At London Book Fair: A Busy, Upbeat Opening Day

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 2024 London Book Fair opens with busy, boisterous trade-meeting energy and a new emphasis on programming.

Meetings on the Bloomsbury stand at London Book Fair on March 12. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Rapley: ‘Global Publishing All Under One Roof’
Tuesday’s (March 12) opening of the 2024 London Book Fair was a cheerfully noisy affair, boisterously loud with one-on-one meetings, both in the show’s roughly 500-table International Rights Center and in the stands’ business seating.

A messy March-morning rain soaked the glassed ceilings of Olympia London’s Grand Hall and National Hall, but the book business was dry and high on energy inside, not only with the fast changeovers of busy trade meetings but also with what appeared to be an unusual interest in the programming that show director Gareth Rapley and conference manager Mariana Barrios have created this week.

New this year is a curated set of events in a new, enclosed 170-seat Main Stage theater, as well as in the more familiar settings of the Sustainability Hub (inaugurated in 2023), the Literary Translation Center, the International Markets Theater, the Focus Theater, the English PEN Salon, and several other spaces. And especially foresightful is an overflow seating area where those who can’t get a seat in a Main Stage event can watch from seating near the Focus Theater with headsets for audio and a screened live feed of a given event.

Gareth Rapley

Rapley, rightfully picking up on the big energy in these huge rooms, says, “What an amazing opening day of LBF. It’s been brilliant seeing global publishing all under one roof and the excitement in the room has been so great to see. the buzz has been incredible.”

From our International Author of the Day, Taylor Jenkins Reid, to the Selfie Awards and incredible talks from authors including Gavin Esler, Lemn Sissay, Kit de Waal, and Joe Haddow, it’s been an incredible first day. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back across the next two days.

While it would be good to have some first-day attendance figures (Publishing Perspectives has requested this), the sense among many of the most seasoned trade-show veterans here is that this is a decidedly robust start to this industry-facing show, which normally may draw between 25,000 and 30,000 professional attendees.

Keep in mind that London Book Fair has been repositioned on the calendar this year and for the foreseeable future.

Having effectively traded places on the March-April calendar with Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 8 to 11), the plan is to continue to see London Book Fair in March each year as the first of the world’s major international publishing trade shows, followed in April by the Bologna fair and its two associated parallel brand-extension events, Bologna Book Plus and Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids.

While this can help provide the industry with some much-needed breathing room between the demands of London and Bologna, it also places special expectations on the London show, both in terms of programming (the recognition of key trends and issues in a new year) and internationalism.

The Home Market and Its International Reach

In the new enclosed 170-seat Main Stage space at the London Book Fair on March 12, Simon & Schuster author Taylor Jenkins Reid, the 2024 fair’s first ‘Author of the Day,’ in conversation with Leo Teti. Image: LBF

This year, there’s perhaps a bit of a vacuum where a “Market Focus” on a given international market might have been—the traditional London edition of a guest-of-honor market.

On the other hand, these deftly programmed stages with their canny use of overflow seating for the hot topics of the new Main Stage space are helping to emphasize the international importance this year of topics including artificial intelligence; sustainability; diversity in publishing; data cultivation and deployment; innovation; translation; and other high-priority points of emphasis.

A new clarity of interests is one benefit of this year’s program, as well, and that has to do with the host market and its big industry’s interests (helpfully and newly explicated by the Publishers Association’s positioning of the UK industry’s £11 billion economic impact and export power), and by the sheer array of business energy in the international corps of book publishing’s business leadership on hand.

“We need to address publishers’ concerns, so the industry can thrive and continue to contribute to the wider success of the UK’s creative industries.”Sir Chris Bryant

For the home market, Rapley is careful to point out the strong showing of prominent authors whose activities comprise a major part of the fair’s character.

“From our International Author of the Day, Taylor Jenkins Reid,” he says, “to the Selfie Awards [a self-publishing program] and incredible talks from authors including Gavin Esler, Lemn Sissay, Kit de Waal, and Joe Haddow, it’s been an incredible first day.”

No one has a problem with the promotion of authors at the fair, of course, and yet, for the international book business at policy levels, it may be more important to have seen Sir Chris Bryant, the shadow creative industry digital minister for the UK, visit London Book Fair on its first day, and say, in part, that the book publishing sector “is a huge driver of economic growth in the UK and we are proudly the largest exporter of books in the world.

“We need to address publishers’ concerns,” Bryant said, “so the industry can thrive and continue to contribute to the wider success of the UK’s creative industries.”

Without being mired in one market’s partisan view or another, many of the world publishing industry’s professional attendees this week are talking about issues that clearly help explain how book publishing in so many markets of the world now stands a bit closer these days to political dynamics than it has in some years past.

The freedom to publish and the freedom of expression that the book business champions and safeguards couldn’t be more important than they are during an era in which many democratic and internationalist values are being tested.

Seeing high-profile members of a government of the importance of the UK’s talking up the value of its book business does not stop at Dover. The kind of worldview an increasingly globalized industry like publishing thrives on starts with these one-on-one meetings and then is propelled into the service of many, many markets’ book businesses when staged and seen here in London.

This is an international trade show operating as a handsome display of the home market and a fine source of key policy and issue signals to the international community.

The German Pavilion, Ingram Content Group, and other international stands and trade visitors on March 12, Day One on the 2024 London Book Fair exhibition floor. Image: LBF

More on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here, more on the international book publishing industry’s trade shows and book fairs is here, more on the UK’s Publishers Association is here, and more on London Book Fair is here.

More of our coverage of the 2024 London Book Fair:

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.