On the eve of the opening of the Gothenburg Book Fair, which runs September 24-28, fair director Frida Edman, along with Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos, co-signed an editorial in Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s largest newspaper, called “Why we need book fairs more than ever.” The piece offers their perspective on the role of book fairs in fostering the literary community and asserting the need to for live, in-person fairs to persist.
Edman supplied PW with a translation of the editorial, which reads as follows:
Today, the Nordic region’s largest cultural event, the Book Fair in Gothenburg, begins, and in a few weeks, the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the world’s most important book fair for the industry will launch its virtual Special Edition and its festivals BOOKFEST city and digital. By writing these words, we want to emphasize how important book fairs are – not only for publishers, authors and readers, but also for our communities.
Book fairs nourish our communities because they put stories and storytelling in the spotlight. They bring together authors, spark debates and literary conversations, they organize readings and provide first-hand information on book markets. Moreover, they are an immense tribute to free speech, a concrete manifestation of literature and public discourse. And, of course, our fairs are big festivals for the publishing industry and for all book lovers.
In 2020, the coronavirus has forced many book fairs to cancel or go completely digital. In doing this, we embrace a new experience: we learn a lot and develop, make new collaborations and reach new (and broader) target groups. But we also hear questions about the book fairs’ future existence. Has the physical meeting played its role now that everything is going digital?
Our answer is crystal clear: absolutely not. The physical encounter between people will always be a cornerstone of a democratic society – it is essential for driving one’s business and for maintaining successful business relations. Plus, book fairs around the world are a strong engine for the international literary economy.
Every year, more than a hundred Nordic and international agents participate in the Book Fair in Gothenburg, and a few thousand exhibitors from around 100 countries attend Frankfurter Buchmesse. It is not possible to describe in numbers the value that is lost by agents not meeting and negotiating international rights – often the first bids are placed in Gothenburg, stressed during intensive negotiations in Germany and then sold in the world.
Göran Wiberg, Sales Manager, Bonnierförlagen, believes that 50% of book sales at the Gothenburg Book Fair are dependent on the meeting between authors and readers. At Frankfurter Buchmesse last year, for the first time, publishers were allowed to sell their books to the public on Saturday and Sunday of the fair, making a significant amount of revenue. This is indicative of the importance of book fairs for publishers’ financial position in the future.
A prerequisite for this to remain the case is that book fairs take place and that publishers, agents, readers and not least politicians realize how important the book fairs are, and that in the future they secure their participation, visit or support. This year, their participation shows by each group taking part in and getting involved in supporting these book fairs.
Book fairs around the world remind us every year of the importance of literature, reading, and free speech. Book fairs are a prerequisite for the story’s survival and future. Without book fairs, there will be fewer publishers and authors. With fewer authors, we lose readers. Without readers, there is no strong democracy.
The world would be poorer without book fairs. This year we try to cater to the needs of publishers, authors, the industry and the audience with as many formats and offers as we possibly can. But in the uncertain future, we think that for us, as organizers of book fairs, it’s absolutely crucial that we take additional responsibility to create conditions for physical meeting. Together with the industry. And with the support of politics.
Frida Edman, Gothenburg Book Fair
Juergen Boos, Frankfurter Buchmesse