Call it an early spring for the publishing industry. The 2017 London Book Fair—usually an April affair—is a month earlier than normal this year, running March 14–16 to avoid a bottleneck of publishing events, with this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair set for April 3–6. But LBF organizers predict the early dates will not hurt attendance, with some 25,000 once again expected in London.
This year, publishers will arrive feeling both optimistic and uncertain. On the positive side, U.S. and U.K. publishers head to London with signs of improving markets. Recent stats from the U.S. Census Bureau show that bookstore sales rose 2.5% in 2016 over 2015, the second year of growth in a row after several years of decline—and this despite the lack of blockbusters last year. And in the U.K., Nielsen BookScan data show 2016 print sales up nearly 5%, also a second consecutive year of growth.
LBF director Jacks Thomas told attendees at the 2016 fair that, after some tough years, publishers were finally starting to feel the wind at their backs. “If you look at a three-year snapshot, 2013 and 2014 didn’t make for very happy reading, but we are now going in the right direction,” Thomas said, noting that, in addition to rising U.S. and U.K. sales, the European market is stabilizing after a prolonged financial crisis and markets in Asia are “booming.” And though e-books are in decline for many traditional publishers (although self-published e-books are still on the rise), most don’t seem concerned, she added, saying that the overall market is balancing out.
But as publishers head to the 2017 London Book Fair there is a wave of political uncertainty. In the U.K., questions about Brexit loom. And in the U.S., Donald Trump has raised concerns—not the least of which stem from his continuous verbal assaults on the media.
Whether the topic is a global publishing rebound or a global political meltdown, organizers expect lively conversations at this year’s LBF. In the fair’s Insights Seminar, industry leaders will be on hand to talk trends and best practices. An array of vendors will offer brisk 20-minute presentations on apps, platforms, and innovations in metadata and distribution at the Tech Theatre. And, once again, a strong slate of talks for those interested in self-publishing is set for the Author HQ; there will be a comprehensive academic and scholarly publishing program; and of course, agents and publishers will be on hand to buy and sell foreign rights in the International Rights Center.