Frankfurt Wrap-Up: The Publishing World May Think the Sky’s Falling but…

October 18, 2018

Even though I know plenty of people who love to hate Frankfurt and the book fair that has been taking place there each autumn for centuries, I’m actually quite fond of the event. Full disclosure, I probably would not have started going to the fair in 2010 if my parents-in-law didn’t live at the end of the S6 (no exorbitant hotels for me, thank you very much). My first station in Germany was in Marburg, about an hour north of Frankfurt and I have fond memories of my first visit in the early 00s.

How one feels about the FBM it might have something to do with one’s expectations. There was a phase a couple years ago, after I’d managed to land a book contract for the first time, that I’d have scores of meetings and I would use the opportunity to rub shoulders with all the American publishers and editors who often feel so far away. But y know, I’ve settled into having a few, select meetings with US and UK editors and saying hi to my favorite German publishers (Matthes & Seitz, Suhrkamp, Fischer, Nautilus, Spector, Secession, Kookbooks, to name a few.), and of course look at the new international offerings and collect a beautiful catalogue from Seagull.

By now, I have at least on leg in the publishing world and after hearing pessimistic rants for years from the Anglophones, this is the year that I first registered mass panic among the Germans regarding the fate of the publishing industry. I wasn’t able to find the exact study everyone was referring to so I’ll have to estimate what the numbers were: some 12 percent fewer people purchased books in Germany in 2016 than in 2010, meaning there were now millions few people interested in buying their books. And this was before Netflix got big in Germany! And while there are various measures that can and have been taken, the one all of the publishing people was talking about is how many, but not all, of the swanky publish parties had been cancelled. This might seem a little like inside baseball to people without skin in the game, but part of the reason why people come to Frankfurt in October is to do business—of course—and attend receptions, soirees, parties, discos and generally paint the town red! This year Fischer, but also Rowohlt and a few others decided not to have the semi-to-very exclusive evening activities, given everyone the impression they’re very focused on the bottom line and everyone should be very thankful for whatever crumbs they may be able to find.

As it happened , this year the Book Fair happened to coincide with autumn school holidays, which meant I was able to take everything with a grain of salt (big picture), and spent far more time at the end of the line in Friedberg than at the end of the line of people waiting to get into a club. And when I was in the city, I chose to pop into obscure events like the poetry reading at the Dortmunder Pils Treff, a dive bar where everyone who wanted could read from their work, or the strange reading of works by the Hungarian writer József Attila, complete with an ominous dog (belonging to the musician, I hope) who wandered through the rows in the posh Frankfurter Hof. Next year I hope there are more parties, but only if I’m on the guest list!

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