As the London Book Fair, set for April 14-16, prepares to return to Olympia following its move from Earls Court, the challenge of relocating an exhibition of this size has become apparent.
Many members of the rights community were appalled at the possibility that LBF might, on vacating Earls Court, return to Exel in the Docklands. Olympia was where they wanted to be, even though the venue was no larger than the Fair's previous home. The downside of getting their wish has been a scramble for places in Olympia's International Rights Centre (IRC), which sold out in record time and which has a waiting list.
A further cause of the sell-out has been LBF's introduction of a two-tier pricing system, with 25% of the 500 tables reserved for "premium" bookings. Premium tables come with hardline internet (more reliable than wifi, which in Earls Court was overburdened), electrical sockets, shelving units, promotional panels, refreshments, and conference passes.
LBF says that it has introduced this offer in response to feedback, replacing a complicated previous system that involved 10 different pricing packages graded according to the extras that exhibitors chose. However, while the standard tables are oversubscribed, there are vacancies among the premium tables, suggesting that the balance between standard and premium may need adjusting.
Exhibitors who were used to booking in the autumn of the previous year may also have missed out, because LBF encouraged interest in tables in the new IRC at the 2014 Fair in April. Unfortunately, some exhibitors appear to have thought that the forms they filled out then were bookings rather than expressions of interest. Agent Christine Green had a "slightly shocking near miss", just managing to secure a table "practically in the gents".
A standard table, which includes one exhibitors' badge and five visitors' badges, is £415, a price that LBF says has been frozen since last year. A premium table, again with one exhibitors' badge and five visitors' badges, is £1,200.
Jacks Thomas, LBF Director, said: "Mindful of the venue change and the fact that we cannot expand this year’s IRC within the designated hall, we undertook to communicate before, during and after the Fair with all 2014 table holders, having allocated the vast majority of the IRC to standard tables. Additionally we work with agents’ associations to deliver sharing packages for those that find a table across three days is more appointment time than required. We hope that we offer a price range for everybody but still cannot avoid the fact that booking systems are on a first come, first serve basis."
Thomas added that the Fair welcomed inquiries, and that the organizers would respond to feedback: "All feedback is taken into consideration when looking at what services are offered for the following year and we are greatly appreciative of everyone’s patience and good humor when dealing with us. Clearly we will be monitoring the new premium service very, very carefully."
*LBF has faced the challenge on the general exhibition floor of resiting stands in an area that is the same size but differently arranged. Some publishers, inevitably, feel hard done by. Andrew Hansen, MD of art publisher Prestel, was angry at what he described as "unreasonable and outrageous demands", and the offer of a space in "a dull, dusty backwater tarted up with the risible soubriquet Art and Architecture Zone." Prestel pulled out, but has since taken the space booked by Osprey before its takeover by Bloomsbury.
A version of this article first appeared in PW's partner publication in the U.K., BookBrunch.