the democracy fair.”

‘Democratic Exchange’

Frankfurter Buchmesse Torsten Casimir goes over elements of the 75th anniversary trade fair’s programming at the news conference in Frankfurt. Image: Publishing Perspectives, FBM

Boos and Frankfurt spokesman Torsten Casimir essentially described the upcoming fair as an event designed to pace the tempo and tenor of the times, Boos speaking of “The growing importance of intellectual and artistic positioning at a time when uncertainty can be seen everywhere in the economy, politics and even the cultural sphere.

“From its beginnings in the years following the war until today, Frankfurter Buchmesse has stood for democratic exchange and for interactions in a peaceful and safe environment.”

And more than once, Boos opened his answer to a reporter’s question with the popular phrase, in English, “It’s complicated.”

Our readers already are familiar with many of the political-programming elements of the show. While a lot of them are centered in the Agora’s Frankfurt Pavilion—where United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and Philippine Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa will discuss the current situation and future of human rights. Also on that stage, Israeli singer Liraz will give a concert on Thursday evening.

But even before that programming, the first signal of the foundational importance of the political construct this year will be reinforced on the eve of the show’s start, when the invitational opening ceremony at Messe Frankfurt’s Congress Center will be headlined by German chancellor Olaf Scholz and Nataša Pirc Musar, president of Slovenia, this year’s guest of honor market.

Philosophical and literary keynotes will be given at the opening ceremony by author and philosopher Slavoj Žižek and poet and journalist Miljana Cunta, who were selected by the Slovenian guest of honor committee. Other speakers will include the mayor of Frankfurt, Mike Josef; Hessian minister of higher education, research, science and the arts, Angela Dorn; and the chair of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs.

But as our own variously focused articles—and elements of our programming in the Publishing Perspectives Forum—make clear, that dynamic of the political and the specifically egalitarian response that the world of literature can make to it is never far away. A preparatory interview with Kim Chongsatitwatana, CEO of Nanmeeboooks in Bangkok–she speaks in an exclusive Executive Talk on October 19–includes her observations to a reporter of how “complicated” the state of Thai politics have become in her market.

Special Events and Programming Areas

Speakers at Frankfurter Buchmesse’s preview news conference, from left, Simone Bühler, Ines Bachor, Torsten Casimi, and Juergen Boos. Image: Publishing Perspectives, FBM

In our advance coverage to date, you can find many topically focused looks at some of the range and breadth of programming being brought into play, from the “Honeycomb of Words” politically astute poetics and philosophy of Guest of Honor Slovenia (with its unprecedented one-night concert production of Laibach’s Alamut) to what today’s press materials list as more than 500 authors scheduled to be presented in one format or another during the course of the show.

The new International Stage between Halls 5 and 6 will include a session called “The Era of Global Boiling: What Can We Do?” as UN representatives  and climate-crisis activists look at issues and potential responses, something the Publishing Perspectives Forum will focus on specifically for medium- and small-size publishing houses.

Today’s presentation, augmented by comments from guest of honor program lead Simone Bühler and public relations manager Ines Bachor, also touched on components of the coming fair that we’ll cover for our readers in the weeks to come and in our Frankfurt Show Magazine. These include:

  • 75th anniversary events, which feature a dedicated “Anniversary Area” in the foyer of Hall 4.1
  • An announcement of a “Young People’s Word of the Year” program
  • A first collaboration at the fair of German broadcasters ARD, ZDF, and 3sat
  • The ARTE documentary Geist, Geschäft und Party: 75. Frankfurter Buchmesse
  • The 2023 edition of the city-wide Bookfest events Buchmesse visitors and local citizens
  • The books-to-screen emphasis on Frankfurt Friday
  • Academic publishing’s strong showing at Frankfurt
  • A Comics Center in Hall 6.1
  • A weekend education forum
  • The European Union-backed programs with Aldus Up and the STARTS Prize
  • Programming emphases on artificial intelligence, audio, children’s publishing
  • Women in publishing, with PublisHer bringing its own stand to the exhibition floor (Hall 5.1, A72)
  • An evening Literature Gala on Frankfurt Saturday

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, more on Slovenia is here, more on publishing and politics is here, more on the world’s international trade shows and book fairs is here, and more on guest of honor programs 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.