Coronavirus: Reed Exhibitions’ BookExpo Issues COVID-19 Statement

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

After the late cancellation of London Book Fair due to the coronavirus, Reed says BookExpo aims for a ‘proactive and transparent’ response to the evolving COVID-19 situation.

bookexpo 2019

At BookExpo 2019. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

BookExpo: ‘Should Anything Change …’
Perhaps stung by criticism that it waited too long to cancel its 2020 London Book Fair—our main story is here—Reed Exhibitions has issued a statement in advance of New York City’s BookExpo and BookCon, asserting that the well-being of the publishing community “is of the utmost importance to us.”

BookExpo—as we’ve reported, again this year tinkering with its schedule to create a conference day on May 27 and only two exhibition days on May 28 and 29 followed by the weekend public-facing BookCon—has for years seen declining exhibitor participation and trade attendance at the Javits Center. Per its media messaging that followed closely Wednesday (March 4) on the heels of London’s shutdown, it’s working to appear informed, concerned, and forthright.

The statement reads, in part, “Many industry events outside of the United States have had to make difficult decisions about proceeding with their events. We understand the impact that has on the publishing industry and we want to be proactive and transparent about BookExpo.”

Those international events, of course, include cancellations or postponements of the Taipei International Book Exhibition (public- and industry-facing), Bologna Children’s Book Fair (industry-facing), Leipziger Buchmesse (public-facing), the Salon du Livre de Paris (public-facing) and more. Here is our full coverage of the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on all these events and others amid the virus’ outbreak here.

And Reed in the United States has genuine reason to be concerned. Below is a full-screen graphic aired at 7 a.m. ET / 10:00 GMT today (March 5) on CNN’s international transmission of its New Day programming. These are developments being tracked in the United States—from which BookExpo draws the lion’s share of its participation—this morning:

Image: CNN ‘New Day’, March 5

One Day After London’s Cancellation

Publishing people will be particularly interested in the fact that Amazon’s world headquarters in Seattle, like Facebook there, “encouraging their employees to stay home after workers for each company tested positive for the novel coronavirus.” Here’s the full report, from CNN’s Hollie Silverman and Donie O’Sullivan.

Indeed, Annie Palmer at CNBC is also reporting that Amazon’s same-day and next-day delivery services in the United States—along with those of Walmart and Instacart—may see disruption and delays as citizens prioritize online shopping over venturing out to physical stores and possible exposure to contagion.

“I will indeed miss the seven grand I dropped on stand fees, which I’m not insured for, and hotel and travel costs, etc.”London Book Fair 2020 exhibitor

Not that far from Hammersmith—where Olympia London does not have stands and pavilions being built today for London Book Fair, as would have started today in normal circumstances—London’s HSBC bank at Canary Wharf has evacuated a 100-worker floor following a coronavirus diagnosis for an analyst, per the BBC’s report. The number of UK cases at this writing has reached 90, with Scotland warning of a ‘very rapid rise” in caseloads.

Meanwhile, off San Francisco, the Grand Princess is being held off the coast by California’s government—which has declared a state of emergency—with passengers showing symptoms, according to The New York Times’ updating coronavirus news. In Berlin as in Edinburgh, authorities are warning of coming increases in caseloads. “Three of the German capital’s 13 cases could not be traced to others in the city, raising the threat of local transmission,” according to the Times.

And quickly, as of 5:20 a.m. ET / 10:20 a.m. GMT, updating figures collated by the Times from local governments, Johns Hopkins’ University’s Systems Science and Engineering center, and the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, show, in part:

  • China: 80,410 cases confirmed / 3,013 deaths
  • South Korea: 6,088 cases confirmed / 35 deaths
  • Italy: 3,089 cases confirmed / 107 deaths
  • Iran: 2,922 cases confirmed / 92 deaths
  • Japan: 1,036 cases confirmed / eight deaths
  • France: 285 cases confirmed / four deaths
  • United States 152 cases confirmed / 11 deaths
  • UK: 85 cases confirmed (BBC has 90) / no deaths

The Times’ very helpful international map and listings of cases—frequently updating—is here.

The Costs of Late Cancellation

Based on social media reactions and our own discussions with industry players, it was almost universally agreed that the London Book Fair, which usually draws some 20,000 professionals, needed to be cancelled.

There is, however, a lot of frustration among book business professionals about the RELX-owned Reed’s unwillingness to call off the show until Wednesday (March 4), when there were reports—here is the BBC’s story—that the UK government would declare the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak a “notifiable disease.” This, as the BBC reports, gives firms advantages with certain insurance contracts.

Nevertheless, some in the industry, we have found, can easily confuse the two issues under discussion:

  • The assertion that the show needed to be canceled as a best response to a rapidly spreading contagion
  • The assertion that a lack of timeliness in making such a decision can negatively impact many publishers, literary agents, vendors, and other exhibitors and attendees who are the customers of these events.

The CEO of a very prominent and respected small publishing-services company in the UK, for example—one that was scheduled to be an exhibitor this year—has perfectly captured this in her comment on a private email list among colleagues in the international publishing industry, writing:

“I am very glad that Reed cancelled, in the end (though wish they’d been more decisive, sooner), for the obvious health reasons. I will indeed miss the seven grand I dropped on stand fees, which I’m not insured for, and hotel and travel costs, etc. … Now what do I do with all these posters and stickers?”

It’s clear that £7,000 (US$9,042) is a large loss to a small publishing firm, and so, as she explains, is the chance to meet and mingle with others there to do business.

Meanwhile, the 2020 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas—an event that once had a much more robust books/publishing component than it has now—is the subject of a petition calling for its cancellation, according to reports including this one from Rebecca Flores at the ABC News affiliate KVUE. Flores’ update today has Apple, Netflix, Amazon Studios, Facebook, Intel, Mashable, Twitter, and more cancelling and more than 32,000 petitioners asking organizers to shutter the event scheduled for an opening on March 13.

The problem, of course, is causing problems for many industries, not just publishing. SXSW is issuing full-steam-ahead responses: “SXSW said it isn’t changing its stance on canceling and has continued announcing new big-name speakers,” Flores writes.

BookExpo’s Statement

It’s against this increasingly hostile environment for industry events that the BookExpo’s director for this year, Jenny Martin, has written to the show’s mailing list.

For many, the salient line comes at the end. When Martin writes, “Should anything change we will, of course, promptly keep our customers informed of the action to be taken,” does she mean a cancellation of the show could come less than a week to its opening, as happened with London this week?

More from her letter, echoing the language used in London, will sound familiar to industry professionals who are still working to cancel travel, shipping, accommodations, and other arrangements for London Book Fair:

Jennifer Martin

“BookExpo & BookCon will proceed as planned May 27-31st, 2020.

“We do not anticipate any changes or delays to our event.

“Our mission is to serve our customers as best we can, and we plan to provide a place for you to conduct business in these difficult times. The publishing industry is based on personal connections—and many rely on the important business relationships made during BookExpo.

“We will continue to be take necessary precautions to facilitate an environment for the entire community to unite, make meaningful new connections, and discover new titles.

“To prepare for BookExpo & BookCon, Reed Exhibitions and our partners are monitoring the COVID-19 virus situation daily. We are collaborating closely with the Javits Center and following guidelines and precautions suggested by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other federal, state and local government agencies, including the New York City Department of Health which provides live, daily updates.”

And even as you read, “We do not anticipate any changes or delays to our event,” a report overnight from Holly Yan and Kristina Sgueglia at CNN is headlined, “1,000 New Yorkers are being asked to self-quarantine after officials report a new cluster of coronavirus cases.”

Reed’s next test with the American and international book publishing industry, it appears, will involve just how proactive it is, should public health circumstances around BookExpo—and the much larger BookCon—shape up as they did around London Book Fair.

More from Publishing Perspectives on BookExpo is here. More from us on London Book Fair is here, and our extensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on international publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.