In 2010, a cloud hung over the publishing world—literally. When the tongue-twisting Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, blew its top last April, a cloud of ash blanketed the skies over northern Europe, halting air travel, stranding travelers, and ruining the best-made plans of the 2010 London Book Fair. But this year's London Book Fair is back on track, organizers say, and strong attendance is expected at this year's event, set for April 11–13 at the Earl's Court Exhibition Center.
Until 2010, attendance at the London Book Fair had been on a steady upswing. Last year, however, attendance cratered in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption. With air travel suspended just days before the fair, attendance from North and South America, Asia, and mainland Europe was off by as much as two-thirds from 2009 levels, and U.K. attendance also dipped, as international appointments were canceled, and the hall was dotted with empty exhibit stalls. But fair organizers reacted with typical British resolve—the show went on, as planned, with organizers quick to offer discounts for 2011 to affected exhibitors. The steady-handed response paid off, and organizers say this year's attendance is expected to rebound fully, with more than 23,000 professionals expected from 58 exhibiting countries, and 1,600 exhibiting companies once again expected.
"London is definitely back on track this year," said Jon Malinowski, president of the Combined Book Exhibit. "We were actually sold out of space a few months ago and we have a record number of people attending in the American Collective Stand."
Among the highlights at the 2011 LBF: legendary Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing; Russia is the LBF's "market focus" country; and an array of digital publishing issues will be explored in a one-day conference before the fair, as well as in the fair's deepest three-day seminar program yet and at an expanded "digital zone" on the show floor.
On the international front, this year's Russian market focus promises to be a strong program. The Russian slate will feature 49 authors, poets, critics, and academics, representing "the best in contemporary Russian writing and publishing." Sessions will run on a range of topics, including Russia today, the development of literature in today's world, freedom of speech, and a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's journey into space.
"Russia is home to a vibrant literary scene, and we are pleased to be welcomed into London's famous literary circles," said Vladimir Grigoriev, deputy head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. "We are proud to introduce some of Russia's finest contemporary writers and their work to [Western] audiences. The importance of literature in Russian society throughout its history has been not only as entertainment but as a vehicle for political debate and social comment, which we are looking forward to exploring with readers."
Renowned for its rich literary heritage, the Russia market focus at LBF will celebrate contemporary Russian literature, and will include Russian Booker Prize winners Mikhail Shishkin, Alexander Illichevsky, Ludmila Ulitskaya, and Olga Slavnikova. Prominent and admired Russian writer and public intellectual Dmitry Bykov will also speak, along with Andrei Bitov, president and cofounder of the Russian PEN and v-p of International PEN, and Leo Tolstoy's great-great-grandson, Vladimir Tolstoy. And the LBF's Author of the Day program on Tuesday, April 12, will feature Boris Akunin, one of the most widely read authors in Russia, whose Erast Fandorian novels have sold 18 million copies in Russia alone.
Since last year's fair alone, the publishing world has seen the launch of Google's cloud-based e-book program, the launch of the European Kindle, the iPad 2, along with a host of new tablets and readers on the horizon. Indeed, e-book sales are surging, and digital issues are as hot as ever; accordingly, LBF organizers have increased the number of digital topics on the 2011 London Book Fair seminar program, with nearly half of the 150 seminars scheduled over three days dealing with digital issues.
Matt Colgan, digital sales manager for the London Book Fair, said "high demand" at last year's fair for digital seminars prompted fair organizers to increase the digital slate. Topics range from nuts-and-bolts issues, like standards, EPub3, copyright, free vs. paid models, and direct e-book sales. There will also be more sweeping talks, such as "The Book Is Dead: Long Live the Global Book," featuring Google's Santiago de la Mora and Bloomsbury's Evan Schnittman, and "The Great Debate: Will Publishers Soon Become Irrelevant?" featuring bestselling author and PW columnist Cory Doctorow, Profile Books' Andrew Franklin, Bloomsbury's Richard Charkin, and moderator Michael Healy, from the Google settlement's proposed Book Rights Registry.
In addition to the expanded seminar, the Digital Zone on the show floor has more than doubled in size from last year (from 22 exhibitors in 2010 to 46 in 2011), with more floor space allotted and more countries attending, including newcomers to the fair from South Korea, Italy, and Greece. "Digital solutions of all types will be represented in our Digital Zone from content management systems, distributors, apps developers to e-reader devices," said Colgan. "The Digital Zone should prove a popular destination for companies looking for partners to keep their businesses at the forefront of digital publishing and ahead of the competition."
And if you can't get enough digital at the fair, register and come a day early for the Digital Conference set for April 10. This year's Digital Conference will feature Gordon Willoughby, director of Kindle Europe; O2's strategy director, Tanya Field, who will discuss the mobile market; Stephen Page, CEO of Faber & Faber, on the challenges facing publishers in the digital age; and Michael Tamblyn, CEO of online e-book retailer Kobo. Registration for the Digital Conference is limited, but at press time, tickets were still available.
For more on the London Book Fair and to view the entire conference program, visit www.londonbookfair.co.uk.