Frankfurt Book Fair 2016
by Martina Borg
As a relatively new MA Publishing Media student at Oxford Brookes University, I must admit to knowing very little about the Frankfurt book fair prior to joining the course. It was little more than a promising murmur when I signed up for the trip, but throughout our first month in the classroom we heard a new snippet of information about it practically every day ...
As the twenty-five of us on the trip came off the S-Bahn platform on Friday morning, we were swept into the venue along with throngs of other fair-goers. For book lovers, it is a bit like being a child in the busiest candy store you can imagine. The fair offers something of a unique opportunity for publishers to meet international partners and to discuss rights deals for upcoming works. Walking through the halls, I tried to fit in with the industry professionals milling to and from various publishers' stalls, and I was struck by the sheer number of appointments each publisher had throughout the day, from the big international power-houses, to the smaller, independent publishers hailing from practically all around the world.
The daunting advice to 'network' began reverberating in my mind pretty early on, along with the fear of disturbing some important deal, but luckily the appointments set up by our lecturers throughout the day presented us all with the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about different kinds of publishing companies, as well as opportunities and threats faced by small and digital publishers among others. Besides being exceptionally eye-opening, the appointments also helped us to build up enough confidence to attempt talking to some other publishers when they didn't look like they were drowning in work.
When I managed to tear myself away from the English language publishers' section I also got to see just how global the industry is, and I also managed to listen in to some talks being held on stages throughout the fair; from the effects of Brexit on the industry, to issues of language that are of particular interest to the guests of honour for this year's fair: Flanders and the Netherlands.
Perhaps one of the most notable things was the general spirit of support and conviviality, throughout the fair. So much so, that the event culminated in various small celebrations, where publishers were invited to drinks at different stalls with lively and cheerful music and speeches keeping everyone in good spirits. This environment, we were later told, is quite emblematic of the industry and it is where much of the real work and informal discussions actually take place – amongst friends.
We left the fair exhausted (our lecturers weren't kidding when they said we'd do a lot of walking), somewhat confused by all the options ahead, elated by the energy and the sense that we had all picked the right path. As we walked away from the buildings into the chilly Frankfurt air, wondering where to grab a bite to eat, we couldn't help but wonder when we'd have the magnificent opportunity to visit this event again. Soon I hope ...