London Book Fair 2021: Final Decision in Mid-April

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Organizers of the show, which normally features extensive international participation, say they’re assessing ‘ongoing uncertainty around travel’ for its late-June dates.

Olympia London’s Grand Hall on opening day of London Book Fair 2019, Market Focus Indonesia was that year’s guest of honor market program. Image: London Book Fair

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

See also: Bologna Children’s Book Fair’s early announcements of 2021 features

‘Currently Planning for All Scenarios’ June 29 to July 1
Amid many questions of “will it happen or not?” organizers of London Book Fair have announced this morning (March 31) that “Due to ongoing uncertainty around international travel,” plans for the trade show “are still in the process of being determined, with a final decision about the Fair’s format to be announced mid-April.”

Georgette Heyer

The announcement points up the tight spot in which both London and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair are in, both having moved to June dates in hopes of staging physical programs.

As many in the much-traveled international industry can tell you, the decision to journey to and from a trade show–let alone whether to send staff members and/or have a physical stand–is neither easy nor inexpensive. And in March 2020, London Book Fair was caught in the fast-rising onset of the first major outbreaks. A decision to cancel the 2020 show came only six days before the event was to have opened at Olympia London.

Clearly, Reed Exhibitions is working to give its trade show customers a far earlier understanding of the prospects for the hoped-for physical iteration. But the Johnson administration’s ability to maintain its originally fast vaccine rollout has been hampered in recent weeks with issues including delayed shipments of vaccine from India; lower-than-expected output of vaccines from the Oxford/AstraZeneca program; and supply difficulties triggering disputes with the European Union.

As Reuters’ London staff writes, “More than 30 million Britons have received their first COVID-19 shots in the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, with the aim of offering shots to all adults by the end of July. However, Britain has found itself involved in a public spat with the European Union, where the vaccination program has been much slower, over the supply of doses.”

The report also points out, “Britain has agreed [to] deals to buy tens of millions of shots from a number of suppliers and on Monday [March 30], GlaxoSmithKline announced details of plans for the final part of the manufacturing process for up to 60 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine for use in Britain.”

All of this does leave the prospects for traveling into the UK in late June in question. Official UK government guidance is here and includes current requirements of a pre-travel COVID-19 test, a 10-day quarantine on arrival in England, and two coronavirus tests in-country, with variances. “What you need to do depends on where you travel in the 10 days before you arrive in England,” as the guidance puts it. There is a “red list travel ban” on certain countries, updated as recently as March 19.

Another concern, of course, lies in the rise of fast-moving “variants”–mutations–in the originally identified SARS-CoV-2 pathogen. The “race to vaccinate” refers to the fact that each time the virus infects a new person it can create a mutation. As in the case of the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the UK, these mutations can be more transmissible and dangerous than the original. Slowing down the jumps from host to host, therefore, has become a universal imperative. Vaccine procurement, production, distribution, is now the currency of the future.

Ventris: ‘A Very Fluid Situation’

The floor of London Book Fair at the Olympia London complex, 2017. Image: Porter Anderson

In a prepared statement, London Book Fair director Andy Ventris is quoted, saying, “The past year has presented challenges unlike any other, and we are having to respond to a very fluid situation both here in the United Kingdom and internationally.

Andy Ventris

“We promised to update the trade about plans for the 2021 fair by the end of March. Given the continuing uncertainty around international travel, we are currently planning for all scenarios and will update with a final decision in mid-April.

“We continue to closely monitor the situation on a daily basis, and are in constant communication with our stakeholders and our Advisory Board so that we can reflect their views and support the trade as best possible in these difficult circumstances.

“I’d like to thank the publishing community for its ongoing support.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the show–normally the first major trade show of the world publishing industry in a given year–was moved from its standard March dates to early summer, now set for June 29 to July 1.

In its brief note to news media this morning, the show adds, “Currently, the UK government plans to lift all lockdown restrictions in England from 21 June.”

And the show, which is produced by Reed Exhibitions, confirms, “LBF will return to its usual Spring dates in 2022.”

The Coronavirus in the United Kingdom

At this writing, the 4:27 a.m. ET (0924 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 4,355,867 cases in the UK’s population of 67 million people, with its 126,912 deaths making it the fifth highest nation for fatalities in the world after the United States, Brazil, Mexico, and India.

In Europe, the UK no longer has the highest caseload, France having pulled ahead with 4,646,125 cases. Internationally, the United Kingdom has the sixth highest caseload after the States, Brazil, India, France, and Russia.

Many of our colleagues in the United Kingdom are understandably encouraged by the first moves in the Johnson team’s efforts to start easing long-running confinements and restrictions. On Monday, citizens were allowed to gather in groups of up to six people outdoors. Johnson, himself, though, has warned that in the past, the UK’s faithful efforts to mitigate spread have seen new rises of infection after a time lag.

As Mark Landler and Stephen Castle write in London for The New York Times, however, “The good news in Britain came with a caveat: Europe’s ‘third wave’ of infections could yet sweep across the English Channel and wash away its hard-won gains. For all of Britain’s success with vaccines, experts warn that without a total ban on travel, no country can be truly immune from another outbreak.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on London Book Fair is here, more from us on book fairs is here, more on the UK market is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic 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.