This year’s London Book Fair occurred earlier in the year than usual and was once again held at Olympia – an old favourite for those of us who remember Olympia as the venue for pre-Earl’s Court LBFs. Members of Gold Leaf attended on Tuesday and Thursday.
We were very impressed by the overall attendance, especially on Tuesday: there was a real buzz to the fair, with lots of ancillary activities going on right from the start. We applauded the decision of the fair organisers to ban wheeled laptop cases and suitcases from the aisles this year: it made moving around much less hazardous and increased the feasibility of working to the tight schedules that most of us have to cope with.
So what were this year’s big themes? For academic publishers, Plan S in particular and Open Access publishing more generally probably overshadowed everything except Brexit. (Comments on that, especially from European publishers, were fairly uniform: horrified, puzzled, dismayed by the events unfolding in Parliament while the fair was running.) ALPSP ran a seminar on Plan S and Open publishing on the Wednesday morning, at which David Sweeney, Executive Chair Designate of Research England, was the keynote speaker. Elsewhere at the fair, prominent themes included Fake News – or, rather, how to combat it; freedom of speech; and, on a less abstract level, the rise and rise of talking books (please follow this blog to read more about this in the next couple of weeks).
The PEN stand was mobbed by young authors demanding freedom of speech for all – which until recently would have been a laughable exhibition of preaching to the converted, particularly in such an environment; but recent events in both Europe and the USA, as well as further afield in the world, have now demonstrated very strongly the importance of not taking freedom of speech – not to say the accurate representation of the truth – for granted.
The importance of supporting creativity and allowing authors and other creative artists by maintaining copyright law was also the theme of this year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture, delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School, which was entitled Copyright, Books and Progress. Professor Gervais’ central premise was that copyright should be fiercely defenced to incentivise the “right things” – i.e., matters central to the progress of human civilisation. He said that it was clear that in order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. His message was that rules should be created and observed to maximise access to content, while providing authors with sustainable livelihoods. You will be able to read more details about the lecture on this blog soon.
Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, also spoke of the need to preserve the essential values of civilisation in one of the opening speeches of the fair. Like Professor Gervais, he depicted publishing and the laws and norms that underpin it as central to the development of civilised society. “We need to have the courage to fight for our values we believe in: free speech, respect for ideas and intellectual life, for copyright, and for the right of an artist to make a living; and for our local markets.”
The Author Centre was frantically busy, as usual; and several new amenities were provided for authors, including Author HQ, organised by Midas, which gave pre-chosen authors the chance to pitch to agents in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ kind of way.
Indonesia was the guest country of the book fair this year and some of the Indonesia publications were both exotic and wonderful. However, China seemed to have an even greater representation, and Indian publishers also enjoyed a much higher profile than in the past.
All in all, the atmosphere was joyful, celebratory and can-do. Although – as indicated in this summary – some of the underlying reasons for preoccupations aired at the fair were deadly serious, the end result was the display of an industry perhaps more united than usual about what it stands for.