Jacks Thomas Leaves the UK’s Reed Exhibitions and London Book Fair

In News by Porter Anderson

For seven years the director of London Book Fair, Jacks Thomas submitted her resignation in September and would have announced her departure at this year’s fair, if it hadn’t been canceled in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jacks Thomas

Jacks Thomas. Image: Reed Exhibitions

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

Thomas: ‘How Much the Book Fair Has Evolved’
This  morning (March 17), London Book Fair director Jacks Thomas has announced that she’ll leave her seven-year post this summer, for “a new and perhaps less frenetic life.”

The announcement, issued today by Midas PR—with which Thomas was a partner for eight years prior to her role with the trade show—says that the event’s owner and producer, Reed Exhibitions, “will announce future plans for the London Book Fair in the coming weeks.”

During her tenure, Thomas presided over the move of the 20,000-attendee trade show from Earls Court to Olympia London. One hallmark of her leadership—as discussed with Publishing Perspectives in a February interview with her—was the sense of dependability and stability she brought to publishing’s first international business show of each year.

“I did a kind of review” for this year’s programming, Thomas told us. “Seven years ago we didn’t have this, we didn’t that, we didn’t have the other. Now, we have those things. We don’t need to continually reinvent what we have to do. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'”

Those steadying rhythms of Thomas’ fair have at times contrasted with the erratic dynamics of an industry facing serious challenges, from the mushrooming competition that books face from digital entertainments to the three-year ordeal of Brexit’s uncertainty. Hers has become for many the face of the fair, smiling at the opening press conference and then grimly glancing at her notes, head down, while pressing through the crowds to get through three days of back-to-back introductions, welcomes, launches, announcements, awards and more awards.

“Together we’ve introduced a wider, more diverse and more inclusive offering at the London Book Fair, to reflect the direction of travel of the publishing industry.”Jacks Thomas

Some of Thomas’ features that London Book Fair regulars have come to recognize are the Author of the Day program, which was expanded to include an annually designated translator, illustrator, and poet. And while BookExpo in New York City—another Reed Exhibitions show—has almost entirely abandoned its cultivation of the international industry, Thomas aggressively raised the internationalist profile of London’s show, traveling as an eager participant in others’ publishing events in various parts of the world.

With the International Publishers Association, Thomas developed the annual Freedom to Publish symposium at the fair, focused on publishing under political pressures, the issues that drive the IPA’s annual Prix Voltaire program.

Last year, she expanded her public-facing London Book and Screen Week’s CAMEO awards—focused on adaptations of books to film, television, and audio—to New York’s BookExpo week, with a new Stateside edition of the audiobook award. She has worked with the Publishers Association, among other things, on the International Excellence Awards and on an inclusivity conference, held in the autumn months and geared to mesh with her emphasis on women in world publishing, something reflected in her support for Bodour Al Qasimi’s creation last year of the PublisHer program.

And as the world’s other major shows have struggled to find a meaningful answer to the needs of independent authors, Thomas created what was originally called the Author Lounge at Earl’s Court with Authoright’s programming. The effort over the years has been enhanced as Author HQ, drawing large crowds of writers at times to targeted programming and vendors in the area of Olympia London that would have shared the new Audio HQ in this year’s plans. This year was to have featured a Writers’ Summit conference in the Olympia’s Pergola facility.

London Book Fair’s Missing 49th Year

At London Book Fair 2013. Image: Porter Anderson

The show’s air of reliability and stamina appeared to be jostled this year by Reed’s uneven handling of the 2020 London Book Fair’s cancellation. The show was originally scheduled for March 10 to 12. Through no fault of Thomas or Reed, of course, the advent of the coronavirus COVID-19 in the British capital required the event to be shuttered, not only for the health of everyone involved but also because the show’s many international attendees couldn’t depend on being able to escape a long and expensive quarantine action if one were imposed by the authorities.

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But the fair didn’t go through with the cancellation until six days prior to the opening of the show, timing that would be repeated in Seattle by ReedPop’s postponement of its Emerald City Comic Con.

At this writing, the BBC’s updating report shows some public areas of London emptying out as Boris Johnson requests intensified levels of self-distancing. The New York Times‘ comprehensive updating world tallies (scroll down below the world map) were last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET / 1345 GMT today, March 16, and they put the UK’s caseload at 1,543 and deaths at 55. This places the country at 10th among the world’s current outbreaks, including mainland China.

And the fair’s chair David Roche in his statement today says, “Since submitting her resignation last September, Jacks has been working on a smooth transition with her talented team. Under her assured and innovative stewardship, LBF has become one of the biggest, most popular and productive business events in our publishing calendar.”

Thomas in her statement today speaks of having planned to announce her departure during the fair this year:

“It is of course bittersweet to be making this announcement public after 2020 LBF was canceled,” she says in her message, “instead of—as I had anticipated—during the course of another successful fair.

“Whenever I look back at the last seven years, I’m astonished by how much the book fair has evolved. I’ve had the benefit of working with the most fantastic team at Reed Exhibitions, and together we’ve introduced a wider, more diverse and more inclusive offering at the London Book Fair, to reflect the direction of travel of the publishing industry.

“I want to thank our advisory boards and committees for their input and support, and I look forward to supporting LBF’s next chapter from the sidelines as a new, and perhaps less frenetic, life beckons.”

‘A Powerful Impact on the Show’

Darren Johnson, CEO of Reed Exhibitions UK, is quoted, saying, “I’m sad to see Jacks leave Reed Exhibitions and LBF. She has certainly had a powerful impact on the show and leaves Reed Exhibitions in a great position to continue to support the industry in new and innovative ways.

“The London Book Fair is an iconic brand with a rich 50-year history that Reed Exhibitions is honored to curate and we will continue to invest and build on the great work Jacks has overseen in the last seven years.”Darren Johnson, Reed Exhibitions

“The London Book Fair is an iconic brand with a rich 50-year history that Reed Exhibitions is honored to curate and we will continue to invest and build on the great work Jacks has overseen in the last seven years.  We wish Jacks every success in her future endeavors, and I know that she’ll be cheering on all her colleagues and partners at Reed Exhibitions and London Book Fair.”

Roche says, “Since her arrival in 2013, Jacks has transformed London Book Fair. She oversaw the move from Earls Court to Olympia, and has added layer upon layer of content. Keeping relentless focus on the business-to-business elements that lie at the heart of the fair, she has attracted many new exhibitors and new countries. She has expanded elements such as the Literary Translation Center and the Author HQ and her creation of London Book and Screen Week has provided a showcase for the UK’s creative talent.”

And for the internationalist element, the British Council’s director for literature, Cortina Butler, is quoted, saying, “Jacks Thomas has brought characteristic flair and game-changing ideas to London Book Fair and it has been a pleasure to work with her and her team on the Market Focus program.

“Jacks’ passion and personal commitment to developing new markets have underpinned the partnership between LBF and the British Council and strengthened a unique platform for developing cultural connections and closer links between publishers worldwide. We wish her well.”

Thomas began her work at the BBC before moving into publishing, at Victor Gollancz, Michael Joseph, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins before going to Reader’s Digest, where she oversaw a relaunch of the brand in 2001. She was made the company’s director of communications for Europe.

During her eight years at Midas, today’s media messaging says, she “worked with and hosted in her various roles Malorie Blackman, Julian Fellowes, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Horowitz, Peter James, Judith Kerr, Marian Keyes, Michael Morpurgo, David Nicholls, Michael Palin, Lesley Pearse, Terry Pratchett, Elif Shafak, Witcher author Andrzej Sapkowski, Joanna Trollope, and Jacqueline Wilson.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on Jacks Thomas is here, more from us on London Book Fair is here, and more on the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency 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.com, 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.