This year's Frankfurt Book Fair, held virtually last week, saw a broader range of participants than they would typically see at the physical book fair, said fair organizers. The fair organizers report that 200,000 people used buchmesse.de, the fair's primary website, and the fair's public-facing Bookfest -- which saw a wide range of talks from authors, including Ibram X. Kendi, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Edward Snowden -- attracted 1.5 million viewers on Facebook alone.
Some events, such as the B2B conference program, saw far higher numbers of people taking part. "We might typically have a few hundred people participating in the conference program and this year had nearly a thousand," said Juergen Boos. "Likewise, in the agents center we would typically have 700 to 800 agents working, but our digital Frankfurt Rights platform saw 4,165 people sign up." Some 31,000 books were uploaded for rights sales to the platform since October 1, with a total of 400,000 titles listed in all. Unfortunately, Germany privacy laws prevent the fair from tracking transactions on the platform, so that information is unavailable at this time.
Frankfurt's efforts at facilitating matchmaking were also generally well received, with 2,388 users signing up to utilize the fair's matchmaking tool. Boos said he particularly enjoyed the 'Hof' program, aimed at replicating casual interactions at the Frankfurter Hof hotel, a popular drinking and socializing spot during the fair, and offered a combination of fun activities, such as chair yoga, with industry talk. "I particularly enjoyed the meditation sessions, which really helped me," said Boos.
"We need some time to assess the overall success of the virtual fair," said Boos. He said that the challenge was how to continue differentiating the Frankfurt experience from the thousands of digital experiences that have been made available online since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. "Our unique selling point is that we are not a book festival, but a trade event that has literary and political programming, so we can cater to many audiences." Boos emphasized that this year was an experiment and the scale of the fair let them try some new things. What the fair ultimately learns, he said, will then be shared with his colleagues at other book fairs around the world. "We met during the fair and discussed this and it is clear that we all face the same challenges" said Boos.
The next 360 days until the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair opens will be telling. Will users still access the Frankfurt Rights database and use it, will readers view the hundreds of hours of video content that the fair plans to make available? Will a vaccine make it possible for book fairs to be held again? These questions remain to be answered.
"One thing I realized sitting behind a screen for the last six months is that the physical book fair cannot be replaced," said Boos. "The face-to-face interactions and networking are central to the experience of the fair."
This article has been updated with additional information about the fair.