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The London Book Fair comes of age

22 March 2004

Starting off as a fair for small publishers, it has gradually grown into the international fair we have today. Now it's so successful on a global scale that it's been able to drop the word 'international' from its name and become known simply as the 'London Book Fair'.

Visitor numbers this year reached 14,572, up 7% on 2003. But visitors from overseas jumped by a third to account for nearly half the total. The figures exclude exhibitors, but exhibitor numbers were also up 7%. This was also the year when it finally changed for good from a UK booksellers' fair into a truly international and rights-focused event. Table numbers in the International Rights Centre were up by 15% on 2003.

As well as being attractive to many European publishers, London is an easy place for American publishers to get to. The Fair is small, compact and relatively short, all of which are benefits for those trying to do business there. And this year the aisles were buzzing, as busy as they've ever been. Although big books were not being bought and sold, this was the kind of fair where a lot of solid business was done with buyers and sellers from around the world.

The programme included many free seminars and other events for publishers, booksellers and others in the book business, such as the Masterclasses for writers, all of which contributed to the level of interest and the attraction of the event.

The London Book Fair benefits from the fact that London is an international city which people enjoy visiting, where the native language is English, now effectively the lingua franca of publishing. But the other key factor is timing - the LBF is conveniently placed as a spring fair six months away from Frankfurt. It's also at a time when the only real competition, the American BookExpo, is thought to be too focused on American publishing and also too expensive to get to.