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'Two upbeat and lively book fairs'

21 April 2008

April has seen two big book fairs, the Bologna Children's Book Fair and the London Book Fair.

Bologna was buoyant this year, with demand for rights in good projects strong internationally and the East European and Asian publishers proving keen customers.

Fiction is still a very strong genre, with increasing interest in horror, described as 'the new fantasy'. Non-fiction is holding up well however, with solid business on a large number of projects.

Publishers had selected only their best picture books to take to the Fair and interest in them was stimulated by the announcement by the UK Children's Laureate Michael Rosen of the results of The Big Picture, Booktrust's campaign to find the UK's 10 best illustrators. British publishers have long been known for their terrific picture books, and this showed that the recent downturn in international demand for picture books may be past, although only the very best projects are selling.

Two high-profile launches showed the way the children's market is going. Scholastic announced its 39 Clues, a 'ground-breaking' ten-book series for 8-12 year-olds teamed with an elaborate online game and sets of cards packaged in book form. HarperCollins presented Bella Sara, a horse-fantasy property for girls. The cards and website launched last year, and it already has 2 million registered online users. Digital innovation was also in evidence in the new e-book playbook for Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler's Room on the Broom, which delivers a 'slightly animated' story with audio and three games.

The London Book Fair also had an upbeat feeling. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a surprise visit to the Fair and pointed out that Britain's creative industries represent 8% of the economy and are growing at twice the rate of the economy as a whole. Margaret Hodge, the UK Culture Minister, took part in a seminar and praised publishing as 'our most robust creative industry'.

There weren't many signs of the credit crunch hitting the book world, although the pace of company acquisitions seems to have slowed down at present. With the added impetus of a series of seminars organised by Publishing News, digitisation was the theme of the Fair, with a strong feeling that the tipping point for the e-book may be close. The major publishers are investing heavily in digitisation and increasingly promoting their books online, with a blurring of roles between publisher and bookseller.

Co-edition sales held up surprisingly well, although traditionally important markets such as the US and Western Europe were weaker, being offset by strongly developing markets in Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Far East.

In summary, these were two lively and upbeat book fairs, showing that the global book business is in surprisingly strong shape. Authors can take heart from this, and from the traditional view that books do well in recession, providing a relatively cheap form of entertainment. However there's no doubt that it remains hard for new authors to find a publisher, unless their work seems destined for the bestseller lists.

The Big Picture