Piper publisher Felicitas von Lovenberg in an interview at the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse in May 2023.
Frankfurter Buchmesse is celebrating its 75th edition this year.
Together with twelve other publishers, Piper Verlag is participating for the 75th time without missing a Frankfurt Book Fair as an exhibitor.
For this reason, we met Piper publisher Felicitas von Lovenberg and talked to her about personal Book Fair memories, the importance of Frankfurter Buchmesse for the industry and the tasks she believes the Frankfurter Buchmesse will have to face in the future.
You visited Frankfurter Buchmesse in various roles. What was the first year you attended the Fair? And how often have you been our guest since then?
I think I've been to Frankfurter Buchmesse every year since 1996. In 1996, I was still in the middle of my studies and travelled to Frankfurt specifically to visit the Book Fair - like the fans of today. That was a crazy experience. I have incredibly good memories of it.
When I joined the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) editorial team, I was invited to the many receptions for the first time.
In 2008, a very special time at the Book Fair began for me, because the successful FAZ Book Fair newspaper started. We produce this at night so that it can be delivered to all the hotels in the early hours of the morning and distributed at the Fair at 9 am. I was responsible for this newspaper and, again, perceived the Fair from a completely different perspective. I was fed all the book fair gossip, which was incredibly funny. Some of the articles came via text message and were then typed up, or colleagues called and told me what they were experiencing at the receptions, parties and events. It was a fascinating time that showed me that the fair is simply a big, glamorous family reunion. And since 2016, I've been allowed to attend the Fair as a publisher, so I have a "home" at our stand in all the hustle and bustle, and it's all about our books and authors. For me, this is the best way to experience the Fair..
Which edition of Frankfurter Buchmesse do you remember most?
I think we all still remember Frankfurter Buchmesse 2001 (9/11). The Fair took place only a few weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and had a very strange atmosphere. It was a Book Fair where everyone had the feeling that a new era was beginning.
Fortunately, that was a long time ago and the queasy feeling didn't last forever, but it was definitely a very special year in which one also felt a great deal of uncertainty in the publishing industry.
Since then, we have had years of great uncertainty through quite a lot of digital developments, through Covid, now through the advent of AI. Fortunately, the book has always proved to be very crisis-resistant. And we all noticed during the pandemic how much people need books and stories.
How was Frankfurter Buchmesse 2021 for you, when we were in person together again after our digital edition in 2020?
That was also a fascinating Fair for me. That year, we all had the hope that the pandemic had finally passed and yet: Leipzig was cancelled again and a great many publishers only came to the Frankfurter Buchmesse with small stands. But we at Piper decided that if we went to the fair, we would do it with our real stand and all the hoopla. And that actually gave us an advantage - because we were so conspicuous: Our stand was always full and we sold a lot of books during the weekend of the fair.
Above all, that fair showed that the pandemic will not change us in the long run, which was what was being said everywhere.
How do you prepare for the fair?
Beforehand, the fair is like such a mountain you have to get over, because it just means so much work. And when I walk across the fairgrounds the day before the fair opens, I always think: "It can't be that the doors will be opened to the public in less than 24 hours". But then, the next day, everything is radiantly beautiful. Thanks to the stand builders! And everyone stands there and is happy about the reunion. That's why we make the books: for the people who come. It is such an elixir of life. Everyone is actually exhausted just from the preparation, but at the fair everyone is totally happy. It's just an absolute boost for our work.
What is your personal trade fair experience like? Are there any rituals?
No, not really. Unfortunately, I am often so deadline-driven at the Book Fair that the first question I always ask is: Where is the International Rights Centre this year? Because that's where we publishers are most of the time, of course, together with the agents. And I also spend a lot of time at the Frankfurter Hof. I used to spend just as much time at the Hessischer Hof. The fact that it no longer exists is still a real disaster for the international book community. I know so many American publishers who say I don't really want to come back to Frankfurt until I can stay at the Hessischer Hof again. You must know that you had to wait for years to get a hotel room at the Hessischer Hof for Frankfurter Buchmesse week. And once you had one, you couldn't miss out for a year, because then the room would be gone.
From 2012 to 2023, you were a member of the Foundation Board of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. This year, author Salman Rushdie will receive the prize. What does the award mean to you?
The Peace Prize continues to be a beacon for German culture. The wealth of media coverage alone underlines the importance of this prize. And also the perception of holding the award ceremony in St. Paul’s Church.
The speeches given there have relevance for our present. They are heard, they are discussed, they are broadcast, read and received. The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has a very special political and literary impact. The Peace Prize has often gone to authors who later received the Nobel Prize for Literature. That's another way of gauging how important this award is.
And the Peace Prize is, of course, the crowning glory of Frankfurter Buchmesse. The week of the Fair is long and exhausting, but you stay until the Peace Prize because the award ceremony is an essential part of this book week.
In 2015, Salman Rushdie emphasised the freedom of the word in his speech at the opening press conference of Frankfurter Buchmesse. To what extent is Frankfurter Buchmesse a place of democratic exchange?
I think it's great how politically charged the opening of the Frankfurter Buchmesse is every year. The Frankfurter Buchmesse is the most important industry get-together for the entire international book community and that's precisely why it's essential that there - where people and books meet - freedom of expression is given, an exchange takes place and is promoted. The political message that Frankfurter Buchmesse sends is, in my view, of paramount importance.
Piper Verlag has been an exhibitor at Frankfurter Buchmesse since its first edition in October 1949. What does the Frankfurter Buchmesse mean for the publisher?
The Frankfurter Buchmesse is important and so is Piper Verlag at the Frankfurter Buchmesse. You have to be there. If you don't go, you don't belong. We go there to proudly present our books to the public, to bring authors into the conversation and to share ideas. And the reactions of the readers, the journalists, the general public at the fair, that is what is so inspiring about it. Seeing what visitors are drawn to, which book they pick up, which author they are dying to see, which is the most stolen book of the fair, what we are asked about, which cover is responded to, how the individual titles look ... And, of course, the authors love the feeling of being in the thick of things.
Employees carry stacks of books through the exhibition hall before the opening event of the book fair on October 8, 1963. The 15th International Frankfurt Book Fair will take place from October 8th. took place at the exhibition grounds in Frankfurt until October 14, 1963.
With the presentation of books and authors, you have basically already stated the goal of Piper Verlag at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Has the goal changed over the years?
It hasn't changed. It's always been about cultivating contacts, about showing internationally what the publishing house is all about, and above all, it's always about showing: Dear audience, these are our books!
Which authors and personalities have had a particular impact on Piper's trade fair appearances?
Definitely Margaret Atwood, who was also awarded the Peace Prize and who played a formative role in Canada's guest appearance in 2020/2021. She is one of the most spiritually alert contemporaries we have on this planet. And I'm not just saying that now because she is our author. Margaret Atwood has a presence, an intelligence and a truthfulness that you have to look for, and even if you only experience her for ten minutes, you feel it. And in that respect it was very special when she was at the fair.
When Hape Kerkeling comes, it is of course also very formative. When his "Ich bin dann mal weg" (I'll be off then) was published and became the best-selling book of the German post-war period, the visitors knocked over the book table where he was signing out of sheer enthusiasm. Hape Kerkeling and our press officer had to make a legendary escape.
Beyond that, it's always nice to see our authors gather at the stand and to be happy to see each other. I feel the same way about other publishers, editors and colleagues in the industry. This exchange, this reassurance of what the industry has in common, is irreplaceable.
Which item should not be missing at any book fair?
Piper has book lamps that hang above the reception at our stand, and we are delighted every year when the stand builders unpack them. They are made of very, very delicate parchment and look like an open book with Piper and the publisher's imprints written on the side. I have always loved these lamps and was therefore very happy that my colleagues also gave me one for my birthday. So now I have such a beautiful lamp at home and it always reminds me of the fair.
What should the fair of the future look like? What should it offer the industry?
I believe that the fair has the responsibility to enable, promote and almost force the exchange of ideas on international industry topics. At the moment, everyone is waiting for the AI Act of the European Union, which in my view cannot come fast enough. In the future, the trade fair will have to focus more than ever not only on the individual - i.e. meet the needs of the individual exhibitors and participants - but it will also be very important to set the right course for global topics. We are all custodians of copyright and, to a certain extent, gatekeepers for quality. We all still make books by people for people and I believe that most people would like it to stay that way. This is not to say that one does not look into new technologies. But we have the responsibility to find a good way. These are things you can't do alone, you need comrades-in-arms. And you meet them at Frankfurter Buchmesse.
Dear Felicitas von Lovenberg, thank you very much for this detailed and exciting interview. Finally, we would like to know: What would you write on a congratulations card for the Frankfurter Buchmesse?
I would probably just write: "Keep it up - and, as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would say: 'Tits up!'".
At #fbm23 you can find Piper Verlag here: Hall 3.0/ Stand A55