Frankfurt Book Fair: still relevant?

Tom Tivnan
Features and supplements editor, The Bookseller

This will be my seventh year covering Frankfurt Book Fair for The Bookseller; the fifth as editor of the dailies. As with publishers and agents, Frankfurt week for us is our busiest time of the year, but perhaps the most exhilarating. The Bookseller will be producing three daily editions from Frankfurt (Wednesday—Friday) which will be distributed to fair-goers and available to read on We will have all the up-to-the-minute rights deals and the news and views from Hall 8. Additionally, there will be exclusive content, including an interview with Macmillan global trade c.e.o. John Sargent, Peter Straus talking on copyright protection, and advice from the book trade’s major players to Penguin Random House c.e.o. Markus Dohle regarding the future of PRH, ahead of his talk at Frankfurt.

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Robert Gottlieb
Chairman, Trident Media Group

At the Frankfurt Book Fair an agent has the opportunity to convey his or her passion about a book over several days to a large number of editors, many of whom the agent has known and worked with for years, and whose taste the agent is familiar with.

Even in our age of instant electronic communication, publishing is still a business fuelled by a passion for books and personal relationships. This has remained a constant, even with the new opportunities that e-books give authors and publishers, and it is part of the reason why publishing is an art more often than a science.

Having a nuanced knowledge of what a publisher is looking for is something you gain from meeting editors and talking about the books they love, and the books you love. These are the critical discussions out of which the partnership—sparked and nurtured by an agent—begins between author and publisher. For well-known writers as well as new authors, Frankfurt is the place where agents and publishers can focus on books they are passionate about.

The fair is also a chance for agents to meet newer editors, and those who do not travel frequently to the US on business trips. You may meet a wonderful new publisher, for example, who travels only to the Frankfurt Book Fair, or who has only recently started his or her business. Only a small percentage of the world’s publishers come to New York.
Thinking globally is increasingly important for the career of every writer, and that will only continue as e-books become more popular around the world. Frankfurt offers the best opportunity to build a writer on a global basis.

Patrick janson-smith
Founder, Blue Door

Frankfurt 2013 is my 39th Fair. My father, Peter, was one of the pioneers, along with André Deutsch and Ralph Vernon-Hunt, having first visited in 1949, the year of my birth. Thus, I think it’s true to say there’s been a Janson-Smith in attendance at Frankfurt for the past 64 years!

There are plenty of people who question the necessity of the fair in today’s world of instant communication, but they’re missing the point. Sure, we can all do our business online—even technological numbskulls like me—but if one removes the human element, one removes the heart and soul of the business.

I go to Frankfurt to see old friends from all over the world, and in the hope of making new ones. I have a full schedule of appointments almost from the moment I land on Monday to when I leave on Friday evening. I’m seeing publishers and agents from the US, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Holland, Croatia, Turkey, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Iceland. Will I find anything to publish? Who knows.

That’s why I still go to Frankfurt, with a spring in my step and hope in my heart.

Sonia Land
Agent, chief executive, Sheil Land Associates Ltd

The Frankfurt Book Fair remains the largest book fair of the year, and therefore it is the most varied and best attended in the publishing industry. Even the film people are turning up in their droves.  

It is still the best place for selling rights and making contacts with publishers around the world, and we in the UK are so reliant on Europe where everyone tries to attend. However, personally I’ve found it unnecessary—but not so my foreign rights agents—to attend because the cost of hotels and travel outweighs the advantage of meeting US publishers and selling books at the fair when most key books have either already been sold or are under consideration by the publishers.  

To be cynical, I’ve always thought that many editors have had to justify their presence in Frankfurt by buying some book—or at least be seen to be participating in an auction or jacking up the importance of “the big book” out of all proportions. What could not have been done 10 years or so ago can be done via email and telephone today!

Yet the fair remains the great showcase for everyone in the industry to display their authors, to introduce new products, and most of all to say hello to old friends and put a face to those emails. Beneath this social aspect, there is the very serious matter of selling and buying rights, for they can make or break a publisher in these hard economic times.  
If Frankfurt did not exist, how [else] could we learn about what the huge marketplace has to offer—or requires—within five days in just one location?

Stephen Page
C.e.o., Faber & Faber

We continue to find the Frankfurt Book Fair useful for a number of reasons. The primary one is that our customers and fellow publishers find it useful. We effectively run about four businesses off the stand—rights sales, international sales, publisher print and digital services, and our rights buying for our publishing. All of these continue to make the fair valuable, though I would say that in terms of buying rights the fair is of much less importance, while the selling and developing of business with so many partners across the planet remains important.

We also get a chance to display our brand, our publishing, and to showcase our people and general style. That’s not to be underestimated, though I wonder if it would be enough if our partners and customers showed less enthusiasm for investing in the Fair, which is expensive.

The last part is the great joy of networking with the whole world of reading and writing. It’s a cliché to say that publishing is a social industry, but like many clichés, that’s because it is true. Behaving socially is not a luxury, it’s good for business, and Frankfurt is one of the key nodes in our analogue, peopled network for touching base with the people who make some of our business work.

Amanda Ridout
Chief executive, publisher, House of Zeus

For a one-year-old publishing venture looking to buy and sell globally, Frankfurt is the best-value forum for meeting all our stakeholders: whether agents and publishers from the US; customers from Singapore; or potential rights partners in Europe.  

As Head of Zeus celebrates hitting the one million e-book mark—having had 12 top-10s and two number one e-bestsellers in just one year—Frankfurt is also a great time to bang the drum, ensuring everyone knows of our early successes and future ambitions.

Bridget Shine
Chief executive, Independent Publishers Guild

For independent publishers, a condensed, more focused Frankfurt experience seems to be the trend. While the emphasis may have changed, it remains a key date in the publishing diary. Fewer rights deals take place at the fair now, but it is still an excellent opportunity to meet with international partners, particularly from North America, the Far East and China. It is also a useful shop window in which to see the latest digital innovations.

We may connect digitally on a daily basis, but there is no substitute for meeting people face-to-face, and of course the social side matters too. Sharing advice, information and ideas is what the IPG is all about, and Frankfurt continues to provide a hub for members to meet; our stand party is the biggest in Hall 8, and our Frankfurt dinner for members was booked up weeks ago.

Publishers do seem to be spending fewer days at the fair than they once did, though. That probably reflects the changing landscape of the industry, and scaling back a visit is a logical way to reduce costs. But a world without the Frankfurt Book Fair? That is some way off for most of us.

Ed Victor
Founder, The Ed Victor Literary Agency

Frankfurt is more than just a trade fair. It is the annual gathering of a tribe who share meals, friendship, information, secrets. I have ritual breakfast and lunches with the same people on the same days at the same places every year. Deals may not be done at the fair, but the way is paved for them afterwards. I’ve been going to the fair since 1966, and missed only one along the way. This means I have spent about one year of my life in Frankfurt. A staggering thought!