Expectations have been high in the buildup to the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair, with the fair set to celebrate its 75th anniversary. But as the fair officially opened on Wednesday, October 18th, geopolitical tensions—most prominently the war between Israel and Hamas—appear to be having an impact.

A number of stands in the newly remodeled Hall 5 (which features international publishers) are empty. On Tuesday, the stands for Indonesia and Malaysia were dismantled, as they joined a host of Arab publishing associations (including the Arab Publishers’ Association, the Emirates Publishers Association, the RAYA agency, the Sharjah Book Authority, and the PublisHer network) in pulling out of the fair in response to the fair's decision to postpone the 2023 LiBeraturpreis award ceremony honoring Berlin-based Palestinian author Adania Shibli. The majority of Israeli publishers have canceled as well.

At the fair's opening press conference this week, Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos insisted that the decision to postpone Shibli's award ceremony has been "misconstrued,” and fair officials addressed the global tensions underpinning this year's event.

Not all Arab publishers are skipping the fair, however. One publisher that decided to attend, the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press from Qatar, featured a sign on its stand reading “Voices from Palestine.” Editorial officer Amani Al-Banna said canceling was on the table, but that the press opted against it. “We thought it was an opportunity to make sure that Palestinian voices are heard," Al-Banna said, of the decision to attend the fair. "In terms of publishing and culture, it’s an opportunity to let the world know that Palestinian voices have to be protected."

For a second straight year, the Russian national stand was again banned from the fair in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although several organizations representing the interests of Russian publishers are present and working the show floor. At last year's fair, the trauma of the Russian invasion was palpable, with numerous Ukrainian publishers given the opportunity to share their experiences for the first time. As this year's fair gets underway, Chytomo.com, a Ukrainian news platform, announced the shortlist for a new series of awards honoring those who have shown support for Ukrainian publishing and culture as fears spread that the war is becoming normalized.

In another storyline from the fair, many Chinese publishers have returned to fair for the first time since 2019. Among the biggest losses of the pandemic-impacted years was the dearth of Chinese publishers, who were not allowed to travel to Frankfurt. But they are back this year for the first time in four years—although it's unclear exactly what, if anything, they have been given the green light from authorities at home to acquire. Several American rights sellers have noted that Chinese publishers—normally eager for U.S. books, particularly those addressing politics—have demurred on purchasing many new titles.

That may have something to do with the state of market in China. According to OpenBook, which tracks the Chinese publishing market, the book retail market in China fell by 2.41% last year over the previous year. At the same time, while sales have slowed, the stats also showed an increase in local production. In the first half of 2023, there were more than 87,000 new titles on sale, marking a 5.14% jump compared to the previous year.

Among the companies returning to Frankfurt is China’s Phoenix Publishing & Media Group (PPMG), the country’s largest trade conglomerate. In 2022, the company achieved sales of RMB 13.59 billion ($1.992 billion), an increase of 1.1% over the previous year, making it the 10th biggest publisher in the world according to the latest Global 50 Publishing Ranking, which is compiled annually by industry expert Ruediger Wischenbart in partnership with PW.

"Increasing our business with international publishers is a major strategy for Phoenix Publishing and Media Group,” Zhang Chaoyang, chairman of the company, promised in a press release ahead of this year's fair. Phoenix cited the success of several international authors on their list, including books by Jon Fosse, winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, and Italo Calvino, who has been celebrated this year on the centenary of his birth. Hou Xiaonan, CEO of Yuewen, a.k.a. China Literature (likely the world’s largest digital publishing platform) was featured in Frankfurt’s annual CEO Talk.

Meanwhile, to raise awareness of their vulnerability, organizers of the Taiwan national stand hosted a program on the fair's International stage with authors discussing the 75th anniversary of the White Terror, a period of political repression that started with a violent uprising and the imposition of martial law by Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 and lasted for 38 years. The other event that is celebrating its 75h anniversary this year, of course, is the Frankfurt Book Fair. The echo is surely is no coincidence.