Recent developments at the European book fairs

Comics, graphic novels, printed books up, eBooks down

Book Fair
Kid content topping exhibits at all the European book fairs. Photo IPP

Apart from the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, Europe’s other major annual book fairs are rapidly following each other within a time-frame of six weeks in the early months of the year. Between 22 and 25 February, the Brussels Book Fair was attended by 70,000 visitors interacting with the 480 exhibitors sharing 250 stands. Half of these exhibitors are based in France, where the Livre Paris fair followed from 16 to 19 March, with 1,200 exhibitors and 160,000 visitors. Both fairs saw large representations from Africa and Eastern Europe, including Russia. Only a few visitors from Asia attended these fairs, in contrast with the Leipzig Book Fair, which ran from 15 to 18 March with 2,500 exhibitors and 210,000 visitors, of whom 60,000 were trade visitors. Several companies from South-Korea, Hong Kong and Japan showcased their publications here, mainly schoolbooks, young adult literature, and video games.

In Milan, the Tempo di Libri (Time for Books) fair, created last year, ran from 8 to 12 March, and with 425 exhibitors and 97,240 visitors appears to be rapidly catching up with the Turin Book Fair as the main rights trading platform in the Mediterranean. Publishers from Italy made up the majority of exhibitors, but some companies based in the UK, US, France, Germany and Japan also made their presence felt. The Turin fair still attracts around 1,000 exhibitors and 300,000 visitors every year in May, but while focusing on the Italian general public it has consistently neglected translation efforts and international contacts. The sourcing of international translation rights has become a rather marginal business at this fair, whereas at Fiera Milano an International Rights Centre with 500 tables was fully booked this year. Tempo di Libri is also a member of the European book fair network Aldus. In a collaboration with the Frankfurt Book Fair’s Fellowship Programme, and in view of Italy’s 2023 Guest of Honour presence in Frankfurt, publishers from around the world got the opportunity to visit Italian publishing houses and book-stores prior to the Milan fair.

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair took place from 26 to 29 March, with the largest exhibitor groups coming from the USA, Italy, UK, France and Germany. Exhibitors from Asia-Pacific included 99 from Guest of Honour China and Hong Kong, 52 from South Korea, 35 from Australia and New Zealand, 15 each from Japan and Taiwan, 14 from India, and 10 from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan. Owned by BolognaFiere, BCBF is one of the main international platforms for rights trading in books for children and young adults (its original name in Italian is Fiera di Libro per Ragazzi, meaning Young Adults or Teenagers Book Fair), and was attended this year by 1,390 exhibitors and 27,640 visitors. Around 80% of both exhibitors and visitors came from outside Italy. The last day of the fair was dedicated to the inaugural conference of independent European children’s bookshops.

The Indian scene exhibiting at this fair consisted of 12 publishers, one printing house, and one prepress studio. The fact that less and less Indian publishers and service providers reserve a stand at this fair, as at the other European fairs, only shows that the real business happens elsewhere: at the number of rights trading tables that are increasing year-on-year at these fairs, at matchmaking and other joint facilities, and in less formal meetings during the fair, at the fair grounds or in their vicinity.

London Book Fair

The situation is a bit different at the London Book Fair, as several Indian publishing, printing and premedia houses have offices in England and use the fair’s facilities for meetings planned and prepared long time in advance. Renting a stand or table has been reduced to a meeting facility amongst others. This year, LBF’s Indian exhibitor scene comprised 30 publishing houses and distributors, 7 printers, 6 premedia service providers, and a dozen companies trading as UK agents or subsidiaries, while some 300 book professionals from India attended the fair without a stand of their own.

In total, the London Book Fair in the three days from 10 to 12 April brought together 1,540 exhibitors and close to 26,000 visitors. The largest exhibitor groups represented 607 companies from the UK, 293 from the USA and Canada, 70 from France, 45 from Italy, and 43 from India. Asia-Pacific was further represented by 21 exhibitors from China and Hong Kong, 10 from Singapore, 8 from South Korea, 5 from Australia, and 12 based in Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam. Among the many conferences during the fair, FICCI held a seminar on translation rights, where publishers discussed the state of affairs in translations from and into the various Indian languages. Trading children’s books rights was the main focus on the fair’s last day.

Traffic at each of these fairs suggests that books continue to be profitable business. In most European markets, book sales have been up for the past ten years, particularly in the juvenile, young adults, and fiction sections. Sales of children’s comics and graphic novels have grown more than 26% over the past five years. Against all predictions a few years ago, the share of eBooks in total sales of books has dropped from 28% in 2013 to 21% in 2017. In the children’s and young adults’ categories, eBooks represent only 7% of total book sales, following similar trends for CD’s and DVD’s, which are rapidly making way for internet streaming applications. Tenacious survivors appear to be the audiobooks and . . . printed books.

Bologna and Frankfurt in New York

We have written earlier about collaboration efforts between the different international book fairs. Both Frankfurt and Bologna have been very active in expanding their activities in the kids and young adults segments across the oceans. In January, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office organized the first two-day Children’s Books Salon at the local Goethe Institute, where 40 publishers and editors from the US met with some 30 book professionals from Europe to discuss rights trading issues. Also in New York, one day later, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair initiated a Global Kids Connect Breakfast Series, where the same participants discussed audiobooks and various kid content delivery channels.

Earlier, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair had already announced two overseas ventures, the New York Rights Fair, organized together with Fiera Milano, and to be held 30 May to 1 June, as well as a joint venture with the China Children’s Book Fair, of which the sixth edition will take place in Shanghai from 9 to 11 November this year. The latter has been taken over from Reed Exhibitions, owner of the London Book Fair, who had organized the first five editions of the China Children’s Book Fair. BolognaFiere president Gianpiero Calzolari commented that with these initiatives BCBF is “proposing the creation of an exhibition network involving the main international markets also for the Children’s Book Fair. Children’s publishing will now have, alongside the key annual event in Bologna, two appointments that will provide a boost to the publishing trade with the US and Chinese markets.”

Future dates for the BCBF-LBF sequence have been inverted again. March appears to be the best month for most of the European fairs. The next London Book Fair, with Indonesia as the Market Focus, is scheduled for 12 to 14 March 2019, the next Bologna Children’s Book Fair for 25 to 28 March 2019.

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