Two associations of American and Canadian agents are the latest organisations to hit out at the London Book Fair (LBF) over its refund policy following this year's cancelled event.
The fair was called off in March just days before it was scheduled to take place, following a string of high-profile pullouts over coronavirus. A number of independent publishers have already criticised their refund offers—just 60% of their fees, in some cases—which have been compared unfavourably with Bologna Children's Book Fair offering customers 100% of their money back.
Now the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) and Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents (PACLA) have written an open letter, accusing LBF parent company Reed Exhibitions of a “tone-deaf” response and penalising agents. Both organisations have called for Reed to reconsider its policies.
The letter reads: “We feel it is tone-deaf for LBF to inflict a financial penalty on North American agents who responsibly notified LBF as soon as they realised that it would be impossible to attend the fair owing to the global pandemic. As the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR), we have tried to work this out privately with calls and letters from individuals, as well as leaders of our organisation. However, we have seen no movement whatsoever on Reed's part. We now need to make it clear publicly that we strongly disapprove of their silence and what we see as overly punitive actions.
“Although the timing of each situation was unique and presented different challenges, we are mindful that other major international book fairs, which also had to modify and/or cancel events, have been far more accommodating and sympathetic to foreign attendees. The international publishing community is one that values long-term relationships. The dissonant response of the London Book Fair promises to be deeply damaging to their relationship with the North American agenting community, and demonstrates a lack of sensitivity to the long-term effects this will have on loyal attendees choosing to go to future fairs.”
UK agencies contacted by The Bookseller yesterday (30th July), including PFD, Aitken Alexander and Kate Nash, said they were generally satisfied with the way their cancellations had been handled.
A spokesperson for LBF told The Bookseller: “We have today read of the Association of Authors' Representatives’ and Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents’ open letter, published in Publishers Weekly. The London Book Fair was cancelled less than a week before the show was due to open, at a time when the UK was not yet in lockdown. LBF has had to make many difficult decisions in a dynamic and uniquely challenging environment. However, we have worked hard to minimise the financial impact on all those affected. Our relationships are deeply important to us, and we are in regular communication with all of our exhibitors on a one-to-one basis, and will continue to be so. We hope that communication channels will remain open as we move forward and look to the ways in which LBF can support the industry during this critical time.”