London Book Fair: Adam Ridgway Replaces Gareth Rapley

In Feature Articles, Opinion & Commentary by Porter Anderson

The change of top leadership by the trade show’s parent company RX will give London Book Fair its third director in four years.

Adam Ridgway, left, and Gareth Rapley

Editor’s note: The news of Gareth Rapley’s replacement by Adam Ridgway at London Book Fair has been embargoed by the show’s producer RX until 00:01 BST Friday (April 19). The timestamp you see on the original edition of our story complies with that embargo: 7:01 p.m. in the Eastern time zone in which this story was published is 00:01 a.m. BST, British Summer Time.

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

Rapley: ‘A Privilege To Be a Part of the Book Industry’
In an announcement that will catch some members of the world book publishing industry by surprise, the parent company of London Book Fair has announced that the fair’s two-year director Gareth Rapley is being replaced by Adam Ridgway.

Reed Editions, called RX, writes in its embargoed media messaging that Rapley is “stepping away from the role and moving to a new position in RX. He will be replaced by Adam Ridgway, who will move into the role with immediate effect, working with Gareth for the next two months to ensure a smooth transition.”

The move will give London Book Fair its third director in four years:

  • Jacks Thomas announced the end 0f her seven-year tenure in 2020, her anticipated final fair scuttled by the onset in the British capital of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Andy Ventris replaced Thomas, but only for one year.
  • Gareth Rapley then led the program through last year’s and this year’s two post-pandemic cycles of growth in a shrinking space, as Olympia London’s years-long extensive redevelopment tightened the square-footage of the trade show.

While it’s impossible to know in advance, of course, how a specific director’s arrival or departure may affect the fortunes and quality of a given trade show or book fair, it’s generally agreed among many in the business that a director who is in place for some time has a chance to learn her or his market and to build trust with industry leadership. One- and two-year stints can be assumed not to provide much opportunity for such relationship development, especially in an industry and culture as complex and layered as the United Kingdom’s trade book publishing industry and the UK”s international sister markets which play a strong role at London Book Fair.

Ridgway: ‘Some Incredibly Positive Feedback’

Rapley, RX says, next returns to the energy sector in which he’d been engaged for RX prior to taking on the publishing trade show. He’ll be the RX energy sector’s portfolio manager.

In an interesting parallel, Ridgway is said by RX to have “lived and worked in the Middle East, and has recently relocated back to the UK with his wife and two daughters—a pathway that Rapley followed, himself, to the London show directorship.

Rapley is quoted, saying, “It has been a fantastic two years as director of LBF, in which time it has been a privilege to be a part of the book industry and meet many of the incredible champions of reading and literacy from around the world, that make the industry such a unique and creative place.

“I leave LBF knowing that it is in a strong position, having continued to bounce back strongly after the pandemic. I have worked with Adam for several years and I know that he will bring a huge amount to the role.”

Related article: ‘London Book Fair Closes, Citing 30,000+ Attendees.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Indeed, Rapley leaves with a 30,000+ trade-visitor attendance figure for this year’s show last month, marking a return for the industry-facing trade show’s attendance on a part with pre-pandemic levels. The show was reported by RX to have had more than 1,000 exhibitors.

Ridgway is being introduced by RX as ” an experienced events leader, having spent the last 36 years working for some of the largest and leading conference and exhibition organizers. His career has seen him work in both B2B and B2C events across multiple industry sectors including energy, jewelry, chemicals, and broadcasting, ranging from small scale conference-led events with 1,000 attendees up to large scale shows attracting 130,000 attendees in countries as diverse as Canada, Malaysia, Bahrain, and Norway.

“He has benefited from international experience, having previously lived, and worked in the Middle East, and has recently relocated back to the UK with his wife and two daughters.”

In his statement, Ridgway gets ahead of the venue-redevelopment problem, which of course no show director can fix. It’s reported that there are at least two more years of the project’s impact on London Book Fair ahead.

Ridgway is quoted, saying that he is “excited to be stepping into the role of LBF director” and that he wants “to pay tribute to what Gareth has achieved over the past couple of years.

“This year’s fair received some incredibly positive feedback from both visitors and exhibitors,” Ridgway says, “with attendance growing to more than 33,000. I know there is still work to be done as the Olympia redevelopment continues apace until its conclusion in 2026, which will present many opportunities for the future of the fair.

“I look forward to meeting colleagues across the industry, keeping dialogue open, and understanding more about how we can deliver even better value for the industry year-on-year.”

David Roche

The affable David Roche, who chairs the London Book Fair advisory board, has been quoted this evening, saying, “I’m sure that I speak for the London Book Fair advisory board when I say we will miss working with Gareth and in congratulating him for his move up to becoming a portfolio director at RX.

“It has been wonderful to see LBF restored to its pre-pandemic performance and taking its rightful place as the must-attend event in the publishing calendar. “We welcome Adam Ridgway to the role and are confident that RX’s and Adam’s experience will ensure the requisite consistency and continuity as we move ahead with LBF.”

And Kerry Prince, RX UK’s managing director, says, “With more than half a century of distinguished history and widely recognized as one of the key events in the international book industry’s calendar, London Book Fair is responsible for setting the tone and agenda for the industry discussions that take place the rest of the year.

Kerry Prince

“Gareth has expertly led two very successful editions alongside the rest of the LBF team, creating a positive impact by working closely with the industry. We are excited to see his continued growth within RX.

“Drawing on decades of experience in event management across multiple sectors, we’re delighted that Adam will steer LBF through the next phase of its evolution, working closely with the LBF advisory board and industry stakeholders to maintain and grow the fair for the creative industries. Over the coming months, Adam will work closely with Gareth to ensure a smooth transition. As the Olympia redevelopment nears completion over the next couple of years, these are exciting times for the fair.”

Observations After the 2024 LBF

Many of the world’s trade visitors to London Book Fair in March have told Publishing Perspectives since then that they completely understand that Olympia London’s shrinking footprint for the show was beyond the control of the fair’s administration. Some have gone on to say, howver, that it felt “claustrophobic” this year as the attendance surged to what RX now is saying was some 33,000 professionals.

Related article: ‘Rights Deals Highlighted by London Book Fair’s Organizers.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

In fact, while the inclusion of an enclosed space for the Main Stage presentation venue was a great step for sound control and focus, the 170-seat limit for the room was so tight, many said, that they couldn’t get a seat for events they’d wanted to see, even with the overflow video-screen area devised on the mezzanine. Heavy footfall in the show floors’ aisles and little room for chairs—placing many people on the floor to rest, hold meetings, and/or eat—added to the strain.

In what seemed like such a cramped space, the peculiar energy of the 2024 London Book Fair became something that people were still remarking on last week in Italy at Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Descriptions of the tone in London run from “intense” to “panicky” and “chaotic.” Oddly, and happily, it’s not that trade visitors report having had disappointing business results from their London Book Fair attendance, but that everything seemed seized by that frenetic dynamic.

Trade-show design and direction is an inexact science. The mix of programming and exhibition that each major professionally-oriented fair produces and evolves over time is always up for discussion and inevitably the target of debate. Many who engaged with Rapley for LBF, however, have spoken of the earnest, carefully listening approach he brought to his work, a mark of respect for the industry that LBF serves and of the director’s task: to learn that industry’s needs.

The overall sense of London Book Fair’s performance this year—with a robust round of rights news reported quickly by the show’s organizers—is that Rapley and his team achieved something close to the best possible results under that “incredible shrinking trade show” reality of the redevelopment. The building’s new towers of residential flats were plainly in view under construction above the glass ceilings of the Grand and National Halls at Olympia.

Ridgway will find that his work is cut out for him, but he’ll also know that the UK and international industry are quite loyal to London Book Fair and, even when brought together a bit more tightly than they might wish, most will be game to see him succeed.

One-on-one business meetings on the stands at London Book Fair 2024. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

More from Publishing Perspectives on London Book Fair is here, more on book fairs and trade shows in the world publishing industry 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.