Reed Exhibitions cancelled London Book Fair on Wednesday morning, “following the escalation of COVID-19 Coronavirus in Europe.” They said in a statement, “The effects, actual and projected, of Coronavirus are becoming evident across all aspects of our lives here in the UK and across the world, with many of our participants facing travel restrictions. We have been following UK government guidelines and working with the rolling advice from the public health authorities and other organisations, and so it is with reluctance that we have taken the decision not to go ahead with this year’s event.”
That reluctance has been in evidence for days, as Reed insisted the show would be on even as exhibitors large and small cancelled to protect their employees. Companies from the US and elsewhere began withdrawing from the event last Friday, growing to include all of the five largest trade publishers, encompassing their divisions from around the world as well as the UK.
The organizers made a point of praising those who stood by the show, without a word for the many agents and small companies who faced significant financial burdens in choosing health and safety first. “We thank all those from the UK and a multitude of other countries who have prepared over the last year to deliver what promised to be a wonderful book fair showcasing, as ever, the exciting best of the global book industry. The London Book Fair will return, better than ever, in 2021.”
As one anonymous “senior publishing figure” put it in the Guardian, “Reed is an enormous and very profitable company. I understand that if they cancelled last week they would have taken a financial hit, but that would have been the responsible thing to do. They’ve been citing government advice but it’s really irresponsible in the current climate to have a mass gathering of international publishers. It’s a very ugly cat and mouse game they’re playing. It’s purely financial and makes them look money-grabbing. It’s making a lot of publishers wonder how much they need London book fair. We have Frankfurt, which is the key fair on the global calendar. I think they’ve damaged their reputation and the loyalty we felt.”
The BBC reports that the UK government said will declare coronavirus a “notifiable disease,” which would make it qualify for coverage under many business insurance policies.