Bibliophiles of the World Unite at Frankfurt Book Fair

Voracious readers with an appetite for translation (shown left)

Every year around mid-October, Germany becomes the center of the publishing universe for five days. Some 7,500 exhibitors, 10,000 journalists, and 300,000 visitors from more than 100 countries gather annually at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where bibliophiles, scholars and media junkies have the opportunity to rub elbows not only with industry insiders, but also with perhaps the most enthusiastic book lovers in the world: the German people.

Germans, per capita, are some of the most voracious readers in the world – and they have a healthy appetite for works in translation. Whereas only about three percent of all books published in the USA were originally written in other languages, roughly 13 percent of books published in Germany are translations.

An Insider’s View
As a veteran of 30 Frankfurt Book Fairs, Barbara Perlmutter can offer a unique perspective on the inner workings of both the German book publishing industry and the German literary psyche. Perlmutter, a German native who now lives in the USA, is a literary scout for the German publishing house S. Fischer Verlag. Her main task at the Frankfurt Book Fair is to connect with editors from major American publishing houses to negotiate publishing rights and licensing fees for the German market.

Perlmutter summarizes the importance of the Book Fair, and what it’s like to experience it first-hand: “For many publishing professionals from around the world – from editorial executives to foreign rights managers – the Frankfurt Book Fair is the high point of their labor to publish smart and successful books. For me, it has always been an enormous adrenalin booster: whom will I meet; what will I find; how will our books fare?”

A Taste for International Titles
Of course, German publishers would not be clamoring for international book titles if there were not a thriving market for them. German and European intellectuals have undeniably been avid consumers of foreign-language books throughout the centuries. But while Latin and French were historically the dominant languages of publication, readers in Germany today have a particular interest in titles originally published in English.

A quick look at statistics on recent translations into the German language reveals just how pervasive English-language literature and non-fiction is. According to an article in über:blick, a newsletter published by the Frankfurt Book Fair, some two-thirds of the books that were translated into German in 2010 were written by English-language authors. French was a distant second with 11.5 percent.

A Six-Century Love Affair
Of course, the German public’s love affair with book fairs and books from other countries began long before it developed a taste for American popular culture. It can be traced all the way back to 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press in Mainz, located a short distance from Frankfurt. Gutenberg’s revolutionary technology soon spawned a new industry, which included a major book fair, where local merchants could promote their wares.

Frankfurt was home to Europe’s most important international book fair until the end of the 17th Century. For the next 300 years, Leipzig held that distinction. Then in 1949, the present-day Frankfurt Book Fair was founded. Sixty-three years later, it has blossomed into the world’s largest trade fair for the book and media industry, offering publishers, agents, librarians, academics, and bookworms a venue for celebrating their love of books.

Visit the website of the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair at

Photo credit/copyright: Frankfurt Book Fair/Alexander Heimann