Revenue at Reed Exhibitions, which holds the London Book Fair and the “retired” BookExpo, among other major publishing-adjacent events, plunged 71% in 2020 compared to 2019, parent company the RELX Group reported. Revenue in the exhibition group was £362 million, down from £1.27 billion in 2019. The division had an adjusted operating loss of £164 million compared to a profit of £331 million in 2019. The loss excludes one-time charges, including a charge of £183 million, which primarily reflects costs of canceling events as well as actions taken to downsize the business.

The exhibition group accounted for 5% of RELX's total revenue in 2020, down from 16% in 2019. The remainder of its businesses—STM, Risk, and Legal—had combined sales of £6.75 billion, up 2% over 2019. RELX said higher electronic revenue offset declines in print, which fell at a steeper rate than in recent years.

Despite the poor performance by Reed Exhibitions, RELX remained a very profitable company. Last year, adjusted operating profit for the company was £2.08 billion, down 17% from 2019. Revenue fell 10%, to £7.11 billion.

RELX did not sound overly optimistic about a rebound in the exhibition business in 2021, saying that the ongoing pandemic made predicting prospects for the business difficult. RELX said that, since last March, the only face-to-face events it has been able to hold were held in Asia. Reed conducted 169 physical fairs last year, all of which had digital components. In addition, it conducted about 70 “fully virtual events,” which RELX said generated up to 20% of the revenue that would be generated by an equivalent physical show.

At present, RELX said it is managing its event schedule “flexibly,” with the majority of shows outside of Japan and China planned for the second half of the year. RELX added: “All events remain subject to the risk of postponement or cancellation, primarily depending on local government policies on events and travel. Events that do take place are likely to experience some revenue attrition."

Reed canceled the London Book Fair last year and held a much scaled down BookExpo virtually. For this year, BookExpo has been canceled, and Reed has not announced whether it will ever be held again. This year's London Book Fair had its dates moved from March to June 29-July 1 as organizers hoped to be able to hold a live fair. It said a decision on that makeup of the event will be made by late March.