The 2009 London Book Fair opened this morning with a long line of attendees wrapped around Earls Court in unusually bright sunshine. It was an auspicious start to the fair, which was predicted by many to be quieter this year, but by anecdotal accounts at least appears to be busy.
The HarperCollins U.K. booth boasted large high-definition TV screens showing book trailers and other book-related content, which seemed to attract many fairgoers. However, the show floor’s biggest eye catchers were probably Hachette Book Group’s massive banners hanging above its stand, which takes up space in the middle of the show floor. Amid a crowded floor jammed with occasionally flashy displays, Earthscan Publications, a U.K. publisher of books on sustainability, said it tried to have a completely sustainable stand. Unfortunately, it was thwarted by the cost of both making the stand and transporting it. "Maybe next year," said Veruschka Selbach.
Talk so far this year has revolved around the economy, although many American publishers were quick to cite the declining exchange rate of the British pound, which has made London somewhat more affordable this year (the pound has gone down some 27% over last year). And British publishers, whose market is not quite as depressed as the U.S., are largely taking a "things could be worse" attitude.
A few pre-London deals created some buzz, including Penguin India’s acquisition of Tiger Hills, a novel by Sarita Mandanna, for the largest advance the house has ever paid for a debut. Meanwhile, in the digital publishing area (or "Digital Zone," as it's being called), which is set in a separate hall adjacent to the main one, there appeared to be abundant activity. Todd Eckler, executive v-p of publishing technology provider North Plains, based in Canada, said he and his colleagues had appointments scheduled non-stop from 11:00 this morning on through the remainder of the three-day event.
A morning panel discussion on the similarities and differences between the U.S. and U.K. consumer book markets drew a robust crowd of international publishers and literary agents. PubTrack / Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher (U.S.) and BML’s Steve Bohme (U.K.) shared statistics on their respective markets, notably pointing out that the American e-book market is much more advanced than Britain’s, and that the British in general read much more literary fiction than Americans, who buy greater amounts of romance and other commercial fiction.
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