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It has been a difficult few days for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Following its announcement that a reconfigured fair will go ahead on 14-18 October, three major UK publishers announced they would not be attending.  Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins and Bonnier Books UK all said they would not be sending staff.  HarperCollins also said that it would not have a stand at this year’s fair.

Frankfurt Buchmesse has announced this year’s fair will have both a physical and virtual presence, with a reduced presence on the Messe’s famous fairgrounds itself, but other events taking place at locations throughout the city and a busy digital programme taking place online at the same time.

Pan Macmillan MD Anthony Forbes Watson said: “After careful consideration and with the health and wellbeing of our colleagues top of mind, we have decided we will not take part in Frankfurt’s physical book fair. We will happily continue to engage with the Frankfurt organisers about new ways in which we might promote our authors, illustrators and books digitally under the banner of the fair this October.”

HarperCollins said: “[We] will not be taking a stand or sending representatives to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year as we are limiting business travel for the safety of our staff. It is wonderful that the Frankfurt Book Fair team is developing digital and virtual plans for both now and the future. We look forward to returning to Frankfurt, and to other book fairs, to meet with our international contacts in future years.”

The worry for Frankfurt now is that there will be a domino effect among publishers, with first one pulling out, then others following suit, as has happened with many book fairs since the pandemic took hold.  Fair director Juergen Boos said he expected other cancellations to come, but added: “After the situation we had in the past few months and we are seeing a lot of publishers and booksellers in crisis, and especially after Bologna and London didn’t take place and many other book fairs, there’s an urgent need actually to do business again, to talk to each other, to build up some creative attitude as well. I think we also need Frankfurt to interest the general audience in books again and this means worldwide.”

Frankfurt’s organisers say that on the fairgrounds the fair will take place in accordance with a detailed health and hygiene plan which will reflect the regulations mandated this autumn by the State of Hesse, guaranteeing the safety of visitors, exhibitors and staff attending the fair.

The fair’s digital programme will address the needs of both participants on site and those joining the fair online from all over the world.  Boos said: “We are currently developing a range of digital formats that respond precisely to these customer needs, enabling individuals and companies from the publishing industry and related sectors worldwide to participate in Frankfurter Buchmesse 2020.”

In the exhibition halls, each stand will be given 1.5m of the walkway in front of the stand as additional  ‘communication space’ to make social distancing easier.

Finally, Canada is Guest of Honour this year and the book fair is currently in discussion with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the organiser of the Guest of Honour activities, on a concept adapted to the current situation.  A decision on this is expected shortly.