War Times for the Frankfurt Book Fair

FBF – still an important book and media meeting point and marketplace

Participation by publishers and other exhibitors has been declining steadily at Frankfurt over the past 20 years (PC: FBF)

Gone are the days when the Frankfurt Book Fair could claim to be “the largest book fair in the world.” Not only have Asian, Indian, and Latin American book fairs recorded considerably higher visitor numbers for decades, participation by publishers and other exhibitors has been declining steadily at Frankfurt over the past 20 years. And the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic seem to have accelerated the trend for most book professionals – to invest less in book fair stands, send less staff to physical events, and handle the rights and licensing trade on a more intimate one-to-one basis and of this, a large part remotely over the internet. 

Even though the book fair business has largely recovered from the pandemic, this year’s FBF brought a mere 4,045 exhibitors together, as compared to the 7,000 or so in previous years. The Literary Agents & Scouts Centre, LitAg, recorded 300 agents at 450 workplaces, i.e., about half of the usual activity there. Many publishers and printers preferred to be represented at one of the 54 collective stands rather than investing in individual ones. Industry professionals numbered 93,000 out of the total 180,000 visitors, as compared to some 140,000-150,000 trade visitors and as many visitors from the general public in the years before the pandemic.

Not the biggest but the most important book & media meeting point

As a consequence, the fair organizers adapted their claim to conclude that FBF is still “the most important international meeting point for the book and media industry.” This is true in so far as the event still represents an important international window for book industry professionals, with a lot of marketing buzz for the larger publishing conglomerates, and it is also true in the sense that the Rights Catalog on the Frankfurt Book Fair’s website holds an important tool for international license trading. For smaller players, particularly publishers, the smaller and more specialized or local book fairs are at least as important as Frankfurt, often even more, as they are more focused on trade categories (e.g., children’s books) or particular language markets.

Even though the Spanish-language market was this year’s focal theme, with 318 exhibitors from Spain and 25 from Latin America, the presentations, speeches, and discussions at the fair were largely determined by the war in Ukraine. After the appearance of the Spanish royal couple, not exactly popular in their own home country, Ukraine’s president Zelensky connected to the fair with a video message basically calling for Europe to be “united in the fight for freedom.” His wife Olena Zelenska, came to the fair for a couple of interviews and the launch of a manual on dealing with trauma. With 56 sponsored stands, book professionals from Ukraine had their highest FBF presence ever. In the past, the Ukrainian industry had never been represented by more than 3 or 4 stands at FBF. 

FBF’s president and CEO Jürgen Boos commented, “The Frankfurt Book Fair has maintained close relations with publishers, authors, and industry-related institutions in Ukraine for many years and has carried out numerous trade fair participations, publishers’ training courses and specialist programs in recent years. This year, it is very important to us to enable and support the networking of Ukrainian colleagues with their partners worldwide, and to let many Ukrainian intellectuals, publishers, authors, and cultural workers have their say at the Frankfurt Book Fair to report on the current situation. We want to create publicity and raise awareness of what is at stake.”

Asia and India at FBF22

From Asia-Pacific, book professionals had hired 430 individual stands, with 117 exhibitors from China, 86 from Taiwan, 62 from India, 49 from Korea, 34 from Australia and New Zealand, 27 from Japan, 16 from Singapore, 14 from Malaysia, 11 from Thailand, and some others from Hong-Kong, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. The Indian companies consisted of 40 publishers, two distributors, four printing houses, and sixteen software, prepress, and premedia service providers. In addition, Indian art education book publisher Ayushi Saxena of Art1st, based in Mumbai, was invited to the fair under FBF’s Fellowship Program.

For the first time at FBF, a 250 square meter area with stands and workstations was dedicated to audiobooks, including international players such as Spotify, Zebralution, Beat Technology, Bookwire, Pozotron, I-Contact, Saga Egmont, and Blackstone Publishing Audio. #BookTok, whose video views recently surpassed 84 billion worldwide, was represented at FBF by Tobias Henning, general manager of TikTok Germany. Another new feature was the half-day Frankfurt Kids Conference on the licensing trade and translation of children’s books. African publishers had a collective booth sponsored by the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund and organized a ‘Spotlight on Africa’ day. The trade visitor days were accompanied by a digital trade program. Masterclasses and the networking event ‘The Hof’ offered industry players an opportunity to maintain and expand their networks virtually. 

WIPO’s Global Publishing Industry report

At a presentation organized by the International Publishers Association and the World Intellectual Property Organization, key findings from WIPO’s latest Global Publishing Industry showed that the economic recovery in 2021 extended to the publishing industry – most countries reported higher revenue in 2021, following declines in the first year of the pandemic in 2020. Among the top publishing markets, the US (+13.6%), Italy (+12.2%), Japan (+7.5%), the UK (+5.1%), and Germany (+3.5%) registered revenue growth. Trade sector revenue accounted for more than half of the total revenue for most major markets, with educational sector revenue playing an outsized role in Brazil (61.4%), the Netherlands (63.4%), and Mexico (75.1%). 

According to the report, data suggest an increase in the share of revenue due to digital and audio formats – increasing, for example, by around five percentage points for Finland and Japan. At the same time, the share of online sales – amounting to more than 50% in the UK – seems to have stagnated after a strong increase during the pandemic in 2020. Along with an increase in industry revenue, most countries also reported an increase in the number of titles published, with France (+12.5%), Brazil (+10%), Italy (+7.3%), and Turkey (+6.9%) recorded among the fastest growing in the report. 

“This year’s book fair was a major celebration of people’s enthusiasm for books and of democracy,” said Karin Schmidt-Friedrichs, chairwoman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. “Pressing topical issues were on the agenda – from the situation in Ukraine and Iran to topics such as diversity and social harmony. Frankfurt Book Fair thus provided important impetus in terms of the current challenges facing the industry, society and the global political order. That allowed it to highlight its significance as the most important marketplace for books and a venue for promoting diversity and peaceful exchange.”

The next edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the 75th one, will be held 18-22 October 2023. 

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