First held in the mid-15th century soon after Gutenberg produced the first printing press in nearby Mainz, the Frankfurt Book Fair has evolved into the world’s largest book fair with some 7,400 exhibitors from over 106 countries and 280,000 visitors including publishers, booksellers, agents, film producers and authors, and at the weekend the general public.
For the first time visitor the Fair can be a daunting experience – spread over five enormous halls with multiple floors the scale of the world’s publishing industry becomes apparent. At my first ‘Frankfurt’ eleven years ago my initial reaction was disbelief at the number of books being produced and how the world can produce enough paper to sustain the book trade. However, once focussed on the day to day business of exhibiting you quickly become accustomed to the scale of Frankfurt and concentrate on Cornerhouse’s role in the world of art book publishing.
Flying to Frankfurt on Tuesday, the afternoon is spent going to the exhibition hall at the Messe and setting up our stand with over 140 new titles that we distribute – after eleven years this has become a routine – and it is also a chance to have a quick chat with our neighbours, and stock up on fruit juices, water and chocolate biscuits – all essential for Frankfurt survival. We exhibit in Hall 4 where the majority of art book publishers are based and it is always pleasant to be surrounded by so many interesting stands and people.
The Fair opens on Wednesday and it is straight into the meeting schedule with visitors from our warehouse and European rep team, and the first meetings with our European publishers Walther Koenig and Richter Verlag. The pattern continues over the next two days with more meetings with JRPRingier, DuMont, Rakennustieto, Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg and Kerber Verlag. Our stand also attracts a variety of visitors among them authors looking for a publisher, designers interested in our titles, book buyers (although these have declined in recent years) and the ubiquitous printers from the Far East who we dismiss with a rather curt ‘we are a distributor, not a publisher’.
Working on our stand can be a disorienting experience. The exhibition hall takes on an atmosphere all of its own – time can move quickly or drag, and you have little idea of what the day is like outside. Frankfurt often experiences an Indian summer in October and this year was no exception. Popping outside to grab some time in the sun provides a welcome antidote to the intensity inside.
The Fair provides a great opportunity to meet with our colleagues and friends, find out who’s doing what and see what our competitors are up to. In the evening we are often invited out for a meal with one of our publishers (it’s still work!) or are dragged to a bar for drink or two.
Suzanne and Debbie did the weekend shift when the general public are allowed to attend and while there are more meetings with our business colleagues and partners it is also an opportunity to sell books and bring home some Euros. The Fair ends on Sunday evening when we pack up and take the quick train ride to the airport – exhausted and glad yet another Frankfurt is over. Back at my desk on Monday morning, the booking forms for the 2012 Fair have already arrived – we will be soon off again next October…