Frankfurter Buchmesse 2022
Back to the Old Routine?

Skyline Frankfurt am Main at sunrise
Skyline Frankfurt am Main | Photo (detail): © picture alliance / dpa | Roland Holschneider

After two pared-down years, the Frankfurter Buchmesse is back in full force, with Spain as the guest of honour in 2022. Isabella Caldart offers her thoughts on the relevance of physical fairs, BookTok as the way of the future and what we can expect this year.

It’s no secret: For a long time now, the really big transactions haven’t been made at book fairs. In order to get the full attention of publishing house staff, literary agents offer the very, very important manuscripts by email in advance. The (romantic) idea that people outside the book industry have of book fairs – hotly bid auctions, for example – doesn’t correspond to reality. Now, after several years of the pandemic, the Frankfurter Buchmesse is returning with virtually no restrictions. This naturally raises the question: Is the concept of the fair outdated?

The digital future of BookTok

It was the years of scarce personal interaction between publishing directors, editors, agents, journalists, marketing and all the other people who usually meet at book fairs and similar events in particular that showed what was already clear to everyone beforehand: The book industry can manage fine without fairs; it always has. The pertinent information can be conveyed much more quickly via Zoom, email or phone. But these years have also shown that the fairs are not (only) about business; they are, above all, about maintaining social contacts, which is undeniably better in person than virtually. So, the fear repeatedly expressed in the course of the pandemic – that publishers will no longer want to bear the financial burden of trade fairs and stop participating for good – is certainly unfounded.

But this article is not meant to be culturally pessimistic; on the contrary: It is a call to publishers and organisers to focus more on the digital. Because some still seem unwilling to take social media seriously enough. Everyone is aware of the importance of Bookstagram, but Instagram has been on a downward trend for some time. BookTok, the “bookish” side of TikTok, is more exciting. Especially in the English-speaking world, BookTok has enormous market power, can create bestsellers and promote backlisted titles. There aren’t many major BookTok accounts yet in Germany, but that will change. Because TikTok is the future, at least for the next few years, until the app is replaced by a new one. So, while book fairs are indispensable for cultivating personal relationships, at the same time the book industry should finally pay more attention to social media. Because contrary to what some believe, physical fairs and digital presences are not mutually exclusive but go hand in hand.

High bar for the guest of honour

What can we expect at this year’s Frankfurter Buchmesse? After the fair in 2020 was moved to the web at short notice, after the slimmed-down version in 2021 with far fewer stands, more space in the halls and fewer visitors, it looks as if a book fair will take place again according to the old routine. The city’s Open Books reading festival is also back in full force and is organising around 100 readings with 150 authors in Frankfurt itself.

A look at this year’s guest country will be exciting: After Canada’s appearance was postponed by a year, it’s now Spain’s turn, instead of 2021 as originally planned. In the run-up, industry insiders and Spain experts had expressed fears that the guest country appearance could be less spectacular than, say, those of Georgia and Norway, which had a lasting impact on the audiences in 2018 and 2019. The fact that Spain had a year more time to organise can’t have hurt. Spain will nevertheless provide fewer surprises than Georgia, for example. For one, because literature from Spain, unlike Georgian literature, is reasonably well known in this country. And for another, because the small Eurasian country promoted far more translations, especially in relation to big Spain.

Spain also has regional competition: In 2007, Catalonia was the only non-recognised country to have its own guest of honour appearance, which was received very positively at the time. Spain has to keep up with that. By the way, if you speak Spanish, the Goethe-Institut’s podcast En Tu Feria Me Colé about literature from Spain and the German-speaking world is a digital guide to the physical fair.

All in all, this year’s Frankfurter Buchmesse promises to be interesting in every respect. How will it feel? Will it attract enough visitors to make it financially worthwhile? Will the readings and parties outside the fairgrounds be in demand? How will the guest country present itself? And is the Frankfurter Buchmesse a blueprint for the Leipzig Book Fair, which has already had to cancel three times? We’ll find out soon enough!


Isabella Caldart © privat Isabella Caldart is a freelance journalist, editor, social media editor and moderator. Her texts appear in 54books, nd, Zeit Online, Frankfurter Rundschau, Missy Magazine and taz, among others. She also manages the social media accounts of the German Book Prize. Isabella Caldart comes from Frankfurt am Main and has been living in Barcelona for some time.