The London Book Fair will proceed as planned next week, according to fair organizer Reed Exhibitions. The book fair said it was following the lead of the U.K. government, which today issued a three part action plan to confront the potential spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, and did not mandate the shut down of large events, like the fair.
According to The Bookseller, Reed and fair director Jack Thomas spoke with the fair's advisory council on Monday to discuss the situation. Thomas told The Bookseller, "We respect travel bans, and people's personal position of not wanting to come over and potentially be quarantined, but at the moment there are also 34 international pavilions who are planning on being here. These are unprecedented, uncharted waters. It's a very fluid situation and you are trying to balance absolutely everything. As a book fair organiser there are many, many constituencies." She confirmed that several members of the advisory board opposed the decision to go ahead with the event.
Many members of the global publishing community, from publishers to literary agents, have been waiting for a decision from the fair before finalizing their own travel arrangements. In addition to the many American companies that have already pulled out of the fair, including all of the Big Five (Penguin Random House, which was making traveling to LBF voluntary for U.S. employees, has decided to officially withdraw from the fair), several U.K. companies announced today that they too will not be attending. These include Hachette Livre, which is keeping its London staff away; Scottish publisher Canongate, which hosts a popular part at the fair each year; and Original Talent, the parent company of literary agency Curtis Brown and other agencies. HarperCollins has canceled its party and said it was reviewing whether its U.K. staff would attend the fair. One U.S. group making the trip is the American Collective Stand, which represents a number of U.S. publishers and other companies.
Even as the decision came down that LBF would go forward more cancellations from American literary agencies came to light as did growing frustration with the position Reed has taken. Among the agencies that have canceled is 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. "The official word worldwide is that no one should be doing non-essential travel and so many of my appointments are canceling and are still canceling with many people in my position of deciding at the last minute.”
Sanford J. Greenburger Associates also said they will not be making the trip.Stefanie Diaz, director of foreign rights at Greenburger, said while it was a difficult decision to stay home, she said as more people canceled it became clear what the appropriate action to take is.“Even the most dedicated fairgoers sounded doubtful about the benefits vs. risks of attending a convention with travelers from around the world in these uncertain circumstances,” she said.
In a brief interview today, the fair's public relations team reiterated that many other members of the international community had reaffirmed to the fair their commitment to attend, including the U.A.E. emirate of Sharjah, which is this year's international market focus. A large party hosted by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office to celebrate Sharjah's participation remains scheduled for Wednesday, March 11.
"We are still busy taking calls and booking business from people who are coming to the fair," they said, adding, "It is a fast moving situation but it's also business as usual."