The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the most globally recognised and attended book fairs in the world, and like many other mega-events, it was affected by the pandemic and the safety measures it necessitated. Last year, the fair was held virtually, but this year, and to the delight of many, it was – once again – possible to attend physically. This year’s extensive digital programme made the event a hybrid one. The fair took place from the 20th to 24th of October, offering a unique chance to many publishers and industry professionals to reconnect and share experiences.
Renée: How did it feel to be able to physically attend the first book fair after the pandemic – what was different?
Kamran: Having attended the Frankfurter Book Fair (FBF) yearly for more than 16 years, I can confidently say that this year’s fair was different. I had mixed feelings, especially when I first arrived at the location and realised that downscaling the event’s attendance to 25 000 meant there were significantly less people present at the fair. However, as I gradually explored the halls and the booths, I was happy to see people coming back and to notice that the hybrid model has allowed more speakers to join the global discussions. Though this year’s fair was surely different than the bustling book fair we had come to know, it was definitely as engaging as ever. Overall, I was genuinely glad to be able to attend because I personally believe that networking is always better in person.
Renée: Which markets seem to be suffering and which ones are currently thriving? What factors could contribute to sustaining this industry on a national level?
Kamran: Well, I recall the German-speaking hall to be one of the busiest and most vibrant ones. Stands from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and others were also quite full within that hall. So, these countries and markets seemed to be already doing well. In general, digital accessibility enabled many markets to thrive. Digital libraries, virtual classrooms, and the like continued to be a great source of information while print industries had supply chains interrupted during the pandemic impacting shipping. This might have placed a strain on the print industry temporarily, but it is a challenge that they would hopefully be able to bounce back from soon. I can say that one of the key takeaways for the industry as a whole post pandemic was the importance of having mechanisms in place to offer accessibility through digital channels to maintain readership and discoverability, especially since a lot of libraries were closed. It’s also becoming increasingly essential for educational publishers and institutions to be able to facilitate distance learning through virtual classes and digital textbooks and material.
Renée: Could you tell us more about any emerging international industry trends that you have come across by visiting the fair?
Kamran: One thing that caught my attention was how many interactive ways there were to present a book. Some publishers were combining written content with audio, engaging activities, summaries, podcasts with commentary, and other forms of accompanying media. It was eye-opening to realise how book reading as an activity can be enhanced to offer a rounder experience, and even in terms of community engagement – there could be similar opportunities with journals as well. I believe that touching on those engagement points can offer great value for day to day use when it comes to reading and learning because it makes it much more convenient.
Renée: Have any specific stands piqued your interest?
Kamran: One of the most memorable stands for me was the area that Lativa used to display their books. It was designed as an apartment with an animated window. The stand had a 3D design and featured black and white mural illustrations that made you feel at home. As a visitor, I felt immersed in the environment it created. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about it was that it made the books the most colourful part of the set up. I thought it was a brilliant way of making them stand out.
Renée: What – do you think – can be done to promote MENA literature within international markets?
Kamran: There is a lot of valuable and culturally rich literature in Arabic from the region which would be greatly appreciated by a global audience. Of course, translation is one way of bringing it closer to the international milieu, but there’s also a gap in the services that support Arabic literature – not just in terms of publishing books, but other services as well. There is so much value that this literature can add to the global literary scene, so more efforts in serving that community would definitely go a long way. Various foundations that support Arabic literature have been involved in boosting translation and dissemination efforts, but there’s always more that can be done.
Renée: Open Access research and literature was the topic of many insightful sessions during the Frankfurt Book Fair. Did you feel that this translated into an interest in Open Access on an individual level?
Kamran: When it comes to Open Access, global accessibility lies at the core of everything. Of course, there’s also the business model – there are costs that need to be covered, but at the heart of it all, the goal is to democratise access to content and research. And at the end of the day, spreading knowledge is what FBF is about, so I did cross paths with many individuals who were particularly interested in discussing Open Access and noticed a lot of interest in Zendy and in potential partnerships and collaborations. Interest in Open Access has definitely grown among publishers, agents, authors, and many other industry professionals in the past few years.
The dates for next year’s Frankfurt Book Fair have been announced. The fair will be held from 19th to 23rd of October 2022. Looking forward to seeing everyone back next year!
To read more about the Frankfurt Book Fair, please visit the fair’s official website.