The 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair wrapped up on Sunday, October 23, and as of Friday morning (the final professional day before the public descended on the fair), organizers said professional attendance was slightly above last year, marked by brisk rights dealing in the LitAg, where, for a third year in a row, a record number of agents—more than 700—had registered.
But politics and current events—including the crackdown on free speech in Turkey, the Syrian refugee crisis, fallout from Brexit, and even the contentious U.S. election—hung over the 2016 fair. From the opening press conference through a number of talks and panels, threats to free speech in Turkey proved a prominent point of concern. Following a failed coup in July, president Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an has shuttered upward of 30 publishers and newspapers, and jailed or dismissed thousands of authors, academics, and journalists.
“Stand by us, the other Turkey,” pleaded exiled Turkish journalist and newspaper editor Can Dündar, who presented the German translation of his new memoir, We Are Arrested: A Journalist’s Notes from a Turkish Prison, on Wednesday morning at the fair, sitting alongside his literary agent, Nermin Mollaoglu, of Istanbul’s Kalem Agency, and fair director Juergen Boos. Dündar urged greater Western engagement in Turkey, telling attendees that Erdog˘an had “effectively ended freedom of speech as we know it.” Asked if she feared for her own security in representing dissident Turkish writers, Mollaoglu replied: “It is a risk, but I like this risk. It is something I must do for myself, my agency, my future, and my country.”
In an interview with PW, Boos acknowledged the heavy political overtones of this year’s fair—and stressed that organizers would not shy away from addressing such issues. “We have to engage,” Boos said. “It’s not just a Turkish problem—it is a problem we have all over the world right now, and I think we as an industry have to do something about it. We have to speak. It’s really about freedom to speak, and freedom to publish. What we have at Frankfurt is a cultural product, and it depends on freedom. The publishing industry will have to take action.”
Political clouds notwithstanding, most attendees expressed optimism and confidence in the world book market. “Despite all the crises that people are talking about in the industry, you don’t feel it here,” said Wei Dai, business-development manager at the German firm MVB, which is developing a Books in Print product for Brazil.
“I was walking around the French Pavilion, and all of these people are ‘speed-booking,’ working very quickly to make deals,” observed Catherine Fruchon-Toussiant, a journalist with Radio France International. “It will be interesting to see what happens next year,” she added—France was announced as the 2017 Guest of Honor.
Meanwhile, despite the general consensus that Brexit was a problem for the long term—especially the uncertainty it brings—the news wasn’t necessarily all bad for all English publishers in Frankfurt. “Provided you export more than you import, the currency devaluation is going to be beneficial,” said one senior British publisher who requested anonymity, referring to the 20% drop in the value of pound since the referendum, which translates into a sort of Brexit discount on British rights. “It has made British publishing more competitive.”
Others, however, noted that for large conglomerates, the currency issues “all come out in the wash.” And the general consensus was that the vote to leave the European Union will ultimately be negative for British publishing, affecting both the Europeans employed in London who may want to leave, and those trying to recruit Europeans to work in the U.K.
On the fair’s professional side, the Business Club, now in its third year, is “really taking off,” Boos said. “A lot of people who don’t have a stand but want to be discovered use the Business Club.” He added that the fair will look at expanding the Business Club, and possibly other options to further serve the growing number of startups and smaller firms who want do business in Frankfurt.
Another positive change this year was adding space near the rights center for publishers on the Tuesday before the fair opened, bringing meetings that were once scattered across Frankfurt’s hotel bars and coffee shops onto the fairgrounds. That space will likely be expanded next year, too, fair organizers said.
And the fair’s newest addition, the Arts+ conference, which featured a one-day program and a hall with various new creative tools, including virtual and augmented-reality demos, also received positive reviews. The highlight was British artist David Hockney, who showed off his drawings done on an iPad. “David Hockney went over really well,” Boos said, conceding that he initially had some concerns about whether the 79-year-old artist’s message would come off as an ad for the iPad. “But what you had was one of the world’s most famous artists actually telling us that you have to reinvent yourself all the time. He was doing Polaroids, collage, now the iPad—this is the message to our industry.”