Monday, October 15, 2007

Frankfurt Book Fair

One of the biggest annual fairs in Frankfurt took place last week - and for me, the most interesting anyway: the International Frankfurt Book Fair.

It's a huge event, in fact the biggest of its kind worldwide: 7500 exhibitors from 108 participating countries displayed nearly 400.000 different titles, according to the organiser's statistics, and the event attracted some 280000 visitors. There is always a Guest of Honour - usually a country, but this year it was The Catalan Culture, which had stirred a bit of trouble before.

On Saturday and Sunday, doors are open for the general public, and with the splendid weather, the fair ground transformed in kind of a big festival area. The exhibition halls with the German publishers are usually very crowded, but I love strolling around, and besides books, one can also spot celebrities.

For example, I could spot the bald back of the head of Umberto Eco, signing copies of his latest book, and nearly bumped into Julia Franck, who had been awarded this year's German Book Prize.

But what I find most exciting is to wander around the exhibition halls of the foreign publishers. They are less congested, and there is a truly international flair, with all the different languages and cultures present at one spot. And there is a larger variety of, say, English or French books than one probably could find at any bookstore - plus, of course, books that haven't reached the bookstores yet.

Unfortunately - or luckily, depending on the shelf space available at your home - you usually cannot buy anything.



  1. Dear Stefan I strongly recommend a book from a catalan writer, Jaume Cabre. It has been translated into german as

    'Die Stimmen des Flusses'


  2. What a lovely city Frankfurt is! In fact Frankfurt looks so lovely that I'll have to add it to my wish list of places to visit.:~)

  3. Stefan, great photos, and looks like some interesting books around, best paul.

  4. Thanks for the photos! I haven't been at a fair in F for ages... When I was a kid I loved going to fairs, they always had a lot of ad gifts and fun things to try out.



  5. Hi Cynthia:

    Frankfurt is an interesting mix between small and large, old and new. I'm not sure if I would call it lovely, but if you ever visit Germany it's definitely worth a visit (and if you do, let us know, we'd be more than happy showing you around). Best,


  6. I am not sure a book fair like this is still relevant. While there are millions of books on display, one obviously does not have the time to skim though more than a handful of them. I also think what makes a "fair' exciting is the shopping spree aspect. I am sure those who come to the book fair are willing to spend on books they find interesting. That the books on display are not for sale serves no purpose other than to add a pretentious aura to the event.

    But all these points are moot considering that books, in the traditional sense, are increasingly irrelevant. I predict that this book fair will decline and be closed down in 15 years.

  7. Hi rafa,

    thank you for the recommendation!

    Alas, always more books than time to read. The next novel I want to try is a detective story by a young German writer, Juli Zeh, which involves two physicists and the arrow of time - I am just curious...

    Hi chickenbreeder,

    I also wonder how big a part of all these books will be left completely unnoticed...

    However, the Frankfurt Book Fair never had as its main intention to address the "end consumer", the reader. It's in fact a fair mostly for book dealers, librarians, publishers, and, to a smaller degree, authors. An important aspect is dealing with foreign rights and licenses and discussing sales conditions - all publishers and sales managers at one place at one time makes such things easier.

    Of course, to this end, a large share of books are just decoration, but they help to convey the program and the general focus of a publisher. And each publisher is of course proud of its novelties and the highlights of its backlist.

    The question of selling or not selling books is discussed each year anew, more or less. Of course, the fair is a unique opportunity to look at books you will have a hard time to see in bookstores, and I would appreciate the opportunity to buy. At other book fairs, it's all natural that you can buy books - I remember book fairs in Paris and Torino were this was possible.

    At Frankfurt, in fact, some foreign exhibitors do sell, you just have to ask - they don't want to ship back all their books and are happy if they can sell them.

    On the other hand, selling could work only on the last day, since most publishers cannot bring several copies of each of the titles they have on display.

    ... books, in the traditional sense, are increasingly irrelevant. I predict that this book fair will decline and be closed down in 15 years.

    I have strong doubts about that. So far, there is no real replacement for most printed books. Technical literature may migrate to ebooks, as electronic reader devices become more handy, but that's only a part, and a quite small one, of the total book production. I don't see a replacement of traditional books for fiction, coffee table books, cooking books, children's books, ...

    Interestingly, on the first Frankfurt Book Fair I had participated as an exhibitor 10 years ago, there was a huge exhibition hall dedicated only to electronic media. Electronic media have nearly all disappeared again by now, and there seem to be no signs that the production of classical books is about to decline.

    Best, Stefan

  8. As an apropos I'd like to mention that Frankfurt is close (only 30km) to Mainz, the very place where modern style printing has its origins (invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, ~1450). So, coming to Frankfurt is a bit like 'going back to the roots'.

  9. Dear Stefan, I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001, when Greece was the guest-of-honor. I'll never forget it, and I still have my souvenirs from that trip; I thought their Greek exhibits were incredible.

    However, as a bookstore fiend (before I moved away from the US/San Francisco Bay area, I spent a couple of hours every week browsing in bookstores), I found the policy of no books for sale at the Frankfurt Fair very 'unnatural'...

  10. Despite the fact that you can find more and more PDFs of books online, most of the for free, they can never replace the real thing. The fair has it's solid number of visitors (circa 283,000 per year) and I trust that it will attract more an more attention. I wonder how Frankfurt Book Fair 2008 would go?


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