London Shines a Light on the Role of Book Fairs

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

imagesWith the new venue of Olympia, this year’s London Book Fair was of particular interest. I had a word with myself an hour in, acknowledging that publishers hate change, so stop moaning that things weren’t where you expected them to be. Thereafter (and a slightly confusing numbering system aside), it was a great event.

One reason it worked well was a simple one: light. The natural daylight made everything seem a bit brighter and shinier and memories of Earls Court darker and dated in comparison. While it was nice to not feel like I had been underground for 72 hours, the changed attendance of the fair was also noticeable.

There is no getting away from the fact traditional footfall at the major book fairs has shrunk dramatically. The tightening of belts due to publishing changes and global recession as well as the ease with which work can be done online across the world have together led to companies reducing their budgets for book fairs and sending fewer staff to them.

As a result, the key international book fairs have been busy reinventing themselves and evolving their offerings. This year’s London Book Fair saw a full seminar schedule—we at IPR License spoke at eight different seminars—as well as a broadening of subjects and of the type of attendees.

I spoke at sessions looking at specific international markets and cross-sector licensing. The accompanying London Book and Screen Week demonstrated the increased interest in cross-sector collaboration, a very exciting prospect in today’s creative industries.

While I don’t believe a book fair has quite cracked the right fit for the booming self-published sector, London Book Fair’s Author HQ was packed for the full three days. And there was a large number of technology companies present, all competing to demonstrate what they could offer to the book industry.

In the globally-connected, 24/7 world we now work in,  book fairs are also recognizing the need to do business on more than a handful of days each year. There are now events spread throughout the calendar under the same brand, as book fairs look for their key event to be the pinnacle of their year-long programming rather than their sole presence.

And it is not only the London Book Fair that is showing this appetite for evolution. Now that BookExpo America has added BookCon, it’s developed into a key consumer event with queues last year around the block for some the highest profile authors. Frankfurt Book Fair has strengthened its global brand with a network of events around the world. It is now not just about Germany in October but a truly international presence demonstrating the enduring importance of face-to-face meetings in the publishing industry.

So it is a very interesting time for book fairs, which are quickly embracing new ideas and concepts to underline their role in today’s book market. In addition to places to build existing contacts and to find new ones, they are also points in the calendar that shine a light on all that is changing and developing in the publishing industry.

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Expert Publishing Blog
Tom Chalmers

About Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He started his first company in 2005 when aged 25, Legend Press, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. Chalmers subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing, and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections, respectively. He also founded IPR License in 2012, a global rights licensing platform, which he sold in 2016. He has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. He also speaks regularly on publishing and business and is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

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