It wasn’t ash from an Icelandic volcano this time, but a cloud hung over the 2012 London Book Fair, fallout from the U.S. Department of Justice’s price-fixing suit against publishers, filed just days before the fair began. Unlike the eruption that stranded fairgoers two years ago, a busy show floor in the main hall as well as a noticeably large contingent from this year’s guest of honor, China, suggests the 2012 London Book Fair attendance may well exceed the 24,802 of last year, though final numbers won’t be released for weeks. And this year’s fair generated some buzz, with new books announced from big-name authors, a surprise seven-figure deal for a first-timer, and a few noteworthy trends emerging on the show floor and in the professional program.
As for the suit by DoJ—and the subsequent settlement with three publishers, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins—the prevailing reactions at the fair were of confusion and disbelief. Among the Europeans, there was confusion over the U.S. laws that motivated the DoJ action, while among U.S. publishers, there remains a sense that the DoJ, in an effort to spur competition, has gotten this all terribly wrong, and at a critical time for the industry.
How critical a time? At the Digital Minds conference, before the official start of the fair, technologist Jim Griffin spoke of what he called the “Tarzan economics” of the digital age, where publishers “cling to the vine that keeps them off the jungle floor,” while reaching for the next vine that will take them forward. In the professional program, the popular Great Debate session argued whether new upstarts would deal a “knockout” blow to the big corporate publishers. And the CEO session questioned the “sustainability” of the industry’s business model, with moderator Tom Allen, president of the AAP, calling this a period of “seismic change.”
Advances in self-publishing, meanwhile, were prominent throughout the program, in the Authors Lounge, and further underscored by the well-trafficked booth of a first-time exhibitor—Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing unit. Amazon KDP hosted two overflowing sessions at the Digital Zone theater, right on the show floor, as well as a well-attended main program session on April 16. Amazon’s publishing division also had a strong presence at the show, including publisher Larry Kirshbaum.
On the deals front, a number of literary heavyweights announced new books just before and during the fair. New works by William T. Vollmann and Erik Larson were acquired just before the three-day event. William Morris Endeavor was shopping Caleb Carr’s first major work in years. (The agency did not have the manuscript at the fair and will be orchestrating foreign sales in coming weeks; Random House will publish in the U.S.) And Zadie Smith, whose new novel, NW, has been previously announced (it is slated for a fall publication), delivered her manuscript before London got underway. Legendary literary agent Camen Balcells, meanwhile, struck a million-dollar deal with publisher Thinkingdom for Chinese rights to Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. In perhaps the biggest deal of the fair, Crown signed Christian Rudder, cofounder of the dating site OKCupid, for a nonfiction book called Dataclysm, about the rising interest in “big data” and how data is transforming our lives.
For complete coverage, including copies of our three Show Daily editions, visit PW’s London Book Fair landing page at www.publishersweekly.com/lbf