The Frankfurt Book Fair took place this past week, with Wednesday and Thursday reserved for publishing professionals and the fair open to the public Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Attendance numbers are not yet available, but estimates put it at about 75% of a typical prepandemic year. Reflecting on this year’s fair, director Juergen Boos said, “We exceeded our expectations. After two years, one when we were digital and one when we were hybrid, and having so many important people here now—from the king and queen of Spain, to Olena Zelenska, to publishers from across the globe—reaffirms the importance of the fair to facilitating business, fostering cultural exchange, and building community.”
On the show floor, booths were scaled down, aisles were wider, and foot traffic was notably lighter than in 2019, the last year FBF was fully open to exhibitors and the public. The smaller footprint had its benefits. “I think a lot of people have gotten very accustomed to doing business on Zoom, and some of the usual suspects I would meet with aren’t here,” said Margot Atwell, newly named publisher of the Feminist Press, who last attended the fair in person in 2015. “But I think sometimes that can be nice, because you get a chance to talk to people you might not otherwise get to talk to.”
Still, one’s reaction to the scale of FBF depends on one’s expectations. “If you’ve been here before, the fair might look small,” said Brian O’Leary, CEO of BISG, who noted he had a full schedule of meetings. “But there are a lot of people here for the first time, and it’s surprising to them just how big it really is.”
Among the first-timers was Katja Egenolf, a publishing student from Cologne who is working at Open Letter Books in Rochester, N.Y. “It is way different than I expected it to be,” she said. “I expected it to be uptight and formal, but in the end it is just people who love books and who want the best for readers.”
Michele Cobb, executive director of PubWest and the Audio Publishers Association, is a regular at FBF and was pleased to return. “It’s fantastic to be back in a robust global arena and share the energy of being together,” she said. “What’s different is the amount of reflection and questioning of how we have changed and not changed over the past two years, and how we can continue to support each other positivity, embrace technological advances, and improve the satisfaction of readers and staff without losing anything and while finding new ways to grow.”
When it comes to books, one key trend is the ongoing global interest in young adult fiction, particularly “romantasy,” a trend blending romance and fantasy. “Fantasy with lots of romance in the YA category seems to be a thing,” said Nicole Eisenbraun, agent and translation rights manager at Ginger Clark Literary.
Claudia Galluzzi, a senior rights manager at Rights People who represents U.S. titles in Arabic-, Greek-, Italian-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-language markets, said that it’s practically all anyone is asking for in any of her markets. “Rights to the titles that we had in the newer catalogs have already been snatched immediately,” she said, noting that the trend started during the pandemic but has grown over the past year in particular. “Obviously, you don’t want to be in the present—you want something to take you to other worlds and other realities.”
Another trend is “selling rights to stories that originate in digital formats—such as memes or webtoons—
and transitioning them to print,” said Yongin Beatrice Lin, a Seoul-based publishing consultant who works with Storytel and represents rights for several Korean publishers. Likewise, there was a heavy presence of rights buyers from streaming platforms, including Netflix, Spotify, and others.
One of the highlights for many at the fair was the pre-recorded address delivered by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine. ”It goes without saying that all participants to the fair are convinced that books are key to a better world, and this is also true for Ukraine,” he said. “Today and tomorrow, all book professionals in Ukraine must be in a capacity to resume their activities and to promote their culture to their citizens and to the world. For Ukrainian literature to be present at the Frankfurt Book Fair with a large stand and many publishers present is also an act of resistance, and it is the duty of the book world to support their efforts to preserve and promote their books.”
Zelenskyy added, “European publishers and publishers from all over the world have already shown support. This is only the beginning, and we need to involve the States too.”
The many Ukrainian publishers on hand in Frankfurt were eager to share their stories with visitors. “We have to do our work, because what else do we have,” said Yulia Kozlovets, director of the Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv, who helped organize the program for Ukrainian publishers at FBF.
The other global crisis on everyone’s minds is the rising costs of goods and services. In her speech at the opening press conference of the fair, Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, director of the Börsenverein (the German booksellers and publishers’ association), acknowledged that there is economic trepidation in the book business, especially tied to rising energy prices resulting from Vladimir Putin’s decision to cut off energy supplies to Germany in response to sanctions following his invasion of Ukraine. “If a bookstore sees its energy cost go up 300%,” she said, “ it may go bust.”
“There is a silver lining,” said Ronald Schild, CEO of MVB (Marketing und Verlagsservice des Buchhandels), the leading publishing services company for the German book industry and the parent company of PubNet and PubEasy in the U.S. “Booksellers are saying, in Germany at least, that they anticipate they will have strong sales this Christmas as people downgrade their gift giving from expensive items, like new iPads, to books, which are still relatively affordable for people.”
All said, three years away from Frankfurt has wiped away any cynicism people in the industry might have felt about their annual trip to Germany. “I think nobody is ever honest about Frankfurt, because everybody loves to be negative about how awful it is to have to come here, how terrible a city it is, and how terrible the food is—when actually everybody loves it,” said Cathryn Summerhayes, an agent at Curtis Brown in the U.K. “It’s a guilty pleasure, and it’s a little secret that we all love expensive currywurst and €20 gin and tonics at the Frankfurter Hof and singing inappropriate karaoke with CEOs of publishing houses and discussing nothing about our books at meetings, just how long we stayed up and who was the last to bed.”
About the future of the fair, Summerhayes was bullish. “I think it’ll go on forever and ever,” she said. “I can’t see an end to it. This is the beating heart of publishing, and whoever says they’re really, really glad that they couldn’t come this year is lying their ass off.”