As many as 30 Indian publishers were taken to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2017 under the umbrella of the National Book Trust, the government body under the HRD Ministry entrusted with organising and participating in fairs. Despite the HRD ministry’s wishy-washy position vis-a-vis German, ‘the National Book Trust had a lovely stall with the rest of the international publishers’, said Neelini Sarkar, an editor who sells international rights for Writers Side Literary Agency. ‘The NBT stall looked impressive’, said Aarti David, VP, Publishing, Sage Publications, India.

‘The Indian participation was overwhelming. There was a complete section showcasing the Indian/Asian publishers. I think the Frankfurt book fair continues to be a great platform for the publishing community from India to showcase their work and get good business from global publishers/agents.’ Yes, almost a hundred Indian publishers were in Frankfurt this year.

About 40 Indian publishers had their stands through the good offices of Capexil, (Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council of the Ministry of Commerce). As Capaxil has auditing issues with NBT, it set up a separate enclosure for the publishers it took to Frankfurt. People paid more than Rs 300,000 each for space here. Yet, the Indian publishers’ stand ‘looked like a shoddy bazaar’, reports said.

Capaxil and the contractor blamed eachother for the getup mess. Finally, the German Book Office in New Delhi ‘saved the stand from humiliating dismantlement.’ Bipin Shah of Mapin Publishers said, ‘I was shocked by the cavalier way in which everything was handled. Many of the publishers came through Capexil because booking a stand through them worked out cheaper than through Fair authorities. But we were cheated out of our space’.

Said Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan, ‘Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, the fact is that the collective Indian stand always looks the worst in the Fair. Even Pakistan last year had a wonderful stand, attractive and beautifully laid out. This is a good example of how India shines abroad!’

SAGE UK had a stand at the book fair and they had showcased important titles from all their offices including SAGE India. The title Whispers of War by Masood Khalili was on display. But, said Aarti David, ‘since the Frankfurt Book Fair is largely meant for rights management and negotiation with agents to tie up for future business, the focus is not on display. Unlike book fairs in India, no sales happen at the FBF, except perhaps at a few stationery stalls and the Antique books section.’

Overall, Frankfurt 2017 appeared to be more buzzy than the past year. ‘This year we experienced physical altercations between left-wing and right-wing groups that had to be disbursed by the police’, acknowledged Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, in a statement. Boos added that as the organisers of the largest international trade fair for books and media, ‘we are obliged to uphold the fundamental right to free expression’. 'When world affairs become confusing, when deep rifts mark most societies and when fake news challenges journalistic reporting, the desire for trustworthy sources of information, solid knowledge and well-researched news grows. This makes publishers enormously important –a responsibility they know they have', Juergen Boos told the media.