Reed 'monitors' coronavirus situation, as Asia attendees stay away from LBF

Reed 'monitors' coronavirus situation, as Asia attendees stay away from LBF

Trade professionals are predicting business much as usual at the London Book Fair next month, despite attendees from China and surrounding countries pulling out over the coronavirus outbreak.

Fair organiser Reed Exhibitions has said all the events it runs are still taking place despite the outbreak but has issued advice to visitors, urging them to follow World Health Organisation guidelines. “We are monitoring the situation very closely and will follow up with customers as the situation develops,” it said. 

LBF has not confirmed whether the coronavirus is affecting attendance, but UK publishers and agents told The Bookseller delegates had pulled out from countries including China, South Korea and Singapore.

Rogers Coleridge & White agency director Sam Copeland said: “We are certainly seeing countries dropping out. Obviously the Chinese aren’t coming. Nor are the Koreans. That’s a shame, but I don’t see much effect beyond that. Certainly the Americans are still coming. 

“I haven’t heard anybody express any concern whatsoever. My guess is it will be business as usual at the fair, with the exception of the aforesaid countries, who will be sadly missed.”

Literary agent Lorella Belli agreed, saying: “We've had a couple of cancellations from Asian publishers and our Chinese co-agents have cancelled too. I don't feel there will be a huge impact on trading at LBF because as much it's good to meet foreign publishers in person, we can still do business via email or over the phone. 

“Having said that, it seems it's having an impact on those publishers, especially of illustrated books and in coedition, who tend to print in China, so there could be some disruption there.”

A clampdown on travel has already seen the Taipei Book Exhibition, originally scheduled to start on 4th February, postponed until May owing to cancellations by authors and international exhibitors, alongside fears visitors would stay away. Meanwhile, travel restrictions in China are reportedly affecting almost half its population as the authorities try to deal with the crisis. 

Nosy Crow has seen the Chinese market rise in importance over recent years and m.d. Kate Wilson said she was “really sorry” not to see publishers and partners from the country this year. “We think that restrictions on travel will be likely to continue through to Bologna, too,” she warned.

“However, the distance between China and the UK means that we are already very used to working without face-to-face contact, and we’ll have to continue to do so until travel seems safer on both sides. At the very latest, we would expect to see people at the Beijing Book Fair in August, but we may well visit sooner, when the situation has stabilised, to catch up with key customers.”

Juliet Mabey, publisher at Oneworld, said: “We have heard from our Singapore distributors that they are not sure if they can attend LBF, and at present most of their staff are working from home, so coronavirus looks set to have some impact on attendance. However, while LBF offers valuable opportunities to meet face to face, I don’t think some non-attendance will have much impact on our business, if any.” 

This week, the Association for Publishing Education warned students attending LBF to follow updates, taking “relevant precautions” over the coronavirus and Mabey said her firm was taking some precautions of its own.

 “On the news that hand gel was running in short supply, we’ve just bought a whole box to take to the fair,” she said. “Sadly, it’s bubble gum flavoured.”

Last week The Bookseller reported UK publishers with print operations in China are facing delays owing to the outbreak that has seen parts of China shut down. To date there have been over 75,000 reported cases affecting 30 countries. In the UK there have so far been nine reported cases and eight of those people have recovered.