Richard Charkin in Frankfurt: Day Three

In Opinion & Commentary by Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin, now on his 51st Frankfurt, concludes his observations with a look at the fair, the industry, and how it’s all holding up.

At Frankfurter Buchmesse 2023. Image: Richard Charkin

By Richard Charkin | @RCharkin

‘More Than 50 Fairs’
The day started emotionally. The traditional Jerusalem International Book Forum breakfast hosted by the Holtzbrinck family took place but, of course, the organizers in Jerusalem were unable to attend. A usually happy occasion marred by an act of barbarism.

Fortunately we were able to see our colleagues in Jerusalem on a screen, where they told us how they were feeling, how they originally heard the news, and how they were clinging on to hope for the future of the forum and Israel itself. I am not the crying type, and definitely not at breakfast time, but I confess to genuine tears seeing our friends and colleagues so attacked.

But business is business, and Frankfurt is about doing deals or at least setting up potentials. So back to business.

There’s nothing sadder than a lonely author peddling his wares around the stands, being ignored, being insulted, and only gradually realizing that book fairs are not for authors—unless, like Salman Rushdie, you are guest of honor.

I’m in the lucky position of being an author but camouflaged as a publisher. I could be doing my regular business and then pull out this card to nail down a translation or two. It’s a cunning plan which might or might not work.

Image: Richard Charkin

Years ago I remember Jeffrey Archer nagging me to read his next novel in proof while I was on holiday.

Understandably he thought I was a bit aloof about his literary skills. On my return to work he asked if I’d read it, and I honestly said I had read the first half and thought it pretty good.

You mean, he riposted, you couldn’t be bothered to finish it. I had the same experience this morning. An old friend told me he’d read the first half of my book and I was too timid to ask if he intended to finish it.

I was also on the translation warpath on behalf of Nadim Sadek’s Shimmer, Don’t Shake, an invitation to stop worrying about the dangers of AI and embrace the opportunities. Book fairs should surely be about looking into the future, not fearing it.

This last diary entry for Frankfurt 2023 comes to you from the traditionally delayed but somehow comforting British Airways flight back to London—tired but unbowed best describes me at this moment.

I do hope that the space left by Sharjah and others will be filled by them again next year. Publishing needs diversity and needs as many countries to participate as possible.

And a final tribute to everyone involved in running Frankfurter Buchmesse. Of course not everything goes swimmingly. There are bound to be snafus of one sort or another. There are bound to be disagreements, some trivial, some serious. But it never ceases to amaze me how much goes right and how Juergen Boos and his team continue to deliver for our publishing world.

Thanks, Frankfurt Book Fair.


Join us monthly for Richard Charkin’s latest column. More coverage of his work from Publishing Perspectives is here. Richard Charkin’s opinions are his own, of course, and not necessarily reflective of those of Publishing Perspectives.

Now available here for your free download, our 2023 Publishing Perspectives Frankfurt Book Fair magazine

Our 75th Frankfurt coverage from our Frankfurt Book Fair Magazine, which has been available throughout the trade show in print, is also available for your free download.

The magazine has more interviews with fellows and grant-program recipients from international publishing markets, as well as previews of programming from our Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurt including our Executive Talks with Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Nihar Malaviya and Nanmeebooks’ Kim Chongsatitwana; highlights of key events at the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse; and coverage of Frankfurt’s upcoming guest of honor programs (Italy, the Philippines, the Czech Republic) and this year’s Guest of Honor Slovenia.

There’s also news of literary agents and agencies; award-winning books from guest of honor markets; focus articles on artificial intelligence, sustainability; and a forthcoming effort to get more Korean literature into world markets; as well as 75th-anniversary “Frankfurt Moments.”

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 nkoda.com 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.’