75th Frankfurter Buchmesse ends having welcomed 215,000 visitors – Director Juergen Boos: Our formula for success is “interest follows relevance” – Guest of Honour Pavilion proves to be a crowd-pleaser – Professional programme focuses on AI and trends in the international book markets
The 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse (18-22 October 2023) has once again demonstrated its unique position as the most important meeting place for the international book and media industry: with 105,000 trade visitors (compared to 93,000 in 2022) from 130 countries and 110,000 members of the general public (compared to 87,000 in 2022), Frankfurter Buchmesse succeeded in growing markedly once again after 2020 and 2021, the two years affected by the pandemic. Over 4,000 exhibitors from 95 countries presented their products and services in the exhibition halls. The Literary Agents & Scouts Centre (LitAg), which was sold out early, experienced record occupancy. With 548 reserved tables, rights professionals from a total of 324 agencies and over 35,000 entries, the LitAg was busier than ever before. More than 7,000 media representatives reported on the over 2,600 events taking place on the five days of the fair. Attendance on Saturday and Sunday, the two days when the book fair is open to the general public for the entire day, exceeded the number of visitors in 2022 by more than 30 percent.
Summing up this year’s anniversary fair, Juergen Boos, Director of Frankfurter Buchmesse, says: “Our formula for success is interest follows relevance. People come here from all over the world because they know that a presence in Frankfurt is indispensable for their business. Added to this is the growing political significance of Frankfurter Buchmesse in times of war and crisis, when defending freedom of speech becomes all the more important. Salman Rushdie, our Peace Prize winner this year, said it forcefully today in Frankfurt’s St Paul’s Church: freedom of expression is coming under pressure from all sides worldwide. That is why the book fair is needed more urgently than ever as an international platform for the free exchange of ideas. And not least, personal interactions between readers and authors are playing an increasingly important role. To facilitate these interactions, we created numerous offerings in our anniversary year that were enthusiastically received by our visitors. The great success of the TikTok Stage shows that – as promised by our anniversary motto ‘And the story goes on’ – the book fair’s narrative does indeed continue along new as well as tried-and-tested pathways.”
Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, Chairwoman of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association, emphasises and notes from the perspective of the book industry: “The largest marketplace for books, an inspiring reading festival and platform for democracy and freedom of expression – Frankfurter Buchmesse was all of this for the 75th time. At the book fair, the industry showed that it is vibrant, forward-looking and relevant. Open social debates in challenging times were just as much a part of the fair as the exchange on current and coming industry topics.”
Thoughtful consideration of global politics and social issues
Whether climate change, crises in democracies, or war – international conflicts received thoughtful consideration at the fair. The Frankfurt Pavilion was highly frequented as the fair’s cultural and political stage featuring debates on the conflict in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine and the protests by climate change activists. The book fair’s essence as a platform for discourse was evident right from the start in the narratives and counter-narratives heard during the fair’s Opening Ceremony on Tuesday, when remarks on the Middle East conflict by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek caused strong reactions from the audience and the media. As a way of keeping the Ukrainian book industry visible despite Russia’s war of aggression and demonstrating international solidarity, a 200-square-metre collective stand and a diverse programme of events was organised.
Guest of Honour Slovenia: positive report
With more than 70 events featuring authors, poets and intellectuals from Slovenia and the international literary scene, the Guest of Honour Pavilion drew huge crowds of fair-goers. Thanks to its two auditoriums and sustainable architecture, the pavilion brought not only the Guest of Honour motto “Honeycomb of Words” but also the Slovenian landscape to Frankfurt. During the fair, numerous well-attended readings, philosophical debates and exhibitions took place in the city, along with an exclusive concert by the band Laibach.
Since Slovenia received the “GuestScroll” from Spain in October 2022, Slovenian authors, poets, philosophers, artists and musicians have presented their work at numerous events in the German-speaking world. Some 100 Slovenian books have been published in German and numerous titles in other European languages since the Guest of Honour project began. The exhibition “Books on Slovenia”, which was shown at the fair, included about 400 works.
Anniversary events at the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse
The 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse featured many colourful anniversary activities on the fairgrounds and throughout the city of Frankfurt. One particular eye-catcher was the “75 Chairs – 75 Stories” campaign. Labelled with QR codes, 75 chairs told the stories of various individuals and their connection to the book fair in Frankfurt. Among the stories told were those of Michel Friedman, Lina Atfah, Nina George, Volker Türk and Meron Mendel. In the anniversary area, visitors could leave their own congratulations. Numerous exhibitors also came up with creative ways to wish Frankfurter Buchmesse a happy anniversary – through congratulatory banners, specially designed bookcases or oversize illustrations at their exhibition stands.
Trade programme: artificial intelligence and international book market trends
The international trade programme featured training, discussion and networking events. Considerable attention was given to the topic of artificial intelligence. In particular, the call for transparency and a legal framework that protects the interests of creators could be heard during the fair. Anna Soler-Pont (Pontas Literary Agency, Spain) spoke about practical issues at the Publishing Perspectives Forum: “We have added clauses to our contracts about AI to protect our clients. We want human voices to record our audiobooks.” During the Executive Talk, Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, said: “It’s not humans versus machines. It’s humans and machines. How can we use this technology to help us?”
The new Frankfurt International Stage successfully proved to be the venue for events on book markets and industry initiatives in its very first year – with participants from Asia, Latin America and Europe taking a particularly active role in the programme. The approximately 30 panel discussions and presentations on topics such as metadata, open access, education independent publishing and sustainability were held mostly in English and received considerable attention from the international publishing professionals.
At the weekend, international authors such as Georgi Gospodinov (Bulgaria), Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria), Lynn Cullen (USA) and Diaty Diallo (France) took the stage for some 20 different readings and talks. In total, approximately 1,800 visitors attended the stage’s events. Similar figures were reported for activities at the International Translation Centre (Hall 4.1), and the discussions held at the Education Forum (Hall 3.1) also proved very popular. The Book-to-Screen Day on Friday allowed numerous filmmakers from around the world to interact with stakeholders from the international book industry.
Spotlight on audience highlights
The weekend of the fair (20-22 October) featured a diverse programme which allowed visitors to experience international bestselling authors, TV stars and influencers. Before Salman Rushdie was honoured on Sunday with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, he appeared at the fair together with Christopher Clark, Lizzie Doron, Cornelia Funke, Thomas Hettche and Amir Gudarzi at the Literary Gala organised by broadcasters ARD, ZDF and 3sat. Lexi Ryan, Benjamin Lacombe, Motsi Mabuse, Guido Maria Kretschmer, Verona Pooth, SASHA and many others inspired audiences at the Open Stage. In the new Meet the Author area, fans had the opportunity to interact with Lucy Score, Rafik Schami, Elke Heidenreich, Mona Kasten and Sarah Sprinz, among others.
Well-known authors such as Deborah Feldman, Axel Scheffler and Dirk Steffens enriched the 2023 BOOKFEST city programme which took place at bookshops and libraries in Frankfurt and its surroundings. At the Frankfurt Kids Festival on the fairgrounds and throughout the city, young book fans had the opportunity to meet their favourite authors in person, attend inspiring readings and use their own creative talents at workshops and exciting hands-on events. Tijen Onaran and Cornelia Funke put in appearances in the Frankfurt Studio, as did the recipients of the 2023 German Children’s Literature Award. As part of the events showcasing audio trends, visitors could experience Harry Potter narrator Rufus Beck, Kangaroo Chronicles author Marc-Uwe Kling, podcaster Sophie Passmann and Helge Schneider live.
As part of the first German TikTok Book Awards, the #BookTok community’s favourite creators, authors, books and publishers were honoured. Otto Waalkes and Sebastian Fitzek were among the celebrities present.
Next year’s Frankfurter Buchmesse will take place from 16-20 October 2024. Guest of Honour will be Italy.