Red Button Publishing

Publishing and Consultancy

What really happens at the Frankfurt Book Fair

For the last decade, October has been a month totally engulfed by one single event for me: The Frankfurt Book Fair. Each October I would head for Germany, armed with a stack of business cards, some uncomfortable shoes (because I never learn) and an industrial amount of vitamin C, for the four day meeting marathon that is the world’s biggest annual book fair.

There are lots of book fairs around the world, at different times of the year. We have our own London Book Fair in the Spring and in Bologna, a children’s book fair is held every year. But it’s Frankfurt that is the showstopper. It is a beast of a bookfair with over 7,500 exhibitors attend from 106 different countries and upwards of 250,000 individual visitors. The eight cavernous halls of Frankfurt’s “Messe” exhibition centre have their own bus network and need to be navigated with care. This brilliant video made last year shows the walk from the front door to Hall 8 where most of the UK publishers set up shop. Having done this once in high heels with a suitcase in tow, I subsequently learned to ask taxis to drop me at the back door instead of the front…

Friends, readers and writers alike often ask me what actually happens at a book fair. They see me emerge, bleary-eyed and usually with the beginnings of the infamous Frankfurt-flu and wonder what glamourous escapades I have indulged in during those crazy Frankfurt nights. The truth is that I have actually spent three days in back to back, thirty minute meetings, pitching up to a hundred books, smiling, shaking hands, meeting old acquaintances and new business partners, talking, smiling and selling the hell out of the books my company published.

That’s not to say that it’s all one long slog. Publishing is an industry that knows how to party and it’s a great place to launch a new book, celebrate an anniversary or just have a bash to show the world how great you are. If you aren’t on the guest list for the evening’s glamourous bash and you can stomach the inevitable hangover it will give you, you can always head out for some of Frankfurt’s infamous Apfelwein and some delicious Schnitzel. Frankfurt days start early and Frankfurt nights end late, very late. You aren’t there to sleep.

Primarily the purpose of Frankfurt is to sell books. For publishers than can mean selling physical copies to distributors or bookstore chains, or selling “rights” to International Publishers. It’s also a place where an ongoing, mass conversation takes place about the state of the industry. What has been fascinating to see in recent years is the way that the conversation at Frankfurt has moved towards digital publishing. The shape of the publishing landscape is changing as new technologies evolve and are adopted. Intriguingly publishing contracts have always contained an enigmatic clause referring to “electronic formats” but up until recent years, nobody really knew what those formats might look like. Now the digital landscape is very real.

This will be the first year in a very long time that I am not catching a flight out to Frankfurt but I know that digital publishing will be on the lips of every agent, editor and salesperson as the  publishing industry moves forward.


One comment on “What really happens at the Frankfurt Book Fair

  1. Karina Luke
    October 5, 2012

    So true! I shall think of you and our “musical” plans as I tuck into my schnitzel this year!

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2012 by in On digital publishing, Publishing and tagged , , .
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