Frankfurt Book Fair: The Olympics of Publishing
Friday, November 1, 2019
Posted by: Maya Fakundiny
Everyone I spoke to had some advice: wear comfortable shoes, drink Emergen-C and try not to get sick, take every opportunity to sit down, it's a huge place, it's overwhelming, and you will get lost. No advice could have fully prepared me for my first time at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It's a village of expo halls that extends as far as the eye can see. The rumored buses shuttling fair-goers from hall to hall were no longer in service (as far as I could tell), but one floor of hall six was comparable to the entire New York Book Expo. I was thankful for my sneakers.
The best part of the Frankfurt Book Fair was meeting with people I had only ever emailed in the past. These meetings were friendly, informative, and occasionally catered. In my time at Frankfurt, Brian and I met with Elsevier, Digital Science, Ingenta, University of Chicago Press, and PublishDrive, to name a few. It was a tight schedule, which was made complicated by the maze of interconnected halls. Schedules became almost a currency among fair-goers, where the person with the most meetings is revered. Impromptu appointments were also penciled in, because even in a venue with tens of thousands of publishing professionals, sometimes you bump into a colleague you've been meaning to catch up with.
The most astounding aspect of the fair was that it felt as though every publishing entity in the world was represented in some way. This was underscored at the international standards meetings BISG attended, where a representative from each participating country gave an update on their home market. Going around the table was also going around the globe, with standards bodies coming together to tackle large-scale challenges.
In some ways, the Frankfurt Book Fair is the Olympics of books. The expo space itself was divided by country, with an entire wing dedicated to English-focused businesses. An even larger area was designated for the guest-of-honor country, Norway (next year's guest: Canada!). The dedicated fair days were definitely a marathon, not a sprint. Some other sporting events included socializing while jet-lagged, working through lunch, and finding the after-fair networking events. All Frankfurt needed was a flame relay to make things official.
Some of the advice I'd give to those new to the Frankfurt Book Fair is the same that was given to me: wear comfortable shoes, and don't forget to carry hand sanitizer. I would also advise that if you get lost easily, you can always walk outside of the buildings to get a sense of which direction you need to go. Signage is very prominent outside each hall, which is helpful. Also, remember to hydrate. Drinking some water as you wander the halls definitely helps to stave off headaches and expo fatigue.
Lastly, exploring is key to really get a sense of the fair. Between all the many meetings, schedule some time to look at the booths, publications, and tie-in products from industry partners across the globe. It's a stunning display and a labor of love, and it's your first Frankfurt Book Fair only once.