Annals of the book trade – Coronavirus 2020 Q1 

Confident and presumptuous like a new book. – Frantz Fanon

Brussels Book Fair 2020-RA
Readers at the 2020 Brussels Book Fair's Moroccan Pavilion. Photo: IPP

Of the international book fairs taking place in the first quarter of the year, London, Paris, and Leipzig were canceled following concerns over the Coronavirus Covid-19 epidemic. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Taipei International Book Exhibition, both postponed, are still on the agenda for May. The Turin International Book Fair and BookExpo/BookCon (formerly Book Expo America) in New York are also still scheduled for May.

The Jaipur BookMark, still a fledgling fair as far as publishing rights trading, but otherwise part of the grandest literary fair in the world, took place from 22 to 24 January – a bit before the widespread fear and contagion of the Coronavirus. Significantly, the Brussels Book Fair, with international exhibition staff limited to French, Dutch, Moroccan, and a handful of African, Canadian and Swiss participants, went ahead as scheduled from 5 to 8 March 2020.

A compulsory pinch of disinfectant hand gel for all people entering the premises, but no masks, no worries, and no cancelations, or very few. Similar to previous years, close to 500 exhibitors shared 255 booths. Whereas booth sharing is not a new phenomenon, it appears to be a growing and accelerating trend at all the European book fairs. BBF’s primary focal areas were children’s literature, comics, education, feminist literature, audiobooks, and translation rights.

Traditionally a general public fair with a majority of visitors consisting of school classes, this year’s edition was the first with a dedicated Rights Centre. Rights directors and scouts from all over Europe came in numbers, and particularly the French book professionals victimized by their government’s ban on the Livre Paris book fair. Morocco being this year’s focal country, fifty publishers, and forty authors, including Tahar Ben Jelloun, Rachida Lamrabat, and Leila Slimani (who also actively took part in the Jaipur Literary Festival and the Jaipur BookMark in January) staffed the center stage of the Moroccan Pavilion.

The total visitor number on the four days of the fair remained more or less the same as last year, at around 70,000, half of whom were school kids and their teachers. The only less pleasant news was that Chilean author Luis Sepulveda, who had planned to attend the Brussels fair and a literary festival in Rome later in the month, contracted the Covid-19 virus earlier while in Portugal. He and his wife got infected while attending the literary festival Correntes d’Escritas near Porto, Portugal. They were put under quarantine at a hospital near their home in the North of Spain. 

The London Book Fair was canceled less than a week before it had to start. In the weeks leading up to the decision, the fair’s organizers had hoped that LBF could go ahead with a reduced program similar to that in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption kept planes grounded. After major publishing houses pulled out of the event, including Penguin Random House, Hachette, Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Ingram and Amazon, many book professionals intended to at least hold their negotiations in nearby cafés and restaurants. More than 1,300 exhibitors sharing 600 booths, and up to 25,000 professional visitors had to cancel their LBF attendance. 

The 26 exhibitors and hundreds of visitors from India had to cancel their trip to London or reschedule their meetings elsewhere in the city. Quite a number of rights directors and sales staff relocated but maintained their UK appointments. However, Karadi Tales from Chennai and its sister company Karadi Path Education, who were shortlisted for three LBF International Excellence Awards this year, will have to wait another year to be placed on the list again.

The 40th edition of the Livre Paris fair (formerly the Salon du Livre de Paris, renamed five years ago as part of the expansion of its rights trading functions), an annual four-day book fair with 1,200 exhibitors sharing 450 booths and visited by some 160,000 participants including 34,000 book professionals from 50 countries, had to be shut down after a government decree.

More than 50 exhibitors and 30 authors from India had to cancel their trip to the Livre Paris, as the Indian book industry was scheduled to be this year’s guest of honor, for the second time after a first such program in 2007. The winners of the Romain Rolland prize for translation Deepa Chaudhuri and Puneet Gupta and their publisher Ajay Mago of Om Books will also likely have to delay their reception for a better time. Next year’s guest of honor at the Paris fair will be the Italian book industry, hopefully in better all-around shape by then.

The Leipzig Book Fair, a four-day show with an average of 2,500 exhibitors from 50 countries and 280,000 visitors, scheduled from 12 -15 March 2020, had to be canceled as well.

For the time being, Bologna Children’s Book Fair is still holding on to its adjusted schedule of 4-7 May 2020. The Taipei book fair is still on for 7-12 May 2020, as is Turin for 14-18 May 2020, and BookExpo/BookCon for 27-31 May 2020 in New York, but each of these is expected to be canceled in the end.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which was scheduled for 15-21 April, have postponed it to 23-29 May, 2020. ADIBF seems to share the optimism of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Taipei International Book Exhibition, in expecting the Covid-19 epidemic to subside within the next two months.

The next London Book Fair is scheduled from 9 to11 March 2021.

Update of 27 March 2020

Even though BookExpo and BookCon (formerly Book Expo America) have been postponed from May to July this year, some of the major participants announced that they will not follow the book fair organizers, Reed Exhibitions, in the postponement. After Penguin Random House, three of the other Big Five in publishing, i.e., Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Hachette, pulled out and appealed to the organizers to cancel this year’s events altogether. According to the New York Times, the venue that was scheduled for both events, New York’s Javits Center, has already been requisitioned by the US-Army in order to turn it into a 1,000-bed makeshift hospital for Covid-19 cases. On the other side of the ocean, London’s Excel exhibition center is also being turned into a medical center holding 4,000 beds for Covid-19 patients. – Ron Augustin

The story has been updated on 8 March 2020 with further information about the Bologna, Abu Dhabi and Taipei book fairs. It has been updated again with a note on 27 March 2020.

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  1. Ron Augustin updates us as of 14 April 2020.
    As expected, Reed Exhibitions announced the cancellation of this year’s BookExpo and BookCon, which had initially been postponed from May to July. In a statement issued by fair director Jennifer Martin the organizers concluded: “As the pandemic has continued to escalate in the United States and we see the challenges it has brought for the book industry, it’s clear that 2020 is no longer a viable option for this community.” On the BookExpo website, she also pointed out that tickets for the two 2020 events will be automatically reimbursed.


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