The Frankfurt Book Fair, held last week from Wednesday to Sunday, released its preliminary attendance numbers. A press release stated that 93,000 trade visitors attended the fair this year, up from 36,000 in 2021. In addition, 87,000 members of the public came to the fair, compared with 37,500 in 2021. This brings the total attendees to a total of 180,000 people. The number is up compared with 2021, but is still half the number of recorded attendees compared with the last pre-pandemic year of 2019, when the organizers recorded organizers reported 302,267 total visitors.

The number of exhibitors this year was 4,000, coming from 95 countries. This is once again a significant drop from 2019, when the total was 7,450. The fairgrounds reflected the change, as the aisles were notably wider and exhibitions sparser. The Literary Agents & Scouts Centre (LitAg) attracted 300 agencies - down slightly from 2019, when there were 35 - who filled out 450 workstations.

“There is more demand for the LitAg than we can fill at the moment,” Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos told PW. Boos said renovations to the fairgrounds has necessitated moving the LitAg to a variety of locations and he anticipates that in coming years, once the Frankfurt Messe has completed work, the LitAg will have the opportunity to grow. “Rights are the beating heart of the fair and one of the main reasons people come here. Zoom simply cannot replace the importance of face-to-face interaction.”

Book marketing is also a key component of the event, and with approximately 6,400 members of the press, the fair offers a unique opportunity to get important titles in front of the broadest possible audience. The shift to digital promotion on social media was obvious, as TikTok was a key sponsor this year, alongside Spotify, the audio streaming service.

As for the overall state of the fair, Boos expressed satisfaction with the attendance, especially considering the state of the world and the variety of challenges keeping prior attendees at home, including ongoing Covid lockdowns in China, the war in the Ukraine, and inflation “Our expectation was to reach the 50%-55% attendance of 2019. Taking into account that we don’t have many exhibitors from China, the publishers from Iran pulled out at the last minute, and we have banned the Russian publishers, we have done very well,” he said.

Boos also acknowledged that while attending the fair for Americans may have been more economical this year due to the dollar’s parity with the euro, inflation had an impact. “The costs of building stands has gone up 60% since 2019, so that too is a factor to account for in the lower number of exhibitors.”

The return to a semi-normal book fair was welcome and proved that the event, despite its smaller footprint, remains vital. “The presence of so many CEO’s and VIPs from around the world, whether it’s the king and queen of Spain or Olena Zelenska or important authors, reaffirms the importance of the fair to the industry and its relevance,” he said.

Boos added that the pandemic period had given the fair the opportunity to put a new emphasis on areas where it can make the greatest impact. One area is an emphasis on diversity and inclusion and the promotion of publishing from more localized languages and cultures, both Indigenous and those with languages spoken by a smaller number of people. “There are no small languages,” said Boos, “just countries with small populations,” and added, “There are just so many books to discover, and while I and many others feel that book sales may have plateaued here in Germany and the other rich countries, in places where the middle class is on the rise, there is an opportunity to grow the business.”

A new fellowship program was also launched this year to support independent publishers to travel and network in Frankfurt. This is being done in collaboration with the Torino Book Fair and Boos anticipates the program may expand to other fairs as well. The fair is also continuing its collaborations with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, the Berlin Film Biennale, and the Cannes Film Festival, though he did note that the uncertain economy meant the fair was streamlining the activities of its foreign offices.

Despite the various challenges for publishing ahead in 2022 and 2023, “there is a lot of promise for the future,” Boos said.

The next Frankfurt Book Fair is scheduled for October 18-22. Slovenia will be the Guest of Honor country.