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London Book Fair volcanic ash disaster

19 April 2010

The subject of this week's News Review was to have been the London Book Fair (LBF), how it has grown in importance and numbers and what its role is in relation to other international book fairs. But nature, with supreme indifference to the problems of human beings, has decreed that the volcanic eruption in Iceland should make it impossible for anyone to fly in and out of the UK. It's the worse traffic chaos since the Second World War.

As the ban on flights in most of northern Europe was first imposed and then extended, publishers from all over the world watched with incredulity as their flights were cancelled and it gradually became clear that the ban was unlikely to lift in time for people to get to the Fair. Alistair Burtenshaw, Group Exhibition Director for the London Book Fair, said: 'While I cannot pretend that this is not an unwelcome intervention to the running of the London Book Fair I also have to say that our view is that the show must - and will - go on with as much help from us as we can possibly give to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible within the circumstances.'

Some publishers from overseas have been in London for several days already, meeting agents and fellow publishers before the fair, but most will have been scheduled to travel on Saturday or Sunday to be there for the Fair's start on Monday.

The London Book Fair's Market Focus this year is on South Africa and some 52 publishers from that country were due to arrive in time for the Fair - disappointingly, many will not make it.

This year's LBF had been billed as the biggest in the fair's history. The fair management was expecting 1,672 visiting companies, 7% up on 2009, of whom around 54% would have been from overseas. A healthy number of 775 UK companies have taken stands, as against 300 expected from the US, but it looks like only British publishers will be out in force and for them it will be 'business as usual' in so far as there is anyone to do any business with.

For the key role of the biggest international book fairs is, as it always has been, subsidiary rights deals rather than straightforward selling, although a fair amount of that goes on too. Translation rights are key, with foreign publishers out in force, and the London Book Fair has now assumed a role as the spring meeting-ground for the international publishers and agents who will congregate again at the Frankfurt Book FairWorld's largest trade fair for books; held annually mid-October at Frankfurt Trade Fair, Germany; First three days exclusively for trade visitors; general public can attend last two. in October.

In particular the Fair is important for illustrated book publishers, who often need to build co-edition print runs in a range of different languages to make their books economic propositions.

Writers are not particularly encouraged to go to book fairs and they are certainly not good places to try to find a publisher, with few editors and none who are looking for unagented manuscripts. For all that , it may still be worth spending a day at London's Earl's Court next week, simply to see what the international publishing industry is doing and to get some perspective on what those rapidly inflating figures for numbers of titles published actually mean.

International Book Fairs 2010

Inside Publishing on Subsidiary Rights