The Olympia way

Assessing the mood of the London Book Fair after just one full day of activity may be difficult, but then judging it at the end of the fair is no easier. Like publishing itself, the fair is full of contradictions, misdirections, dead-ends, and — particularly so this year — hot air.

The most important thing is that the venue worked. Bigger than last time the fair took place at Olympia, the Grand Hall—that housed the big publishers—was compact but not cramped. Plumage could be displayed but not trampled on. The galleries—though not easy to get to—also created visibilty for those exhibitors overlooking the main hall, an unexpected fillip. Olympia’s size is also its greatest virtue: you can get lost and still get to meetings on time.

Other sectors of the market were less pleased, particularly many children’s publishers who expressed disappointment about traffic and signage to their area in the West Hall Upper. There also continues to be discontent from some agents about the costs associated with, and the location of, the rights centre.

What the fair has shown us about the trade has also been fascinating this year. HarperCollins outflanked its competitors with its announcement of the global deal for Karin Slaughter—reuniting her with editor Kate Elton—but also signalling that it will make a dedicated push to publish its more commercial authors globally, though not without some nuance.

The coverage will have made painful reading for other big publishers, many of whom are working towards similar ends. Agents too will have noted HarperCollins c.e.o. Brian Murray’s comment that the “world is changing” and dividing it up into discrete territories may no longer make sense for all writers. This will take years to play out, but a tectonic shift has begun.

Amazon was at the show, but not though you’d know it—its publishing wing putting up a bunch of authors at the Hilton, and running a series of private events, including a party in a room above a pub in Notting Hill.

Its authors—many of whom have sold thousands of e-books and work hard within the author community—deserve a more public endorsement. Authors have long attended book fairs, of course, primarily for reasons of publicity or to meet their international publishers—but now they come to do business and to be part of the trade. In truth, we could all work harder at making sure they feel integrated. 

As with Frankfurt before it, LBF confirmed the sense of an old order restoring itself, but not without some kinks. The mood will have been lifted by the sun—always a boon under Olympia’s glass roof—but the green roots seem to me to be secure.