It’s not looking good for the Frankfurt Book Fair. While the Buchmesse has committed to going ahead this coming October with an online event, it is also attempting to bring the industry on board for an in-person event alongside, but it looks like that may be doomed to failure as the big name casualty list grows.

It hasn’t helped that CEO Juergen Boos has said the in-person event cannot be guaranteed, even for participants in Germany, and the decision by Holzbrinck, Penguin Random House, Bonnier DE and Bastei Lübbe not to be there in person has pretty much warned off the rest of the world.

First among the bigger players outside Germany to join the exodus were Simon & Schuster and Pan Macmillan, the UK arm of Macmillan, and since then HarperCollins and Macmillan US have also made clear they value their employees too much to put them at risk.

With Random House Germany reusing to attend it’s a given the PRH international arms won’t be there either. And today comes news that neither Hachette nor Bloomsbury will be there, and nor will the Guest of Honour, Canada.

Having already been played about by the London Book Fair –

and by Book Expo –

it should have been clear to the Frankfurt team that most global publishers have now written off 2020 for in-person events, and given the way publishing stakeholders were treated by both the London Book Fair and Book Expo, it really begs the question why Frankfurt thought the global publishing community was ready for this at all.

As the exhibitors casualty list grows, and as it becomes clear neither trade nor public visitors will going to Frankfurt this year, so concern grows for the handful of participants already fully committed.

Among them the Canadian book trade representatives that were to be this year’s Buchmesse Guest of Honour.

Canada’s trade journal Quill and Quire, talking to Canadian Heritage, the organisation behind Canada’s bid for Frankfurt, revealed that ideally they would like to postpone Canada’s Guest of Honour status until 2021.

That is problematic because the scale and reputation of the Buchmesse is such that Guest of Honour places are mush sought after, very expensive to bid for, and are booked up many years in advance.

Spain, Slovenia and Italy are both lined up, but Quill and Quire say talks are underway between all parties to potentially set the schedule back by a year.

How well that will go remains to be seen. The 2021 guest will have its plans well-advanced, and the 2022 and 2023 choices will all have preparations well under way. Any rescheduling is likely to bring financial burdens to all, but especially the 2021 choice.

Per TNPS back in April, it was clear the old-style in-person only Frankfurt Book Fair was history, leaving the question just what form the 2020 incarnation might take.

As May ended, TNPS suggested Frankfurt might need to rethink its focus and make the online fair the centre-piece of the 2020 event, and as this exodus grows it is clear very few will be willing to even consider, let alone risk attending, Frankfurt in person this year.

For the Buchmesse now the challenge is to lay on the world’s best-ever online book fair while at the same time not damaging its future prospects as an in-person event by making the virtual incarnation so good the industry starts questioning if the New Normal means in-person events of the scale of Frankfurt are really needed at all in the third decade of the twenty-first century.

You can’t put the digital genie back in the bottle.