“Hybrid models and digital integration will become a common additional option”

Says Andy Ventris, Director, The London Book Fair, on asking about the future of book fairs post pandemic.

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The London Book Fair 2021 went ahead as a digital only event, creating opportunities for the publishing industry to meet online, following the impact of the global pandemic. The in-person format will return next year to its usual Spring dates of April 5-7, 2022. Here, Andy Ventris, Director at The London Book Fair shares his views on book fairs. Excerpts.

On pandemic disrupting book fairs…

“With ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic, this year we held a digital event called The Online Book Fair. The event was created as an opportunity for our international audience to meet, make new connections and share valuable insight. As well as a virtual exhibition; the conferences, awards and seminar programme took place digitally throughout June. It was important to us that this event was impactful, allowing our attendees to do business, connect and learn from others. We created a bespoke platform, through which attendees could message and arrange meetings, watch events live, talk to both speakers and other attendees, take part in interactive breakout rooms, and access sessions on-demand. To avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’, we planned a programme which grouped together sessions likely to appeal to particular attendees, so illustrators, authors or editors could get the most out of the Fair by attending events on a particular day. By thinking laterally and focusing on the attendee experience, we created an event that would be meaningful and useful for those taking part,” tells Andy.

On exhibitors and visitors reaction to online event…

“We have had very positive feedback to The Online Book Fair from both exhibitors and visitors, who have appreciated the ability to network, share knowledge and do business while in person meetings are not possible. Attendees were particularly pleased to have the opportunity to interact with others from the industry and hear from experts in their field during a time when we are all seeking more connection and looking to expand our experience. Many exhibitors took part in the seminar programme as subject matter experts, which really added to the experience for their companies as well as for those attending the sessions,” he replies.

On success of online book fairs…

“Measuring success of any event requires looking at multiple factors. Our experience with The Online Book Fair has been that it met many of our objectives, but more importantly created opportunities for the attendees to achieve their goals. Notably, the programme reached a wider global audience than ever, with visitors from 90 countries taking part. In fact, around 40% of attendees to the conference programme were from outside the UK, which shows the opportunities that a digital platform can create. As well as the international reach, The Online Book Fair audience served as a cross section of the publishing industry, with attendants ranging from interns and apprentices to directors and CEOs. Finally, the online format of the Fair also allowed for a bigger digital reach than before, with total engagement across social channels growing by sixty-two percent on the previous month,” tells Andy.

On future of book fairs…

“In the past year, online events have helped maintain the vital connections and business relationships that physical book fairs usually facilitate, and it was fantastic to be able to help publishers connect with others in the trade during a difficult time. It is impossible to say how life will look post-pandemic, but I don’t doubt that once Book Fairs return in person, they will continue to create opportunities for the global publishing community to come together to meet, work and socialise, as they did before, something which has been sorely missed over the past year. As organisers, we need to ensure that the events continue to be inclusive and accessible to a global audience so that they can truly represent the international publishing community,” tells Andy.

But, Andy feels that book fairs might become hybrid, “We have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that publishers are keen to return to physical Book Fairs, with many saying that online events lack the immediacy and connection that comes from being in the room with someone. However, it does seem likely that hybrid models and digital integration will become a common additional option, providing greater accessibility to fair content for those unable to attend in person. In an increasingly digital world, it makes sense to have a robust online option as well as the popular in-person offering.”

Message to the industry…

“The pandemic has been difficult for the book world, but it has been brilliant to see the passion, resilience, and drive in the industry in the face of these unprecedented challenges. The Online Book Fair demonstrated how important fairs are for the publishing ecosystem when it comes to creating new business connections and demonstrating the incredible knowledge within the trade, and we are look forward to welcoming back our exhibitors and visitors in-person next April, to reconnect, share experiences from the past year and explore what comes next for the industry,” concludes Andy.

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