It’s a common question in our constantly evolving digital world: are publishers adapting quickly enough? Yet through a decade of rapid technological change, a global recession, and ever-shifting consumer expectations, the global book business has shown its resilience. And one needs look no further than the Frankfurt Book Fair for an example of the industry’s strength.
“Our industry is very volatile on the one hand, but on the other hand, if you look into the numbers worldwide, it’s one of the most stable industries you can speak of,” says Juergen Boos, president and CEO of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “And I think Frankfurt reflects this.”
Book publishing is, of course, a mature business in some parts of the world, including Europe and the U.S. But globally, Boos points out, there is strong growth in a number of emerging markets—particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And that growth is fueling an era of international expansion for the Frankfurt Book Fair.
“At Frankfurt, over the past 10 years, we went from 60% German exhibitors, 40% international to the other way around,” Boos says. “We now have more international exhibitors than we do German-language exhibitors—it’s like 65% to 35%.” And along with that international business comes an equally important opportunity: to showcase more talent, stories, and cultures from around the world—something fair organizers are always working to encourage. “It is very important to listen to other voices,” Boos adds, “and I think we must invest as an industry to make these voices accessible.”
Of course, Boos acknowledges that today such a global approach necessarily “steers toward some political questions”—questions he says Frankfurt organizers will not shy away from. “I think it’s necessary, given the role Frankfurt plays not only in our industry but in society,” he says. “Freedom to publish and freedom of speech are really the backbone of Frankfurt. And Frankfurt being the mother of all book fairs, it’s the most prominent place to discuss a lot of these issues.”
Indeed, last year, with nationalist movements on the rise in Europe, French president Emmanuel Macron joined German president Angela Merkel at the fair, and the two leaders spoke of a Europe united—rather than divided—by culture. Macron told fairgoers that books and literature are vital—even when the ideas expressed make us uncomfortable. “This is what holds us together—what prevents us from closing ourselves off, from giving way to fear, brutality, and disunity,” he said. In Merkel’s remarks, she stressed that “freedom of expression goes hand-in-glove with political freedom.”
Politics will likely loom large again at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018, including for U.S. publishers. On one hand, they’re concerned about Trump’s trade policies and his attacks on the press. On the other hand, sales of political books are booming. Last week, NPD Bookscan’s Kristen McLean reported that “blockbuster” nonfiction titles have led to growth in print-unit sales through the first half of 2018, with political books posting their highest sales volume in 15 years. U.S. adult fiction print-unit sales, however, are down 4%, and over the past three years have declined roughly 11%.
This year’s fair again features a strong program, and much of it has political overtones. Among the highlights, award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah) will give the keynote address on October 9 at the fair’s opening press conference, which will be set in the new Frankfurt Pavilion, situated at the center of the fair’s agora. Later that day, Adichie will be in London, where she will be honored with the PEN Pinter Prize, given annually to a writer who strives to “define the real truth of our lives and our societies.” And on the fair’s opening day, October 10, the annual CEO talk will feature Macmillan CEO John Sargent, who in January made headlines for defying Trump’s effort to stop publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury.
Of course, the lifeblood of the Frankfurt Book Fair is the rights trade. And this year, the LitAg, where agents and scouts conduct their business, will once again grow, featuring 528 tables, up from 500 last year, with 358 agencies from around the world. “The traditional rights business is growing, and on top of that we are seeing a lot of licensing and merchandising activities,” Boos says. “We believe this is not going to stop.”
For details on specific programs, check out the Frankfurt Book Fair website. You can follow all the action from Frankfurt through PW’s Frankfurt Show Daily, available in print at the show, as well as on the PW website.