Trade looks to "packed" London Book Fair

A record number of exhibitors are set to showcase at the London International Book Fair next week, as one publishing m.d. reported a "bouncy and optimistic" mood ahead of the three-day event and digital conference.

Alistair Burtenshaw, group exhibition director for LBF, said 1,696 exhibitors from 58 countries had registered to date, with 54 exhibitors from 14 countries to exhibit in the digital zone, compared to 22 from seven countries last year. The International Rights Centre has sold out, with all 575 tables taken, compared to 569 in 2010. The Independent Publishers Guild stand will have more than 90 exhibitors, with chief executive Bridget Shine reporting an increase of about 8% on last year.

Just over 1,670 exhibitors were booked last year, but organisers estimated 30% were unable to attend after the travel disruption caused by the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Burtenshaw said: "People are looking forward to meeting up and moving on."

Publishers and agents are anticipating a bustling fair, reporting packed-out meeting schedules and, as previously reported, a higher number of American visitors. Random House deputy c.e.o. Ian Hudson said: "My schedule is pretty packed . . . All my meetings are with American and foreign publishers and customers. Having had the problems with the ash cloud last year, I think everyone will be back."

Hudson was among publishers to dismiss fears that the tough retail environment would affect deals. "I’m convinced we’ve got a bright future. What we’re talking about really is how to bring books to our customers. To do that, we need to buy books."

Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin was also looking to "a very positive" fair. He said the difficulties within retail, the growing importance of global publishing, and the "incredibly dynamic" digital market, would combine to make the fair "extremely interesting". Penguin General m.d. Joanna Prior added: "The tougher the market, the more unforgiving, the more you need to have the right books. There isn’t a disconnect—it means the terrific books and projects become more sought-after, because you need winners."

Simon & Schuster m.d. Ian Chapman said: "We have been inundated with submissions and also with people. There’s been a substantial US presence—much more than has been the case in recent years. It’s been crazy. My schedule is more akin to that of Frankfurt and it has never resembled that. It’s a mixture of foreign and US meetings. The mood among publishers is bouncy and optimistic."

Rights professionals were also upbeat ahead of the fair, with PFD senior agent Annabel Merullo reporting 250 meetings booked across the agency, with "more people coming over, especially from the US, and people are hungry to buy".

John Saunders-Grifftihs, Octopus’ head of foreign rights, said: "Last year, everyone was a bit preoccupied with digital, and I think they still will be a bit, but I think there’s a sense that people want to get back to books a bit."

Speaking about trading ahead of the fair, Abacus editorial director Jenny Parrott said: "There does seem to be some heated auctions. Agents must feel a bit more optimistic than a year or so ago." She also said agents might be saving their hottest deals for the last minute. "Last week was very busy, but it seems much quieter this week. I can’t help wondering if a couple of agents are holding their nerve until the very last moment—in order to create as much of a buzz as possible."

However, Sheil Land agent Piers Blofeld voiced concerns that last year’s volcano disruption could have "made people realise that they don’t need to go to the fair". He added: "Feedback I have had is that because the UK is buying comparatively little, in the past few years, foreign rights people are finding fewer reasons to beat a path to our doors."