If nothing is more unifying than shared strife, the London Book Fair 2006 was an exercise in solidarity rarely seen in publishing. After much anticipation (read: griping in advance) over the venue change—LBF is no longer held in London proper but at the Docklands, which is to central London what, say, JFK airport is to midtown Manhattan—fairgoers had many of their worst fears realized.

Not only was the trip to and from the fairgrounds complex to begin with (one American editor staying in town said she took three trains/buses each way until giving herself over to the $50 cab ride), but the venue itself had its problems. Crowded aisles, poorly maintained restrooms, long food lines (though no longer than at any other fair, and—here's the surprise—the food was better than usual) abounded. But perhaps the worst part was the temperature control in the hall itself; the rights center—located near the front entrance—was so cold on these early spring mornings that many editors and agents wore coats and gloves as they did business at their $500+ tables; the main hall was, many opined, like a sauna. Virtually everyone I talked to said the same thing: "Well, if you have to come all the way out here, it had better be much, much better than [Olympia] the facility in town." And it just plain wasn't.

Of course, no discussion of the London Book Fair (or, for that matter, any topic in the book business) would be complete without admitting that book people are heartily uninterested in change and particularly uncomfortable with it when it comes. And despite some threats from fairgoers that they'd never return to ExCel—"I liked to go to the London Book Fair because I liked London," one executive said, "but this is NOT London"—plenty of business got done, so it's unclear that attendance will drop significantly. (It was up this year, overall.) And those who fantasize that LBF will be moved back to its old digs at Olympia should just stop dreaming now; the Brits have spent too much money on developing the Docklands and have too many major events upcoming—Olympics, 2012, anyone? — to start paying us whiners much mind.

But at least the fair promoters (aka Reed Exhibitions, a sibling of the corporate division that owns PW) have already tried to address some of the larger complaints. (Few fairgoers seemed to notice the dozen or so protesters leafleting against Reed's involvement in arms shows.) The Reed brass said that next year there will be no other shows in the center when LBF is there (there were two this year—one on beauty, one on fitness), thus allowing us more space. Climate control, bathrooms and the food lines will be improved.

Will it ever again be the good old days for LBF? Probably not. But then, all this post-LBF conversation is more and more reminding me of my favorite lightbulb joke:

How many editors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Why, 100, of course: one to change the bulb and the other 99 to stand around talking about how they actually preferred the dark.

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