Penguin Random House has become the second of the Big Five U.S. publishers to announce it would not attend this year's rescheduled Bologna Children's Book Fair, scheduled for May 4–7, due to the spread of the new coronavirus. This follows a similar announcement from Simon & Schuster last Friday.
PRH released a statement that said, “In light of the travel risks related to the coronavirus and our ongoing concerns for the health and wellbeing of our employees, authors, and partners, Penguin Random House will not participate in the Bologna Book Fair.” PRH said the decision applied to all worldwide employees.
The news is beginning to sow doubts among some in the publishing community of the viability of going ahead with the fair, particularly as travel restrictions become more widespread. Italy has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus and on Monday the government extended travel restrictions to the entire country, putting 60 million people under lockdown and quarantine-like conditions.
Marco Ghezzi, publisher at Quinto Quarto Edizioni, lives in Brisighella, a medieval village outside Bologna. He said that the coronavirus has put their publishing program on "hiatus" for the moment and they are likely to postpone the publication of some key titles. "We work from home, but market is plummeting, and it is really difficult to plan ahead," he said.
At Bookabook, a Milanese tech start-up and publishing house, working conditions have changed. Co-founder Tomaso Greco sees the coronavirus leading to a shift in the way Italian publishers may work. "We work at home and use software to collaborate," Greco said. "But now many companies in publishing are investing to improve their remote working tools and workflows. Companies that have never before tried smart working are trying it — it is safe and it works."
That said, Greco was quick to note that even if publishers can still find ways to work, selling books is likely to be more of a challenge. "In Italy, with everything closed and the streets empty, it looks like a bad B-movie," he said. "With so many bookstores closed, we’ll see if online stores will compensate for the loss, but for many bookstores and publishers, I fear it will turn into a tragedy."