On October 11 and 12, the Frankfurt Book Fair launched its virtual conference program in advance of the in-person main event, which runs from October 20-25. Dubbed the Frankfurt Conference, the two-day virtual event offered a dozen panels, with Monday focusing on academic publishing and Tuesday on trade books.

The general topic of discussion was industry trends. Tuesday’s panels opened with a talk from Cyrus Kheradi, senior v-p of international sales for Penguin Random House (US). Kheradi noted that PRH “saw significant double-digit growth in export markets” last year, which he called “a silver lining” to the pandemic. He added that PRH was investing heavily in the supply chain, and had already spent $100 million on the U.S. supply chain and predicted another investment of $100 million, focusing on assisting booksellers with managing inventory better. He also said PRH would begin printing more books locally in various markets as a hedge against the supply chain issues that have been plaguing the book business this year. In addition, he added, “flying books around the world is not the greenest thing to do.”

Kheradi was followed by Siv Bublitz, publisher of Germany's S. Fischer, and Marco Garcia, editorial director of V&R Editoras (Brazil). In discussing their businesses, the theme of inclusion and diversity was raised again and again by the speakers, both of whom acknowledged that the making of diverse books begins by diversifying the staff. “More own voices need to be heard,” said Garcia. “Own voices are closer to the customer,” he added, referencing a finance book V&R published by a Black woman from a lower income bracket, as opposed to a wealthy white man, who is the “typical author of a finance books.”

Bublitz noted Germany did not have the same diversity some other countries did, but there has long been a focus on attaining gender equality. “It’s said in publishing that there are twice as many women, who are half as powerful,” as men, Bublitz noted. She also highlighted the dearth of people from the former East Germany in the industry. Bublitz and Garcia also discussed the sales potential of commercial vs. literary fiction titles. “Commercial fiction is more predictable, while with literary titles, you are always developing the audience,” Bublitz said.

In the third event of the day, Peter Warwick, the recently appointed president and publishers of Scholastic, offered his thoughts on the direction of the children’s publishing company following the death of former CEO Dick Robinson. Warwick said the pandemic delivered a boost to backlist sales, which he deemed “a return to the familiar” by readers – Scholastic’s Harry Potter series was one beneficiary -- and underscored how the shift to virtual and home learning stimulated sales of workbooks, books that fostered social and emotional learning and books parents and children could read together. Warwick added that Scholastic would put even more emphasis on “parent purchasing” of books in the future and find new ways to market to them virtually.

The home learning trend was especially important in Asia, Warwick said, where “it's all about learning and reading at the house.” Scholastic has benefitted from this by selling increasing numbers of English language books into the Asian markets, such as Korea, where the company has been developing advanced, AI-powered multimedia learning tools.

Warwick said that while exports “dipped” during the pandemic, they are now back to prior levels, and exports in September surpassed those for September 2019 and 2020. Like other companies, Scholastic has encountered supply chain and logistics challenges. “We shifted from a lack of demand to a lack of supply,” Warwick said.

Asked why he agreed to take over the role of CEO at Scholastic, Warwick – who has been a Scholastic board member since 2014 – said that it was the company’s role in the lives of children that motivated him. “Literacy and education can foment positive change in the world,” said Warwick. “[Scholastic] is an organization that changes kids’ lives.”