Gareth Rapley will be overseeing his first London Book Fair this April, after previously managing conferences for the energy sector in Abu Dhabi. Rapley is guaranteed to have little rest as the fair grows closer, but not for the reasons one might expect. “We’re welcoming our third child,” he said by phone from London last month. “We also have a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, so I know the challenge of going back to sleepless nights.”
Rapley, who was named director of LBF in September, is the third director of the fair in three years. He replaced Andy Ventris, who left in May 2022 after having been appointed in November 2020, succeeding Jacks Thomas. Thomas retired in 2020 following the cancellation of the fair due to Covid-19, and she now serves as guest director of Bologna Book Plus, a series of seminars for general trade publishing that is part of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
“I have 14 years of experience doing international events and have been to the London Book Fair in the past,” Rapley said. “I’m getting great mentorship from David Roche, the nonexecutive chair of the advisory board for the fair. I’m talking to so many people and, of course, reading more books than I ever read in my life.” He cites Colleen Hoover, Richard Osman, and Robert Thorogood as authors he’s recently read.
In April 2022, LBF held its first in-person show in three years, after shuttering in 2020 and 2021. Participation by North American publishers was limited, and the overall attendance was notably lower than it had been in the past. That said, Rapley expects 2023 to be better. “We anticipate a 30% increase in attendance over last year,” he noted. “While this isn’t back to the same number we saw in 2019, it does reflect the return of a significant number of international attendees, including Americans.”
Rapley maintains that LBF is the preeminent international English-language book fair. “And I think if you look at how much you can get done over the three days, as well as the extended business opportunities to those who stay in the U.K. to meet with major publishers, independents, and companies in the supply chain that have their headquarters here, it offers great value for time and money and maximizes what you can get done,” he said. This year’s fair is set for April 18–20.
At the heart of LBF is the International Rights Center, which last year was moved to the ground floor of the Olympia London exhibition hall, adjacent to the stands. This move, Rapley said, was applauded. “We heard that it made taking meetings more efficient. All of the 500 tables at the center have been booked. When we talked to our colleagues here in London and abroad, they told us how important it was for the Americans to attend and how much they are anticipating getting to meet with their U.S. colleagues, many of whom they have not seen for several years.”
Registration for LBF is already open, and the seminars and speakers have been announced. Among the highlights is a keynote talk from Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins, who will open programming on the main stage on April 18. His talk, titled “Shaping the Business and the Art of the Book Industry,” will discuss recent changes in publishing. This will be followed by a series of panel discussions covering global prospects for the industry, the cost-of-living crisis and how inflation impacts publishing, challenges to global copyright, book-to-screen adaptations, sustainability in book publishing, attracting the next generation of professionals, the evolution of indie publishing, and more.
Other events include a half-day Introduction to Rights program, for those new to selling rights, on April 17; the Writer’s Summit, offering best practices for aspiring authors, on April 19; and the Research and Scholarly Publishing Forum, on April 20. Novelist Colson Whitehead, crime writer Anne Cleaves, and children’s book author Robin Stephens will each be featured as Author of the Day during the fair.
LBF will maintain several venues for further panels and networking, including the Literary Translation Center, Author HQ, and English PEN Literary Salon. A new Sustainability Hub will focus on how publishers are working to streamline production in order to minimize their impact on the environment. To support this effort, the annual LBF Excellence Awards will now include a new prize for sustainability.
LBF is no longer singling out one country in a “market focus” program but has moved to spotlighting multiple countries, regions, and markets at each event. One country likely to be featured prominently this year is Ukraine. “The ongoing war will certainly be a topic of conversation,” Rapley said.
Among other key points of discussion will be the online supply chain bottlenecks and how publishers are addressing the need for fostering more diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. But, Rapley said, there is one subject that overshadows them all: inflation. “The cost-of-living crisis is front of mind here,” he explained. “And we have to look at how that might impact the future of publishing and, especially, bookselling. Will consumers continue to buy books when the price of everything is going up? As an industry, we need to address this question. The London Book Fair is set up to do just that.”