The Frankfurt Book Fair is back at full force for the first time in three years and while it was a little quieter than in years past, it was clear those attending the event were glad to back. Three years of Zoom calls has banished any cynicism one might have previously felt about the annual grind of traveling to Frankfurt for the fair. One publisher, asking for anonymity, said, “It’s just not the same trying to buy and sell books over Zoom. It might be efficient, but it’s not fun and it’s not effective.” Why the insistence on anonymity? Their boss would have preferred that they stay home, rather than rack up the expenses that can come with a trip to Frankfurt.
That said, with the U.S. dollar at parity with the euro, Frankfurt does feel—if not cheap—less expensive than in the past. A typically spartan European hotel room can be had for less than €300 euros a night and beer at the Frankfurter Hof—an always reliable barometer of economic exuberance tied to the fair—is pegged at €8 a glass, which feels cheaper than in previous years. There is also a new, perhaps unwelcome sense of thrift in the city, which has led to some minor frustrations. Exhibitor passes no longer cover public transportation and its cash only in many bars and restaurants, as institutions seek to avoid paying credit card fees.
In her speech at the opening press conference of the fair, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, director of the Boersenverein, the German booksellers and publishers’ association, acknowledged there was economic trepidation, especially tied to rising energy prices resulting from Vladimir Putin cutting off energy supplies to Germany in response to sanctions following his invasion of Ukraine. “If a bookstore sees its energy cost go up 300%...it may go bust,” she said of the stress.
One factor in keeping attendance down was the lingering impact of the pandemic, which meant that a majority of the agents, editors and publishers from Asia are absent from this year’s fair. China continues to impose lockdowns and others from the region have opted to stay home.
The other large group missing from the fair are Russian publishers, having been banned following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As noted, the war has had an economic impact, and Putin’s recent nuclear saber rattling have some people feeling a little on edge about the time spent in Germany. One side effect of the war is that it has brought new attention to Ukraine and its rich literature. Benas Bèrantas, founder of The Book Smugglers Literary Agency in Vilnius, Lithuania remarked “The return of the full-scale fair this year with a huge focus and deserved attention to Ukrainian literature is vitally important for the Ukrainian publishers and people of Ukraine as a sign of constant support in their battle for peace."
Ukraine is not the only geopolitical concern for publishers. “The skies over Iran have darkened,” said Juergen Boos, the fair director, in his opening speech, referring to the countrywide violence sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, which culminated this weekend the death of four and 61 injured at the notorious Evin Prison riot this past weekend.