London Book Fair

Posted on May 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

London Book fair is one of the key events in the publishing calendar, encompassing business deals, networking, lectures, talks and generally all things publishing. It is such an important event that nothing can get in the way of publishers, booksellers, agents and authors flocking to Earls Court … except for a volcano in Iceland erupting, resulting in a cloud of ash sweeping across Europe, closing UK airspace and grounding all flights; quite an unlikely calamity, but a reality for many exhibitors at the London Book Fair 2010.


As this was my first book fair, I have no personal grounds for comparison, but the impact of the air travel situation was evident on this year’s event. The impact was obvious in the general presence around Earls Court, which was eerily quiet and quite a contrast to the hustle and bustle I was promised. Another clear sign was the boredom of the publishers and agents, who despite preparing for back to back meetings from 9am to 5pm every day, were left sitting staring into space, roaming the stands or drinking coffee. One rights assistant from a top trade publisher told me that by midday, she had not had a single meeting and had several cancellations for the afternoon. Another representative from a medium sized trade publisher indicated that well over half of their appointments had been cancelled. London Book Fair is a chance for publishers to meet with agents and associates to build rapport and, most importantly, sell and buy rights. Normally the inhabitants of the international rights floor don’t have the chance to come up for air throughout the whole day, yet this year agents and rights executives could be seen strolling around the fair taking in the sights.


Although the turnout was terrible in comparison to predictions, the show must go on! And go on it did. Another key value of the London Book Fair is the opportunity to educate yourself in the ways of the publishing world. A wealth of talks on new products, digital development, authors and an array of topics provides the opportunity to find out exactly who’s who and what’s what in publishing. As a student, I attended a number of seminars – a talk given by a new company, Ether Mobile, was particularly interesting. The company, so it claims, is the first to develop an app with an in purchase application to buy eBooks. Whilst it is limited to short stories, poems and essays at the moment, it seems that this is the beginning of the integrated eReader device that many have predicted will change the tide of eBook sales. Presentations such as these are invaluable to students, as well as publishers, hoping to stay ahead of the rapidly changing industry.


So despite the disastrous impact the volcano had on rights sales as well as our airline industry, there were positive aspects to take away from the 2010 London Book Fair. From a student’s perspective, there were interesting talks to attend and publishers with a little more time on their hands to chat to students like myself; however, be warned that just because they have more time to talk doesn’t mean they will want to. This is a harsh lesson I learned through my experience, but of the one or two who weren’t exactly enthusiastic, there were four or five more that were more than willing to chat.


It seems the publishers’ and agents will receive a much harsher blow than I did, however. The benefits of a book fair are an opportunity that comes along only three times a year; Frankfurt Book Fair in October, Bologna in March and the London Book Fair in April. What’s more, as Bologna is dedicated to children’s publishing, publishers outside this genre can only grab this chance twice a year. Although publishers had much more time to network with those that attended, the prospect of sitting face to face with a rights buyer will not present itself again until Frankfurt book fair in October. The chance for agents, publishers and international colleagues to banter and chat beyond telephone and email may have to be scheduled independently or wait for a number of months. Whilst it is clear that the disruption to the book fair has had a great effect on publishing, only time will tell what the true impact of the events of the 2010 London Book Fair will have on the industry for the year to come.


Carmel O’Donnell is a student on the Publishing MA course at City University