Frankfurt Book Fair happens every year, and this, its 73rd year running, is no exception. The fair is a chance for publishers, agents and authors to gather and connect over literary works. In 2020, plans for an in-person fair came to a screeching halt and the fair was digitised at the last moment. As a result, 2021’s fair will be nothing like those that came before, which only serves to make it more exciting.
Yet, many of the biggest publishing houses in the world will only be attending virtually, and the focus of the fair has shifted to a hybrid event. Here are a few names that will be missing from the roster:
- Penguin Random House
- Nosy Crow
However, do not let that fool you; Frankfurt will be bustling. Jürgen Boos, Frankfurt’s director, estimates 1,500 companies form 70 countries will be making their way to the fair, with more being added every day. Understandably, this has raised many safety concerns with Covid-19 hardly contained. In The Bookseller’s coverage of Frankfurt’s development, they highlighted that ‘Boos is not sure how many people will attend but he says his team is preparing for up to 25,000 daily fairgoers, as it has a special permit from the government.’ The uncontrolled number of people travelling across the globe is worrying and some have been openly critical of the high attendance. Sam Missingham, founder of Lounge Marketing, tweeted her exasperation with the 70 British and Irish companies still planning on going, asserting that it ‘requires enough people to make it world wide.’ As more companies solidify their decision to attend, more follow suit.
Perhaps Frankfurt should follow London Book Fair’s example and remain wholly online for 2021 until it is safer to travel. An online event would also ensure better inclusion, being more affordable for smaller companies and allowing a global reach. Boos has confessed that not many South American or US delegates are appearing because of the pandemic, and an online event would overcome this exclusion.
Aside from publishing houses, many agents have been vocal about not going, including Curtis Brown and David Hingham Associates. Literary scout Lucy Abrahams explains her reasoning for not going, ‘most people have already decided they’re not going, so is it worth it for a handful of meetings?’
For some, these ‘handful of meetings’ are the precise reason for going. Social interactions are necessary in publishing, which thrives on networking to build strong relationships between publishers, agents and authors. As a pillar of the creative industries, relying on sharing perspectives and ideas, many crave what a face-to-face Frankfurt offers. Rebecca Folland believes that ‘all of that will bring us new ideas, energy and knowledge,’ emphasising the reinvigorating power of in-person events. Boos himself said that ‘in-person interactions cannot be replaced by digital venues.’ The Bookseller has expressed their support for in-person book fairs as they will be attending Frankfurt and publishing their Book Fair Daily magazine, stating that their physical presence is ‘crucial’ to re-establishing trade fairs.
Frankfurt is a tough choice for individuals, who have to weigh further damage to their business and social standing against the risk to global health.