imagesThere had been a fair at Frankfurt-am-Main for years before Gutenberg developed his system of printing from movable types from which we can date the real beginning of our industry. The earliest evidence for the fair dates from 1074. Handwritten books had always been sold there, at the Spring or the Autumn fairs. Johannes Fust it was who displayed Gutenberg’s Bible for sale at the Fair in 1454 or 1455. He had almost certainly been active at the Fair prior to the invention of printing, selling manuscript books, and appears to have taken over Gutenberg’s business, probably for an unpaid debt. (A History of the Frankfurt Book Fair by Peter Weidhaas)


A firm date for the founding of the Frankfurt Book Fair cannot be established, but it can be demonstrated that by 1462 its identity as a printers’ and publishers’ trade fair was recognized. Lyons, Strasbourg, Leipzig and Basel also had book fairs, but Frankfurt quickly became the one not to miss. This remains true to this day though now you are more likely to be buying and selling rights than copies of printed books. People who go — and everyone wants to go — come back complaining about the crowds, the prices, the heat, the food. You almost wonder why they wanted to go in the first place. It is essential to make your appointments before you set out. The place is just so large and so full of people that wandering around hoping to make contact with anyone is insanity. Publishers Weekly reports “Frankfurt officials reported that 140,291 trade visitors attended the 2014 fair, down from the 142,921 professional visitors attending the 2013 fair, a decline of less than 2%. Total attendance was also down, clocking in at 269,534 total visitors, down from the 275,342 that attended in 2013, a roughly 2.2% drop.” No doubt numbers will rise again: this site for this year’s Fair can be found here.

I went one time, for a day excursion. We flew from London to Frankfurt, were taken to the Messe by bus, looked around it quickly, caught the bus back to the airport and flew home. This was done as part of The Publishers Association education programme. Not sure we learned much though — beyond that it was big.