EN’s Nicola Macdonald talks to London Book Fair director Jacks Thomas about tackling the future head-on.
Although the London Book Fair is busy celebrating its 45th year, the exhibition will also be taking part in the Shakespeare Lives campaign, which commemorates the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.
“We’re building a Globe stage,” event director Jacks Thomas tells EN. “We’re having five-minute performances of Shakespeare sonnets each day in Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish and Polish.”
From modest beginnings as an exhibition for publishers and librarians in a hotel ballroom, the fair has grown into a multi- national, multi-lingual event that will take over the entire Olympia London complex for its three-day run 12 to 14 April.
An international fair for an international industry
The organiser of the London Book Fair, Reed Exhibitions, expects to receive more than 25,000 visitors from around 116 countries at the 2016 event. This perhaps makes it unsurprising that one of the most popular parts of the fair is the literary translation centre.
“Shakespeare is translated into eighty languages and an awful lot of the business done at the fair is translating books and selling novels into different languages,” Thomas explains.
After legions of naysayers predicting the catastrophic effect e-books would have on the mainstream publishing industry, Thomas says they have actually helped open up literature to a wider audience.
“Technology, which initially presented a concern, is actually a massive enabler. It has allowed content to travel across different formats as well as across different countries and geographies.”
Thriving across multiple platforms
One of the most significant aspects of the London Book Fair is how seamlessly a range of tech, media and publishing industries manage to co-exist, collaborate and thrive.
Thomas uses the Lord of the Rings series as an example of how print media has developed since the event first began.
“Lord of the Rings started as a book, 70 years later became a film and now it’s an interactive game, representing the flexibility of the written word and books. It’s published all around the world and is the basis of lots of other creative media.”
A central theme of the fair, other than the birth of the Bard, is not only keeping up with technology but being at the forefront of new developments.
The London Book Fair hosts an international conference the day before the exhibition starts which has been renamed the ‘Quantum Conference’ in celebration of the quantum technology that goes into mobile phones and other devices.
“Technology is enabling all sorts of innovations within the book industry,” says Thomas, “it’s a very important aspect of the book fair. Quite a lot of future-gazing goes on, both at the conference and at the fair. You want to enable debate around innovation but you also want to be the one to talk shop.”
At the 2015 exhibition there were more than 60 tech-focused exhibitors alongside publishers and representatives from other media industries.
The Tech Zone provides product developers with a Tech Theatre to showcase what they think will be the future innovations in the publishing industry and a Tech Bar to “keep the creativity oiled” (according to the 2016 programme).
B2B or not B2B?
Ironically, for an event so eager to embrace technology, the central focus of the London Book Fair is making personal business connections. Despite the universally popular appeal of the subject matter, this exhibition is about meeting with other industry professionals.
“It’s very much a B2B fair, there are people who are using book content to inform their industries and their output such as video gaming, film and TV producers, app producers and brand licensing in general,” says Thomas.
The exhibition welcomes around 41 per cent international and 59 per cent domestic visitors and comprises more than 17,400 minutes of industry debates, case studies, author interviews, product presentations and panel discussions.
The leaps in technology that facilitated the e-book era have meant that the number of self-published authors has increased exponentially. The Author HQ section of the fair now welcomes around 1,400 authors over the three days.
“It’s for aspiring and enquiring authors,” says Thomas, “they come to Author HQ for three days of curated seminars where they can learn more about marketing themselves, designing book jackets and finding agents.”
So, at the ripe old age of 45, technology isn’t beginning to confuse the London Book Fair? Far from it, says Thomas, it just represents new opportunities.
Stand Build: Hytex
Shell: Freeman UK
Electrics: Freeman UK
Furniture: JMT Indisplay, Concept, Thorns/Camden
AV/IT: DB Systems and Aztec for AV; Eforce for IT
Ops and Management: In-house
Registration: Live Buzz
Feature Build: Freeman UK