Like the publishing industry itself, the Frankfurt Book Fair is showing its resilience. Last year, more than 142,000 trade visitors from around the globe attended the fair, marking the second year in a row of rising attendance. Can the 2017 fair (which runs October 11–15) make it three years in a row and chalk up another year of growth? There’s certainly reason for optimism.
As publishers prepare for this year’s show, the global economy has finally showed signs of stabilizing. Business is generally good: publishers’ sales are ticking up in many territories; print books are up and even indie bookstores are resurgent. And while e-book sales have now been declining for three straight years, that doesn’t seem to worry publishers, who, in fact, appear almost delighted to be putting the last decade’s talk of digital disruption behind them.
Also not to be overlooked is the fact that, heading into 2017, the Frankfurt Book Fair is simply a better event. For that, give the fair’s organizers credit. During some tough years for the industry earlier in the decade, Frankfurt seized the opportunity to experiment with the fair, and to change.
For example, the distant outpost known as Hall 8.0 is gone, and English-language publishers are now happily in the heart of the action in Hall 6.0. In its fourth year, the Frankfurt Business Club is hitting its stride. The improved Literary Agents and Scouts Center (LitAg) has again set a new attendance record, with about 500 tables sold. And the fair’s programming is compelling—including the Markets, the fair’s one-day preconference, which this year will focus on the U.S., France, India, the U.K., and Southeast Asia. And in its second year, the Arts+ program engages the broader arts community.
But as industry leaders prepare for the 2017 event, the publishing industry now faces other challenges—including politics. Across the globe, threats to free speech and the freedom to publish are on the rise, social media–fueled “fake news” is undermining trusted institutions, and a wave of nationalism—spurring Brexit in the U.K. and Trump’s election in the U.S.—threatens some of the industry’s core values.
In fact, the political overtones are carrying over from last year, as the headlines from the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair took a notable political turn, driven by events in the news: a crackdown on the freedom to publish in Turkey, the Syrian refugee crisis, Brexit, and the contentious U.S. election were all hot topics at the 2016 fair. In a closing interview last year, fair director Juergen Boos told PW that Frankfurt organizers would not shy away from politics. “We have to engage,” he said. “What we have at Frankfurt is a cultural product, and it depends on freedom.”
In pre-fair press statements last week, Boos reiterated Frankfurt’s commitment to political engagement. “When world affairs become confusing, when deep rifts mark most societies, and when fake news challenges journalistic reporting, the desire for trustworthy sources of information, solid knowledge, and well-researched news grows,” he said. “This makes publishers enormously important.” The 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair, Boos suggested, “will be remembered as a year that set the course at many levels—both in politics and in economic and social contexts.”
Indeed, this year’s fair features a slate of strong programs, some with obvious political overtones. Among the highlights, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle will offer his insights on the global publishing business at the fair’s opening press conference. And at the Markets preconference on October 10, U.S. literary agent Andrew Wylie is set to present the opening keynote, said to feature his take on publishing in the age of Trump. Also as part of the Markets program, a panel on women in publishing will feature five female publishing leaders, who will discuss their careers—and hopefully offer some insight into why publishers’ executive offices are still dominated by men, even as women make up the majority of the publishing workforce.
On the fair’s opening day, October 11, the annual Frankfurt CEO panel will feature Carolyn Reidy, Simon & Schuster’s CEO, and Guillaume Dervieux, CEO of French publisher Albin Michel. France is this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honor, and a program is set to explore France’s strong literary culture, as well as the “solidarity and partnership between Germany and France within Europe,” Boos notes—especially vital now that the U.K. has decided to leave the European Union.
“For five days, the focus is not only on the content business,” Boos says, “but rather, the book fair is the place where the industry proves it is keeping step with the times, open to innovation, stable in its economic development—and is as opinionated as ever.”
For more information and specific programs, check out the Frankfurt Book Fair website—and once again, you can follow all the action from Frankfurt through PW’s show dailies, available in print at the show, as well as on the PW website.