Edinburgh International Book Festival celebrates 'special' digital experience

Edinburgh International Book Festival celebrates 'special' digital experience

Edinburgh International Book Festival director Nick Barley has said this year's event has "generated its own sense of community", despite being entirely online for the first time.

The festival ran from 15th to 31st August, and saw 146 events receive 210,000 viewings by a worldwide audience, with that figure set to increase as events are watched on demand. 

The line-up included 300 writers, illustrators and performers participate in a mixture of live and pre-recorded events, streamed for free via the website, in addition to two seminars on publishing. The line-up included conversations with Booker Prize winners Hilary Mantel and Bernardine Evaristo, and an interview with this year's International Booker Prize winning author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and  translator Michele Hutchison.

Commenting on the festival's engagement as the digital iteration closed, Barley said: “While an online festival cannot re-create the joyous coming together of authors and audiences, the cultural exchange and the stimulation of creativity that a gathering of people in one physical space can bring, I believe we have created something very special this year. It is clear from watching the interaction of authors and audiences that this year’s online book festival has generated its own sense of community. 

"I am extraordinarily proud of the team who have turned themselves inside out, learned new skills and a completely new way of working to deliver events, in challenging circumstances, which have been warm, engaging, stimulating, entertaining and technically excellent. We have reached corners of the globe, and corners of Scotland, that we have never reached before, and brought an accessibility to the festival that I never want to lose.
“It is thanks to our incredibly generous funders, sponsors, benefactors and donors that we have been able to offer all events in the book festival for free this year – now the hard work starts to develop a financially stable model for a hybrid festival of live and online events for the future.”

The most watched event was Evaristo in conversation with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, which saw an audience of over 5,000 on the night and 11,220 subsequent views through the on demand facility to date (1st September). This was followed by Mantel, with 10,235 total views to date, and Ian Rankin with 9,304 total views.

The book festival attracted audiences from every continent except Antarctica, organisers said. 

Internationally, the festival saw partipication from poets in Australia, Japanese author Mieko Kawakami, neuroscientist David Eagleman from California and Tsitsi Dangarembga from Zimbabwe. An audience chatroom was included for every event, and  some authors participated in online book signings, meeting audience members "face-to-face". 

The festival organisers also launched an online bookshop stocking books featured in the programme, in addition to showcasing a range from Scottish publishers. Over 2,250 books were sold through the shop, with the top sellers being Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) closely followed by Imagine A Country: Ideas for a Better Future (Canongate), a collection of essays edited by Val McDermid and Jo Sharp. The site will continue to function year round.