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London Book Fair 2017 overview

by | May 4, 2017 | Articles and Reports

London Book Fair 2017 overview

The 46th London Book Fair (LBF) wrapped up on Thursday (16 March) last week with publishers in upbeat mood. The prevailing feeling at the fair was one that books have never been more relevant for today’s world.

The comments of Joanna Prior, MD of Penguin General, were typical: “I feel very positive. I think we need books, we need long-form journalism and narrative to help us understand the crazy times we are living in, to give us context. Books still matter, and as an industry I think we’re actually rather good at getting that message across.”

At Faber, Chief Executive Stephen Page was also upbeat. “There is no shortage of excellent copyright being directed at the book world. We are seeing a lot of highly contested auctions and there are a lot of books that are exciting people. There is a confidence around which you can see from the speed of auctions. People are hungry for material.”

Agents remarked on the proliferation of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, all of which are content hungry. Hannah Griffiths, head of literary acquisitions at All3Media said it was as if “five major dedicated book chains [were] opening up in Britain tomorrow”.

Once again, the United Arab Emirates was well represented at the fair, with large stands for the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), the Abu Dhabi book fair and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, toured the SBA stand with the UAE Ambassador to the UK, Sulaiman Al Mazroui who was interested to hear about ongoing plans for the opening of Sharjah Publishing City later this year.

The reverberations from that ‘girl on the train’ are still being felt around the world, with the appetite for psychological thrillers showing no sign of abating.  Sphere in the UK and HarperCollins in the US snapped up Aimee Molloy’s The Perfect Mother, a thriller about the abduction of a six-week old baby, and Sphere also bought a “high concept” thriller called The Killer You Know You by S R Mastrantone, which is about a group of friends who get together for a reunion and discover that one of them is a serial killer.

Globally, the book industry is estimated to be worth $150 Bn and UK publishers are pleased because their small slice of this total is looking healthy.  On the eve of the fair, Nielsen released figures which showed that in 2016 British consumers bought 360m books in all formats – print, digital and audio – up from 353m the previous year.

Poland was Market Focus at the fair, with a stand that boasted living pine trees and wooden containers of apples, adding a nice rural touch to urban London. Among some 20 or so Polish writers at the fair was Olga Tokarczuk who has twice one the Nike Award, effectively ‘the Polish Man Booker Prize’. She noted that “the English book world is relatively closed to translation, so only a small amount of foreign language work can come in”. And that, of course, is why the focus on translation at fairs like the London Book Fair and Sharjah, which offers translation grants, is so important.

Next year the Baltic Countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – will be Market Focus. The role of book fairs in bringing countries closer together continues, something that His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Al Qasimi alluded to when he received the Simon Master Chairman’s Award (named after the first Executive Chairman of the London Book Fair Advisory Board) at the LBF’s International Excellence Awards.

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