Coronavirus: Singapore’s Fest Postpones; Rathbones’ Prize Is Digital; Javits as a Hospital

In News by Porter Anderson

The COVID-19 pandemic’s rapid expansion prompts the cancellation of the 2020 Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, and the UK Rathbones Folio Prize ceremony goes online.

A shot from March 9 at Singapore’s Mustafa Center, a shopping complex on Syed Alwi Road in the Kallang district. Image – iStockphoto: Rajaraman Arumugam

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

Javits Center to House Multiple Hospitals
Faced with hourly jumps in national and regional caseloads of the coronavirus COVID-19–and, in too many places, new reports of death—world publishing continues to react and adapt, sometimes with more grace than others.

On Sunday (March 22), for example, it was revealed in a news conference with Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, that the Jacob Javits Center in New York City is expected to house not only a 1,000-bed hospital built by the Army Corps of Engineers but also four 250-bed federal hospitals to be created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Time is of the essence, as New York City and its suburbs now account for some 5 percent of the world’s cases, according to a report from Jesse McKinley at The New York Times.

Image: New York State Office of the Governor, CBS News

Normally the site of the annual BookExpo trade show and public-facing BookCon in late May, the Javits now is to be transitioned to duty more akin to that of ocean liners converted to troop carrier in wartime. As Publishing Perspectives reported Thursday, BookExpo now has been moved to the latter part of July. And it’s by no means a certainty that the event can be held then.

The logic is obvious, of course, in conscripting a vast facility like the Javits for such a purpose—with ready services, climate control, lighting, and other needs. And the fact that the state basically is taking the venue off the table for use in its response to a public health emergency puts the announcement of a postponement by Reed Exhibitions into a clearer light beyond the company’s statement of a request from authorities about crowd size.

The situation for New York, where much of the United States’ publishing industry is centered, looks increasingly difficult. At this writing, trackers cite 15,168 cases in New York, with 122 deaths, per the Times‘ updates. The next state for rates of infection is New Jersey, with 1,914 cases and 20 deaths.

Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content: Postponed

At the 2019 Asian Festival of Children’s Content. Image: AFCC

The 11th edition of the Singapore Asian Festival of Children’s Content, a major annual Southeast Asia industry event in children’s books, was originally scheduled for May 28 to 31.

Organizers tell us this morning that the new dates are October 3 to 4.

The show is always accompanied by an exhibition of illustration, as is the custom in most children’s book programming, and this year’s Book Illustrators’ Gallery is expected to be held June 1 to 30 at Singapore’s beautiful National Library Building in Victoria Street. The hope seems to be that the exhibition can go forward as scheduled.

William Phuan

In a prepared statement, William Phuan, president of the Singapore Book Council, is quoted, saying, “Ensuring the health and safety of our speakers, audience members and staff was our first priority, hence we made the decision to postpone AFCC,” says William Phuan, Executive Director of the Singapore Book Council.

“However, in view of the COVID-19 situation and how it has disrupted book fairs and events all over the world, we also wanted to use this opportunity to rethink and refresh AFCC. Hence, we are looking at how to leverage technology to take parts of the festival online or digital like live streaming, and still engage the community in a safe and accessible way.”

With its 2020 theme being “Voyages,” the festival is anticipated to be presented in a “scaled down version.

“Attendees can expect some of the festival’s sessions to be available online or on digital platforms,” organizers say, “in the form of webinars and live-streamed talks.

“This will ensure that the festival will still be accessible to attendees who may not be able to physically take part. The full program and new venue of AFCC will be announced at a later date.”

The company’s note about attendees who may not be able to make the October dates is sensible, considering that Frankfurter Buchmesse, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, is set for October 14 to 18 this year, and many who participate in the Singapore event are also regulars at Frankfurt.

In terms of the contagion, Singapore has been widely praised for an aggressive viral tracking system, credited with helping to limit the rate of transmission. You can learn more about this–and controversy around the “Big Brother” concerns around its TraceTogether tracking system—in a new report from Jonathan Swan and Sam Baker at Axios.

The Times’ updates gives Singapore 455 cases and two deaths in the most recent update at 8:09 a.m. ET (1209 GMT).

UK Rathbones Folio Prize Program: Digital

As we’ve reported, the UK’s Rathbones Folio Prize awards program, set originally for tonight (March 24) in London at the British Library, but the organization expects to offer “written contributions and presentations live on Twitter”—the handle is @RathbonesFolio—and at the program’s site tonight at 7 p.m. GMT. BBC Radio 4 is to announce the winner on Front Row during the hour.

In a prepared statement, the award program’s director Minna Fry is quoted, saying, “As the world collapses around us, it’s been quite a challenge to keep up with the pace of change, but we were determined to find a way to go ahead, to celebrate the eight brilliant shortlisted authors and to reward the book our judges considered the very best of the year.

“Thanks to the great support of Waterstones and the British Library, and a hefty marketing spend, we hope that news of the winner will reach a wider audience than ever before, and we urge everyone to support us in this endeavor by following and retweeting wherever we pop up on social media. These eight wonderful books really can help stave off the anxiety in these uncertain times by transporting you to other worlds.”

The world is not, in fact, collapsing, of course, although the distress and unease created by the pandemic and its terrible loss of life can be very frightening. And Fry’s comment does raise an interesting point not always conceded by paper-fond book fans: digital distribution of anything offers vastly greater reach potential than in-person events (and tangible formats).

As part of the programming this evening, Waterstones is to offer “500 people currently self-isolating”—it’s not clear how they are to be identified as such—”the chance to win a copy of the winning book, which will be delivered to them at home.

“Further giveaways and competitions,” according to media messaging, “are being offered to independent bookshops including The Big Green Bookshop’s #BuyAStrangerABook Twitter initiative, Lutyens and Rubinstein in London, and Mainstreet Trading Company in the Scottish borders.”

Jurors for the award this year are poet and nonfiction writer Paul Farley; novelist Nikita Lalwani; and author Ross Raisin.

 Rathbones Folio Prize 2020 Shortlist

  • Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson (PRH/Cape)
  • On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming (PRH/Chatto)
  • Constellations by Sinead Gleeson (Picador)
  • Victory by James Lasdun (PRH/Cape)
  • The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (Granta)
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (4th Estate)
  • Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni (Scribe)
  • Grand Union by Zadie Smith (PRH/Hamish Hamilton)
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  • Publishing and the coronavirus
  • Richard Charkin’s view of key industry challenges
  • China’s growing comic book market
  • Brussels Book Fair debuts its rights center
  • Eksmo CEO Evgeny Kapyev on Russia’s book market
  • Matchmaking for publishers and producers in Latin America
  • Book market data
  • A world tour of copyright developments
  • Translation sales resulting from Norway’s Frankfurter Buchmesse guest of honor program
  • An AI startup creating interactive stories
  • An interview with author Andrew Keen

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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.