The London Book Fair is now upon us, Bologna (29,000 visitors) is in the rear-view mirror, and at last the global book fair calendar is underway. London typically attracts 25,000 visitors, and Frankfurt 300,000 in a good year. In trade circles, they are among the most important in the world, but elsewhere, there is a thriving book fair calendar where millions of book lovers head to book fairs worldwide, spending millions of dollars on books, often barely noticed by western publishing interests.

South Asia

In India the 2022 Hyderabad International Book Fair ran December 23 through January 1 of this year, attracting one million visitors. No holidays hiatus there! The full 2023 Indian book fair calendar kicked off with the Assam Book Fair, which pulled in 600,000 visitors in January, who spent the equivalent of $613,000 on books. Small beer compared to the Chennai Book Fair, where 1.5 million visitors spent $1.8 million on books.

January also saw the Bangladesh Book Fair (in India) attract 450,000 visitors. Then there was the Kerala Literary Festival in India, where 275,000 is a typical turnout; the Jaipur Literary Festival (400,000); or the Vijayawada Book Festival (500,000 turned out this past February, spending $485,000 on books). January-February saw the Kolkata International Book Fair draw a crowd of 2.5 million who spent $3 million on books, while the New Delhi World Book Fair this year returned to form with two million visitors.

This was all dwarfed by the six million that attended the Ekushey Boi Mela in neighboring Bangladesh, which ran the entire month of February. Sadly, only $4.4 million was spent on books, way down on the pre-Covid $10 million.

Staying in South Asia, Pakistan has already seen this year’s Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad Literary Festivals, with the big international book fairs like Karachi (600,000 visitors) still to come. Further south in Sri Lanka, the Colombo International Book Fair last year drew a crowd of 500,000. And still in South Asia, Iran’s Tehran International Book Fair regularly draws footfall of two million.

Arab world

In the Arab markets, Saudi Arabia regularly sees 500,000 visitors at the Jeddah Book Fair and one million at the Riyadh International Book Fair. One million is also the usual figure (although not this year) at the Muscat International Book Fair in Oman. Iraq’s Baghdad International Book Fair is also in the million club. In Algeria, the last Algiers International Book Fair was on poor form, only managing 1.3 million–barely half of what we’ve come to expect from Algiers. “Smaller” fairs like Qatar’s Doha International Book Fair would, pre-pandemic, draw a crowd of 320,000 and sell a quarter million books. At Morocco’s Casablanca Book Fair (now held in Rabat–don’t ask…), 500,000 was the norm.

Still in MENA, and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair typically sees 300,000 visitors. The same for the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, while the Sharjah International Book Fair itself pulls in more than two million visitors. All overshadowed by Egypt’s Cairo International Book Fair, which reported 3.6 million visitors this year.

Latin America

Little room here to mention Argentina’s Buenos Aires IBF (1.2 million), or Colombia’s FIL Bogota (600,000), Mexico’s FILIJ (500,000), or FIL Guadalajara (800,000). Or the 50,000 that attend Guatemala, or the 100,000 at Panama, or the 643,000 at Caracas, the 565,000 at Lima, the 565,000 visitors at La Paz, or the 650,000 that attend São Paulo.

Only brief space to mention Bookfest Malaysia’s 700,000 visitors, or Seoul’s 300,000, Taipei’s 500,000, Bucharest’s 100,000, Lisbon’s 500,000, or Madrid’s 2022 record 3 million.

In this snapshot alone, that’s 42 million people attending global book fairs beyond the usual suspects. A more comprehensive list might easily top 50 million.

Mark Williams is the editor-in-chief of the New Publishing Standard. He lives in The Gambia.