With the new coronavirus steadily spreading across the global, Reed Exhibitions spent a number of days last week debating whether to go ahead with the London Book Fair, which was set to run March 10–12. After deciding on March 3 that it was moving ahead as planned, Reed canceled the event the next day. The organizer had defended its decision to proceed with the fair based on a report from the U.K. government, which issued a three-part action plan to confront the coronavirus’s potential spread and which did not mandate the shutdown of large events like the fair.
The decision came even as many companies and literary agencies from different regions pulled out of LBF. In the U.S., all Big Five trade houses said they would not attend, along with some other major players that included Amazon Publishing, Ingram Content Group, and OverDrive. A large number of American literary agencies also decided not to attend, and some were critical of Reed’s decision to proceed with the event.
Among the agencies that canceled was the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. “I am disappointed that the LBF has not offered the rights center attendees a refund as they did when the volcano hit,” said Jennifer Weltz of JVNLA, referring to the eruptions in Iceland in 2010 that disrupted air travel just before LBF. “The official word worldwide is that no one should be doing nonessential travel, so many of my appointments are canceling.”
Reed’s change of heart about the fate of LBF on March 4 seemed to be spurred by reports that a number of U.K. houses, both large and small, dropped plans to send reps to Olympia Hall, where the fair was set to be held. Shortly after Reed announced it was going ahead with LBF, Hachette said it was not sending any U.K. employees to the fair, and other publishers soon echoed that sentiment. Indeed, Reed’s decision to call off the fair came shortly after HarperCollins announced it had decided to not send any local staff to the show.
A statement released by Reed cited growing public concern over the coronavirus as the key factor in not going ahead with LBF. “The effects, actual and projected, of Coronavirus are becoming evident across all aspects of our lives here in the UK and across the world, with many of our participants facing travel restrictions,” the statement read. “We have been following UK government guidelines and working with the rolling advice from the public health authorities and other organisations, and so it is with reluctance that we have taken the decision not to go ahead with this year’s event.”
LBF was far from the only book fair to be canceled due to the virus. Prior to Reed’s announcement, the Paris Book Fair was called off. The French government had said that it is banning gatherings of more than 5,000 people in any enclosed space for the foreseeable future. The event was to be held March 20–23.
Germany’s primary consumer-facing book fair, the Leipzig Book Fair, was also canceled. The event, scheduled for March 12–15, was expected to attract 300,000 people and host 2,500 exhibitors from 51 countries. And the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, originally set for the end of March, has been moved to May 4–7, a date that fair was still holding to at press time.
AWP and BookExpo
Attendance at the Associated Writers and Writing Programs annual AWP Conference & Bookfair, which ran from March 4–7 in San Antonio, Tex., was notably sparse. Organizers decided to hold the event despite the fact that a public health emergency was declared in the city due to the spread of the coronavirus there—a decision that led to the resignation of the AWP coexecutive director Diane Zinna. On March 5, Kathleen Driskell, board chair of the AWP, said the organization still expected as many as 7,500 attendees over the course of the four-day event, as well as 500 vendors, with 200 panels scheduled to go ahead.
These figures seemed to present a best-case scenario. When the event opened, approximately half the vendor tables at the book fair were unoccupied, traffic at the registration and book fair was light, and attendees complained that the online scheduling tool lagged behind in noting the numerous event cancellations.
Board member January Gill O’Neil expressed hope that there was something to learn from the experience. “Maybe the smaller fair will teach us some things and give us ideas about how to have an even better conference next year in Kansas City,” she said. AWP had previously tweeted that it would offer refunds or credits toward the 2021 conference to anyone uncomfortable with traveling to San Antonio.
In addition to running LBF, Reed organizes BookExpo and BookCon, which are set for May 27–31 in New York City, and the company reported that those two events are proceeding as planned. In a statement, BookExpo and BookCon event director Jenny Martin noted, “We do not anticipate any changes or delays to our event.” Martin added that Reed and its partners “are monitoring the Covid-19 virus situation daily” and “are following guidelines and precautions suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control” and New York state and city agencies.
“We will continue to monitor the status and guidelines closely,” Martin said. “Should anything change we will, of course, promptly keep our customers informed of the action to be taken.”