Agents of change

The 2015 edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair was all about change. FBF’s “new fair concept” was a huge rejigging of the floorplan, with the major shift closing Hall 8 (long the domain of Anglophone book world) and putting those publishing groups cheek- by-jowl with their international brethren in Halls 5 and 6. Plus, there was a relocation of the FBF’s engine room, the LitAG agents’ centre, while the halls were, um, overhauled and reorganised on thematic lines.

Remarkably, in a shift that involved so many complex logistical challenges, there were few hiccups. Maybe it was because 2015’s Weltempfang—FBF’s political/current events strand—was largely based around the refugee crisis. With seminars going on around you about the displacement of hundreds of thousands of folk, it is a bit churlish to, say, tweet furiously about having to walk an extra 100 metres to a coffee stand because of the new layout.

At any rate, last year’s moves and the additions to FBF 2016 show a fair in transition, and perhaps ask broader philosophical questions about what the book fair in general is for. FBF itself says its changes in the past two years are to make the fair “dynamic, international, relevant”. That last adjective is key to the new Arts+ seminar strand, which is kicked off by a David Hockney press conference the day before FBF fully opens.

Arts+ does follow previous FBF streams, such as the StoryDrive conference, in that it looks outside publishing to other industries to try to discover where the book trade fits in, particularly in a time of rapid technological change.

As FBF director Jürgen Boos explained to The Bookseller: “There are some parts of the arts world now that publishers are being excluded from. Part of Arts+ is to find out how publishers can ensure they are still in that chain from artist to customer.”

Yet for all the changes and encroachment from other industries, the core of Frankfurt remains as it has for its history: a place for the industry to gather and debate the issues of the day (Richard Charkin’s talk on the freedom to publish may be particularly spicy this year) and conduct rights deals.

FBF says that engine of the fair, the LitAG, is running nicely: bookings in the agents’ centre are up 17% on a record 2015. More agents are coming, and it may just follow that more rights are being sold and more territories are opening up. Therefore, it makes sense that the thrust of our pre-FBF coverage is our hotlists—the best books on offer from UK agencies.

Tom Tivnan is The Bookseller's features and insight editor.