Frankfurter Buchmesse
October 30, 2009 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps you have seen the recent video of flies zooming around a "German trade show" like little banner planes? That "German Trade Show" was the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse)—the most important event in the book publishing world. It's international; all the major US publishers go, as do many agents, to meet their foreign counterparts and to buy and sell projects amid publishing's eternal and ever-present air of fatalism. This year's fair had some interesting subplots, the most visible of which was the complicated dance the organizers did with this year's guest of honor, China, as accusations of censorship (on the part of China) and of brown-nosing (on the part of the fair's organizers) flew.

The Frankfurt Book Fair has been held, on and off, since 1454. The Millions' review of A History of the Frankfurt Book Fair gives a nice capsule overview of the Fair's history since its inaugural fair, which Gutenberg himself may or may not have attended:
Then there was a long, protracted fall. Between 1680 and 1690, nearly every publishing house in Frankfurt collapsed due to the indebtedness of publishers. As a result of this there was an anti-Semitic backlash, Jewish financiers becoming the scapegoats for the failure of the publishing houses, and regulations were imposed forbidding trading to Jews. In fact, it was the wars instigated by Louis XIV, and repercussions of the War of the Spanish Succession that crippled the economy.

As well, the Reformation had moved the intellectual hub north, and the center of trade was shifting east, giving Leipzig an edge over Frankfurt. Bookshops in Frankfurt turned into bars.

By the mid-1800s, even Leipzig was in decline. Book fairs – as they were envisioned then – had had their day, as the book trade was no longer dependent on fairs.

The modern era of the Frankfurt Book Fair, after a few false starts, began in the late 1940s. The 1950 fair was a major success. It was both a cultural exchange and a trade show emphasizing merchandising and marketing. A literary peace prize had also been established – Albert Schweitzer won it that year – giving the fair an added PR boost.

There was no shortage of intrigue in the post-war book fair. The Cold War and the building of the Berlin Wall led to the infiltration of West Germany (and the Frankfurt Book Fair) by East German spies! Beginning in 1967 and continuing into the 70s, undercover agents (using pseudonyms) from East German publishing houses were covertly checking out the activity at the fair, seeing which of their authors had books there.
N.B.: I am a book editor. It's possible (but unlikely) that I know someone mentioned somewhere in the things I've linked to.
posted by ocherdraco (16 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Don't you hate it when the double is better than the original?
posted by roll truck roll at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2009

Not really a double, I think. It kicks off with the same subject as the previous post but it's focus is the trade show itself. And a very interesting history, too!
posted by cimbrog at 10:27 AM on October 30, 2009

Google launched "Google Editions", a program to sell ebook versions of all the book they've digitized. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the book fair and said that she openly opposed Google: "It's clear to the German government that intellectual property rights must find their place on the internet," she continued. "For that reason we refuse to permit simple scanning of books without full protection of intellectual property rights."

Anyway, a great way to launch a new product by having it actively opposed by the head of a major government.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on October 30, 2009

Sorry, I should mention that those both happened on the opening day of this year's Frankfurt Book Fair.
posted by GuyZero at 10:28 AM on October 30, 2009

Gah. I totally looked for doubles, too. This post really is about the book fair, not the flies—I hope that saves it from deletion.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:31 AM on October 30, 2009

World's largest new market, meet world's most desperate capitalists. Morals have no chance.
posted by spicynuts at 10:31 AM on October 30, 2009

Nah, this ain't a double. It is a great post. It was refreshing to read about the publishing industry worrying about something (corporate earnings expectations versus traditional publishing's earning expectations) besides new technology.
posted by Pragmatica at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2009

That Harper's article is great. I read it when the magazine was out. It sounds like such a bizarre event.
posted by chunking express at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2009

Also, for those of us in Higher Ed or Science/Journals, right behind China is the Middle East.
posted by spicynuts at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2009

The Frankfurt Book Fair blog is worth going through. Lots of interesting posts.
posted by Kattullus at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2009

Gosh, what's the censorship of a few novels here and there compares to hundreds of millions of new readers?

I blame liberals myself - next people will be compaining about Amazon's plan to insert synonyms into authors works in order to track them online, and THEN where will we be?
posted by happyroach at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2009

Fantastic post. Thank you.
posted by elmono at 11:32 AM on October 30, 2009

As it turns out, one of Fritz Darges' last acts was to try to kill those flies.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:57 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had no idea what the hell was going on in that Harper's article, but it was a good read.
posted by clorox at 10:19 PM on October 30, 2009

Concurred, the Harper's article was fascinating. Very gonzo, and incessantly name dropping, but always with enough context to warrant it. Some quotes:

This dual standard is fundamental to how book people see themselves. Each deal is a mutual act of aesthetic-commercial catechism; devoutly observed is the ideal junction of the remunerative and the good.

It is crucial for everybody involved that he be recognized as a legit aesthete, or the whole edifice would totter even more. [...] And because of the intensely personal nature of this business—which makes it so pleasurable—his reach is vast and terrifying.

The very human nature of their necessary compromise, balancing an effete love of the written word with the unavoidable pragmatics of running a business. The deep sighs the reporter records, exclamations of "I Love this Book!" in reference to a promising vampire title; its really hard to say exactly what is the article's stance on the moral and respectable status of these publishers. If their love is so deeply motivated out of the exigencies of business and finance, is it a true love? The tone of desperation touches too deeply their emotions, renders unstable their status as arbiters of taste. As a student of literature on the outside looking in, made pure by my disenfranchisement and disconnection from the actual operation of producing texts, I have to counterbalance the sympathy granted by this writer with an implacable recognition of horror.
posted by kaspen at 12:11 PM on October 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Kaspen, may I please print your comment and post it on the wall in my office, so I can look at it whenever I feel a bout of the big-head coming on?
posted by ocherdraco at 6:41 PM on November 1, 2009

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