By Edward Nawotka
The London Book Fair, which kicks off today, certainly has a knack for timing. Last year, volcanic ash prevented a significant part of the international publishing community from making the Fair — fully 30% of registered attendees. This year, political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East and a near nuclear meltdown in Japan threaten to keep some attendees at bay.
Maybe it’s the famed British resolve or the simple fact that global events are further afield, but London Book Fair Group Exhibition Director Alistair Burtenshaw remains undaunted, upbeat even. “Our thoughts are with our friends and colleagues in Japan and we’re thinking about them at this difficult time,” he says, “and we’re very much looking forward to giving everyone a warm welcome back after last year.”
The London Book Fair has moved well beyond merely serving as a forum for selling English-language book rights to become the most important Spring book fair for the global publishing elite. “It has certainly been our experience that the international side has been growing strongly, and we’re seeing interest from all sorts of markets. This year for the first time we have a major new Turkish pavilion, we have exhibitors from Serbia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait, and we’re hosting Russia as our Market Focus, a program that has been three years in the planning and will feature more than 50 Russian authors, academics and critics.”
Burtenshaw is especially keen to highlight the second year of the Literary Translation Center, which provides a hub for translators, editors, authors, agents and publishers to network and find information about funding and grants. “It’s a real statement as to how important that is to many of us in the industry. Last year we had seven translation organizations involved and this year we have ten.”
Overall, there are more than 300 total conferences, seminars and events — enough to fill a person’s agenda for weeks, let alone three days. “That is the paradox,” acknowledges Burtenshaw, “you speak to some agents and publishers who tell you their diary is full from start to finish and they never see any of the events, and there are others who give half or more of their time to the programming.” The key, he says, is ensuring there is “great content” for all the constituencies, from translators and librarians, to journalists and publishers.
The Fair is also mirroring changes in the industry itself and just as “digital” is consuming more and more of publishers’ attention, so it is taking up space on the show floor: the LBF’s Digital Zone has more than doubled this year and is providing a forum for discussion on everything from territorial copyright issues to new digital distribution services.
“Without a doubt this year’s London Book Fair — the 40th — is a relentlessly strong program,” says Burtenshaw. “Over the past year, an opinion I’ve heard from senior people in the industry is that there’s a redefinition of what the word ‘book’ means to people,” he says. “The book is now in numerous forms and, therefore, actually what we’re talking about when we’re talking about books is the platform it’s on and the way it is delivered. It’s all the more reason for publishing professionals to come to the London Book Fair, where you can stay on top of these trends. How books are bought, sold, and marketed across the world is constantly evolving. Keeping on top of these things is what we do and,” he adds, “it’s endlessly interesting.”