HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan have said they won't attend Frankfurt Book Fair's physical event, scheduled to take place in October, while other UK publishers and agents say they are uncertain about whether to go. Organisers have admitted they expect cancellations and warned this year's event will be “completely different” to previous editions.
It was confirmed this week that the 2020 event was going ahead from 14th-18th October in the fair's grounds with public events and reading at decentralised locations around the city. There will also be a virtual event which will include a one-day professional conference, while IPR License is expected to be used for online rights business, including a “matchmaking” facility for buyers and rights teams.
However, today (29th May) Pan Macmillan announced UK staff would not be attending the physical event, though it will take part in the digital version, while HarperCollins said no one from its worldwide business would be going.
Pan Mac m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson told The Bookseller: “After careful consideration and with the health and wellbeing of our colleagues top of mind, we have decided we will not take part in Frankfurt’s physical book fair. We will happily continue to engage with the Frankfurt organisers about new ways in which we might promote our authors, illustrators and books digitally under the banner of the fair this October.”
A HarperCollins spokesperson said: "HarperCollins will not be taking a stand or sending representatives to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year as we are limiting business travel for the safety of our staff. It is wonderful that the Frankfurt Book Fair team is developing digital and virtual plans for both now and the future. We look forward to returning to Frankfurt, and to other book fairs, to meet with our international contacts in future years."
Bonnier Books UK said it would also not be exhibiting. C.e.o. Perminder Mann said: “While we normally have a big presence at the event, we won’t be exhibiting at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. The health and wellbeing of our people must come first.”
Fair director Juergen Boos told an online press conference yesterday (28th May) the global pandemic meant it was vital a physical fair did go ahead, but admitted it could be cancelled and people would get full refunds if there was a second spike in the virus.
He said: “After the situation we had in the past few months and we are seeing a lot of publishers and booksellers in crisis, and especially after Bologna and London didn't take place and many other book fairs, there's an urgent need actually to do business again, to talk to each other, to build up some creative attitude as well. I think we also need Frankfurt to interest the general audience in books again and this means worldwide.”
Boos said yesterday the number of bookings was the same as for this point last year. However, he expected cancellations and confirmed a number of German firms including Random House, Holzbrinck and the country's arm of Bonnier will not have stands but would still have a presence. Boos said people from Asia and North America might have trouble travelling but there would still be a “strong international presence” despite the fair having a more European feel. Although he couldn't say how many people he expected to attend, the fair will be able to accommodate 20,000 people at any one time.
Thomas Minkus, vice-president for emerging media and English language markets for Frankfurt Book Fair, added: “We will see over the next few weeks how our customers will react to this announcement. We started talking to them yesterday and today and informed them. I think there won't be any doubt that we will see cancellations but that makes sense in the situation. But I think we will see people also trying to attend from North America if possible, certainly from the UK.
"It's a dynamic, evolving situation and that's why we have to keep you informed as time goes on. But I think it's a good start and many in the industry are looking forward to Frankfurt as sort of a milestone of the publishing year, and it will be possible to attend either virtually if you can't travel or don't want to travel, or the real thing in the hall. We'll see how it turns out. I'm quite excited and optimistic.”
Those who do take stands will be offered extra square metres for free as part of social distancing measures, aisles will be widened and the rights centre will relocate to a much larger area, expected to be hall 6.1, to allow more space. If face masks and other equipment are required, the fair will offer that too, Boos said. Outside areas, thought to be a less infectious environment, might also be utilised for working space.
Boos said all the extra costs would be absorbed rather than passed on to attendees, saying of the financial position: “It's not going to be a nice result this year. Actually it's going to a disastrous result for this year because we have to invest a lot in different tools and also in safety measures but it's something we have to expect.”
“Don't think of Frankfurt as it used to be. It's going to be a completely different Frankfurt,” he warned. “Everything we are going to implement now, not only for this year's special virtual tools, we are going to use these tools in the years to come. So what you're going to see in the years to come is actually a different, improved and hopefully even more international book fair.”
Following the initial announcement the fair would go ahead, agents gave a mixed response, with Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown saying he was awaiting more detail. He said: “I’m happy to hear there are constructive and positive plans going on, but I am keen to hear more about how this can work and how to keep all our agents safe as travel, accommodation and face-to-face interaction are all so uncertain at the moment.
At Peters Fraser & Dunlop, international rights director Rebecca Wearmouth said: “It’s early days and the information to hand is currently very limited so we are reviewing our position. But book fairs and relationship-building are of course an integral part of what we do and we very much look forward to October and all the buzz the Frankfurt season brings. We will be doing everything we can to see all of our international friends and colleagues, who we’ve missed immensely over the past months, be that either in person or via video call. The health and safety of everyone at PFD of course remains a priority.”
Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander said she was “encouraged” that Frankfurt would go ahead and happy there would be a digital alternative. But she added: “We won’t decide whether or not to attend the physical fair until nearer the time, but I can confirm now that we would not ask any member to go unless they wish to do so.”
Meanwhile, Philip Patterson from Marjacq Scripts said it was “unlikely” he would attend and was “puzzled by the format". He said: “On the evidence of their slender press release, it does not seem that it justifies the considerable time, effort or risk to attend in person. This feels ill-thought out to me. They should be looking at doing this one remotely or not at all.”
Kevin Duffy, co-founder of indie Bluemoose Books, said he did not expect most publishers to make the trip. He said: "I don't think many people will go, I think they will be quite reluctant. Our agent is based in Paris so she will be going, but we won't. I think people will wait until London Book Fair in 2021. I know Frankfurt is the biggest rights fair in the world but people have been organising rights over the phone and Zoom etc. The most important thing at the moment is to get business done in the UK. International rights is not the most important thing for us at the moment."