So, another Frankfurt closes and we return to our desks, our heads ringing with everything we have seen and heard – that giant Hachette stand with its Times Square-like flashing screen urging us to ‘follow’; all those eccentric speakers at the Frankfurt Business Club (which surely borrowed a little from the LBF’s own Club at the Ivy); the ‘cyber philosophers’ with their clown-like clothes wishing to tear everything down and too bad if the creators don’t get paid; the contrasting calmness of HarperCollins’ Brian Murray, who is as willing to experiment as many of these noisier folk.
Out in the aisles, all sides of the industry were represented, as always – from the companies that will freight books from printers in the Far East to destinations around the world, to the companies that make the little lights that clip on to pages when you read. From Samsung and Kobo and smaller tech folk, to publishers large and small. Agents, wholesalers, scouts, editors, translators – the great swirling mass of the content business, all sides of the glorious, global book industry.
All sides, that is, except bookshops. Just when a physical revival seems to be happening, just when people are talking about the pleasures of browsing inside a physical bookstore (in marked contrast to online), just when publishers in the UK are doing more to help bricks and mortar than ever before (despite some of those direct selling moves), it seems a shame that the one part of the book trade that has no presence at the world’s most famous book fair is the very channel through which most books are still sold.
Of course, it would only be a flag-waving exercise – it wouldn’t make sense commercially. But bookshops are still so integral to the business, and publishing history so intertwined with them, their omission doesn’t seem right. Besides, there are people at Frankfurt who have never experienced Dubai’s Kinokuniya, Beijing’s Bookworm, Denver’s Tattered Cover, Singapore’ Books Actually or Buenos Aires’ El Alteneo Grand Splendid, to name just a handful.
Pop-up versions of these stores could be fascinating, as could a changing, international bookstore slot: the bookselling equivalent of the guest of honour programme, perhaps, showcasing a different region’s flagship bookshop every year.
Perhaps a major group would sponsor their presence in the Messe. Perhaps the Messe would offer a reduced rate. Perhaps Hachette would even promote it on its flashing screen…
Roger Tagholm is a freelance writer and journalist