Canadian publishers are optimistic about the future of the Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair, which took place November 14-16 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The new consumer-oriented fair, with an all-weekend entry fee of $15 for adults, featured more than 400 Canadian and international authors, with appearances by Margaret Atwood, astronaut and author Chris Hadfield, and 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels.
Attendance numbers for the weekend are not yet finalized, but according to co-executive director Rita Davies, the event drew “a ballpark of between 20,000 and 25,000” attendees. “We feel very comfortable with that number for a first year. We are very happy. It was a massive undertaking, but we were so well organized and we have such a great team.”
Davies put together the Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair with co-executive directors Steven Levy and John Calabro, and director of programming & operations Nicola Dufficy (who previously worked as festival director for Canada’s Word on the Street literary event). Davies said that for the organizers, one of the most exciting aspects of programming--there were over 300 hours of programming--was the dedicated First Nations, Métis, and Inuit literary circle. “It’s not a large space and it’s not meant to be, but it was always full and we had determined from the beginning that we would be shining a spotlight on First Nations writers and storytellers,” she said. “That was for us a very important thing to do.”
Tracey Turriff, corporate spokesperson for Penguin Random House Canada (which partnered with Indigo Books & Music to sell books), said the house had “great crowds for a number of our major authors appearing at the fair, including Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice, and Chris Hadfield.” Turriff also mentioned a strong contingent of kids attending on Friday, when special kids’ programming included Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey, Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney, and six of the seven authors from Orca Books’ Seven Series, including Eric Walters.
Publishers who participated generally agreed that attendance was good, although there were slow periods as well. “There were definitely peaks and valleys,” said Emma Rodgers, marketing & promotions manager for Second Story Press, who had a booth in the Discovery Pavilion for independently owned companies. “When there was a very well-known author doing something, that was when the most people were there and that was good (…) but in general, I think it’s obviously a part of being the first year, a lot of people didn't know about it.”
Simon & Schuster Canada had one of the largest and most elaborate booths, consisting of several connected rooms decorated to resemble different rooms of a house — cookbooks in the kitchen, interior design books in the living room, and fiction titles in the bedroom. Kevin Hanson, president and publisher, said that for a first show, he was “very happy with the turnout” throughout the three days.
Hanson said that while the Simon & Schuster Canada booth had long lineups for their bigger authors such as Sarah Richardson (Sarah Style) and Lisa Genova (Still Alice), he didn’t expect to sell many books at the fair. “We’re there to create awareness for the books and the authors that we’re publishing, and this kind of showed me that if you build it, they will come,” he said. “Certainly the first wave of readers did come out, and there were enough of them that their experience was good, and they’ll be telling their friends.”
Several publishers mentioned that Toronto’s Santa Claus Parade may have led to lower attendance on Sunday, with many local parents taking their kids to that event. Additionally, the parade caused road closures, which made it more difficult to travel downtown.
Rodgers said she is “reservedly optimistic” about the future of the fair, and expects to participate again next year. “It’s really great to see the scope of Canadian publishers and the variety and the sheer number of companies all gathered together,” she said. “For us, the best part was being able to talk to other people, and it has that networking side to it. I think anyone who was counting on direct-to-public sales was disappointed on that end. (…) But besides Word on the Street, it’s kind of a rare thing for us to be able to directly interact with the public like that. You weigh the actual profits with the intangible marketing value of being there and reaching out to the public.”
Hanson said that he was happy with how the event turned out. “The team behind the show are seasoned consumer-show veterans. They’re really committed to the books segment, and they’re genuine about it,” he said. “I thought they did a very good job setting this up, and I think there’s enough there for us to look forward to attending next year.”