March 6, 2020

London Book Fair cancellation highlights need for IRL meetings


LBF 2020: off. (Arielinson / WikiCommons, under CC BY-SA)

On Wednesday it was announced—after much speculation, and a raft of major publisher withdrawals—that the London Book Fair, scheduled for March 10th-12th, would not be going ahead.

In an announcement via Twitter, organiser Reed Exhibitions said the fair had been cancelled “following the escalation of COVID-19 Coronavirus in Europe.” The Leipzig Buchmesse in Germany, also scheduled for next week, was cancelled on Tuesday for the same reason. Major public events across Europe, including the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy and the enormous engineering expo Hannover Messe, have also been postponed as a result of concerns over the virus.

Publishing / book people are, according to all the clichés, introverts who shun social events and would much prefer to be cooped up by themselves either reading or writing (emails). And while that may be… partially true, I can’t have been the only one this week lamenting the LBF cancellation—not only for business reasons, but because it represents a yearly opportunity to simply catch up with people. In other words, where am I to drink cheap white wine from a plastic cup at 4:30pm on a Tuesday now?

There’s a reassuringly simple rhythm to the European publishing year: London in Spring; Frankfurt in Autumn. If you’re not at one, you’re at the other—and until recently, most attended both. And while it’s true that much of what goes on at rights fairs can also be done via email nowadays (as many of us are finding out the hard way), they serve another important function: they give the industry a chance to speak out loud to itself; to foster relationships and friendships; to spark ideas. None of which can truly be achieved via a dodgy video conference connection (with apologies to everyone setting those up as we speak!).

So while international travel—and therefore face-to-face interaction—is rightly an area of concern at present, we must all cross our freshly-washed fingers and hope for normal service to be resumed as soon as possible. Because this is not only an industry about words; it is also about people.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.