Future of book fairs…

Jacks Thomas, Guest Director, BolognaBooklus shares her views on the future of book fairs.

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It is so heartening to read in the UK trade press recently that both Frankfurt and BIBF are going ahead this year – albeit with a different mix of attendees from what seems like a century ago but is strangely only two years ago.

Book fairs are so much more than simple trading floors – they are focal points for the global industry and each have a wonderful, unique flavour that gives a tiny insight into the country and culture hosting each one. From the colourful displays, enviable crowds and noise of Delhi Book Fair to the more muted networking walkways of Frankfurt, the book industry revels in them all.

Launching a new general publishing arm to the acclaimed Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year might well be regarded as brave at best and bonkers at worst. In fact, it was neither. It was simply exhilarating to be working with a fantastic and enthusiastic team and to have the opportunity to capture the passion and creativity of the wider book industry that embraced the chance to meet -however that happened. In the end, as we all know, despite best efforts BolognaBookPlus took place alongiside its mothership, BCBF, in a virtual capacity. But Dante 700 was still celebrated with 4 outstanding international speakers drawn from the academic and publishing worlds, rights training was attended from around the world, Victoria Hislop was our Author of the Fair and our Forging Forward Conference boasted an impressive line-up of speakers.

But what of the future? We know from both anecdotal and quantitative research that book fairs are both wanted and needed. However, until the world is vaccinated and we can talk confidently about a post-pandemic era, their future model looks blended. Then again, is that all bad? To my mind, the accessibility elements offered through technology go some way to offset the disappointments of not being able to attend in person. While I will always be an advocate of the in-person meeting, the excitement of the chance encounter, the thrill of meeting one’s author heroes — and, yes, the parties – I do know that our programming for BolognaBookPlus reached many people who might never have had the opportunity to travel long distances to participate or for whom an international book fair is a much planned once-every-ten-years trip. We need and must cater for everyone and the hybrid model allows us to offer transcripts, subtitles, translation and time-zone convenience that all complements a physical fair. That said, this technology is only the start and listening to users from many backgrounds and abilities will allow us to refine our planning.

So – while accepting that the world has changed I continue to celebrate that, as ever, our resilient book industry continues to evolve and adapt in difficult times. I applaud my book fair colleagues around the world for giving us the opportunity to meet in 2021 and I look forward to BolognaBookPlus in 2022. Keep safe and well.

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