International book fair organizers over-optimistic?

Restructuring hits the book and bookfair industry

Leipzig Buchmesse
The Leipzig Book Fair for 2021 has been cancelled. Photo Leipzig Buchmesse 2019

Despite the first anti-Covid vaccination kick-offs, the year 2021 still looks very similar to its predecessor. Trade fairs continue to be canceled, rescheduled, and canceled again. The Frankfurt Book Fair is sticking to its traditional 5-day planning in October. Still, its organizers are cautious and well-prepared for either staging a combined physical and digital event or skipping the physical show for its online-only version. 

Leipzig Buchmesse cancels 2021

Other book fairs are working on different approaches to the uncertainties of this year’s health crisis, each in their own way. Due to a number of earlier postponements, the months of May and June are still on the agenda for a series of major book fairs, but the question is whether the tight scheduling hasn’t been too optimistic. Germany’s second-largest book fair, Leipzig Buchmesse, recently canceled its 2021 edition scheduled for May to end the planning uncertainty for exhibitors and program participants. Nevertheless, its organizers hope that they can organize some selected literary events in May “to tide us over until March 2022”. 

Brussels skips, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Bologna & Madrid still on

The Brussels Book Fair, Foire du Livre, decided to skip the event this year and instead organize small literary gatherings in the streets during May. The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is still planned as a physical event from 23 to 29 May. The Paris Book Fair, Livre Paris, is also still on from 28 to 31 May. So are the Bologna Children’s Book Fair scheduled for 14 to 17 June, and the London Book Fair, to be held 29 June to 1 July. Madrid’s Feria del Libro chose to anticipate by proposing two sets of dates for its 80th edition: 11 to 27 June, or, if not possible, 10 to 26 September. 

Publishers Weekly’s first online Book Show

Hardly two months after Reed’s decision to send BookExpo into ‘retirement,’ US trade magazine Publishers Weekly announced it would launch a new publishing trade fair in New York, the US Book Show. Its first edition will be held online-only between 26 and 28 May 2021. Its programming will be limited to five hours per day to facilitate networking and pausing for booksellers, librarians, publishers, and literary agents from various time zones across the US and the world. 

Even though Publishers Weekly has no prior experience in setting up trade fairs, it has a long history as the leading platform for the US book industry. Established in 1872 and subsequently owned by the RR Bowker Company, it was bought by Xerox in 1967 and by Reed in 1985, before its present owner, George Slowik’s PWxyz, took over in 2010 and partnered with Nielsen’s BookScan to optimize the magazine’s extensive book sales lists. Its international profile has since been expanded with its participation in the Global 50 publishers ranking and the creation of Pubmatch, a set of digital tools for international rights selling. Publishers Weekly has also been instrumental in the 2015 launch of the annual Global Kids Connect conference, taking place in December in New York in collaboration with the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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