London Book Fair’s New Director Gareth Rapley: ‘A Rich History’

In News by Porter Anderson

The new director of London Book Fair, Gareth Rapley talks about the trade show ahead in mid-April and its place in the industry.

Gareth Rapley. Image: RX, Reed Exhibitions

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

One Month Out: Trade Visitors Become Focused
As the world publishing industry moves past the unusually robust energy of the 2023 Bologna Children’s Book Fair with its record number of exhibitors, attention of course now is turning to London Book Fair (April 18 to 20).

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, Gareth Rapley is in his first year as director of the program. He succeeds Andy Ventris, who was in the directorial role for one year following the seven-year tenure of Jacks Thomas.

And in fact, Rapley—whose previous work has taken him from GovNet in London to exhibition work in Abu Dhabi and Dubai—shares with Publishing Perspectives in an interview that he knows what it is to share an industry’s calendar with competing events, as happens, at times frenetically, in international book publishing.

“Most people, three months before an event,” he says, “will start to take notice. Exhibitors will have to be really focusing on their stand plans at that point. But more so, it’s the month before the event”—just about now, in the case of the 2023 London show—”is when most people will go, ‘Right, I’m now fully focused.’ They’ve got their business happening on a day-to-day basis, and fairs happening all around the world.”

So while any show director would love to have everyone “focused on my fair 365 days a year,” he says, that just isn’t the reality of industries that traditionally see large-scale professional gatherings as integral to their business and culture, as in publishing.

Indeed, as we’ve pointed out recently, something like a comet swinging startlingly close to Earth will occur in publishing next year, when the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and Bologna Book Plus run April 8 to 11 and London Book Fair is to follow on April 16 to 18.

Olympia London’s Redevelopment Continues

A developer’s rendering of the renovated Olympia London complex, which Gareth Rapley says may reach a point at which London Book Fair can benefit from its amenities in 2025. Image: Olympia London

For this year, more emphasis may be, again, on the redevelopment underway of the Olympia London complex. That project eventually will see two hotels on-site, a large number of cafés and restaurants anticipated, although Rapley estimates that it will be in 2025 when “we can begin starting to take advantage of these benefits.

“In the interim, we’re constrained in our space and our ability to grow,” he says, “but the building works aren’t impacting in any way the delivery of the show overall. It’s just hampering our space availability. Different rooms we’ve had before currently are out of action as different stages of the project continue to work through.”

The show’s international rights center will once again be on ground floor, and Rapley sees that as an advantage.

“I’ve heard nothing but good feedback about the rights center being next to publishers,” he says, “because that can have a huge impact on people’s time.” A meeting on a stand is far easier to get to for agents based in the rights center, for example, in closer format.

London Book Fair’s Mission

At London Book Fair 2022. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

When Rapley looks at the mission of London Book Fair in the unique book publishing market of the United Kingdom, he does it through the lens of other fairs he’s directed and worked on in other industries.

“What are the needs, what’s keeping people awake at night, what are the opportunities, where is the industry heading?”Gareth Rapley, London Book Fair

“London Book Fair has a rich history,” he says. “And it’s that essential spring chapter for the industry in the global marketplace; it’s for the industry to get together. It’s across that value chain of the book industry itself,  so it plays an important part” as a place “for the industry to get together, hold different conversations, really focusing on sales, rights, licensing, and content across different platforms.

“When I look at what our role is, as organizers of London Book Fair, it’s really about understanding the industry. What are the needs, what’s keeping people awake at night, what are the opportunities, where is the industry heading? I feel fortunate in my role to be able to speak to so many people to try to understand their needs, the needs of their organizations and of their members and collective groups, effectively, to try to ask what we need to do to reflect that in the short, medium, and long term?”

One of the key elements of this year’s programming, Rapley says, is a new “sustainability hub,” produced in cooperation with some Elsevier players familiar to our readers—Michiel Kolman and Rachel Martin, respectively the company’s senior vice-president for research networks and global director for sustainability.

This part of the programming, he says, is set up with what may be shorter, more tightly timed sessions than are common in the seminar program overall. “Maybe sessions of 30  minutes, or so,” he says, “which might be case studies or workshops, extra content from companies who sponsor”—discussions with societies, associations, groups like the United Nations, and areas like children’s publishing, supply chain, transportation, so many areas are there to be focused in on.

“I’ve seen examples of this in the last year in my sphere in the event space,” in which sustainability issues have loomed large, of course. “Different organizations are at different places in their journey in sustainability.”

We’ll have more information soon on the “sustainability hub” concept along with other elements of London’s programming.

While many things in any industry’s set of challenges aren’t controllable, Rapley says, “What we can try to do is get the right people” on a given topic, “and get them into the right place” to help explore and illuminate the issues at hand.

“We’ve got lots of things in place already,” Gareth Rapley, “and looking forward to delivering this event, I think we’re in a good place.”

A programming note: At London Book Fair (April 18 to 20), Publishing Perspectives will moderate a special main-stage examination of “Copyright in a Global Context: Current Threats and Emerging Issues.”

The session is set for 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. on April 18, and will feature:

More from Publishing Perspectives on copyright and its protection is here, more on the World Intellectual Property Organization is here, more on the Association of American Publishers is here, more on the Authors Guild is here, and more on the Independent Book Publishers is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on London Book Fair is here, more on rights trading in the international marketplace is here, more on licensing is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market 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.