Cape Town: return to the fair
It’s that time of the year again, when publishers, writers and readers converge on the Cape Town Convention Centre for the annual Cape Town Book Fair. Now in its third year, the event – in partnership with the Publishers’ Association of South Africa and the Frankfurt Book Fair – looks set for another whirlwind four days of exhibitions and discussion forums from 14th to 17th June.
When the first fair took place, a number of us were naturally unsure what to expect, and neither were the caterers at the convention centre, judging from the long queues for food and folk standing around, tray in hand, waiting for a free table. What was particularly exciting for me, and some fellow independent publishers, was that the Cape Town-based Centre For The Book had organised a small publishers’ stand, which generated a strong sense of purpose and togetherness among us.
At last year’s fair, exhibitors knew exactly what they were heading into, and were well prepared to capitalise on the opportunity. This time around, exhibitors were given permission to sell books, and so booksellers such as national chain Exclusive Books were present as the public flowed in and the tills hardly stopped ringing. On the third day of the fair, both ATMS in the convention centre were out of cash, as were three other ATMS in the vicinity.
With 364 exhibitors from 25 countries, 373 seminars and discussions, and about 49 000 visitors over the four days, this was a landmark literary event in the country, although some visitors did have a few reservations. Some felt that there was a sense of overkill and that it was too overwhelming. Others complained that too many discussions overlapped. And as far as the frenzied book buying was concerned, one person remarked you could be forgiven for thinking that bookstores didn’t exist in South Africa.
This year promises to be just as hectic. With a focus predominantly on political biographies and histories, children’s literature and “green” issues, there are 392 discussions scheduled to take place, with 293 exhibitors – a bit of a drop from last year - from about 31 countries. An unprecedented 183 exhibitors will be from South Africa.
An unfortunate absence this year will be the small publishers’ stand. The Centre For The Book, which had organised the stand for the past two years, had been operating for the past decade as a fairly independent division of the National Library of South Africa. The centre was instrumental in organising and promoting a number of valuable initiatives for South African writers and independent publishers alike.
Since the last book fair, however, the centre has been reincorporated into the National Library and a number of key staff such as Colleen Higgs (poet and founding editor of Modjaji Books) and poet Mark Espin have left. A number of initiatives have fallen away, including the centre’s support for the small publishers’ stand.
As I said in an earlier blog, a number of independent publishers had questioned our role at the book fair, but even so, to have walked away would have been a bit short-sighted. Now, however, the decision has been made for us. The book fair organisers have provided for a special small publishers’ stand package, but at R5175 (£330) for an area of 1.5m x 1.5m, this is prohibitive for many independents, especially if you are from out of town and have to add travel and accommodation expenses.
The only independents who will be exhibiting this year are Cape Town-based Modjaji Books and Snailpress, who are sharing a stand, and Johannesburg’s Botsotso Publishing, which managed to organise a free spot to organise its Isis X photographic exhibition (Isis X was an anthology of women’s poetry and photography published by Botsotso a few years ago).
So I for one will be attending this year’s fair in a different capacity, and obviously looking at the event through different eyes.
Let’s also hope that the ATMs in the vicinity are well stocked with cash this year.