The UK government is not ready to ban public events of scale yet, and Reed Exhibitions is apparently not ready to face the costs of a voluntary cancellation and continues to vow that the London Book Fair will proceed next week. The show is an increasing outlier, with the big Leipzig Book Fair canceling next week’s show.
More companies have announced that they will skip the fair and protect their employees, now including a number of UK-based companies and divisions. Penguin Random House, which officially had only made the show optional for US employees — most of whom opted out — has followed other large trade publishers in withdrawing entirely. Their spokesperson said, “The London Book Fair is an important moment in the global publishing calendar but given the fast moving situation around the Coronavirus, Penguin Random House has come to the difficult decision to withdraw from the fair in the interest of the health and wellbeing of our employees, authors, and partners.”
Pan Macmillan joined Macmillan US in withdrawing, and now all of Hachette Livre will not attend the show, including their UK, French and Spanish divisions. The UK’s largest literary agency has pulled out, with Curtis Brown UK and all of the associated units under parent company Original Talent not attending, and Canongate is also skipping the fair and canceling their party. Overdrive has also withdrawn from all LBF-related activities, including their LBF Library Partner Breakfast for public libraries in the UK, which will be rescheduled in October.
Italy’s second-largest trade publisher Gruppo Mauri Spagnol also announced that it “will give up coming to the London Book Fair” this year, while reassuring that all of their employees remain healthy. In a lengthy statement, they said of Rights Center, “Hundreds of people from all over the world who each have 40 appointments in three days vis a vis are by definition the nightmare of epidemiologists.” The company called on organizers to take a more responsible position, and suggests that even the rescheduled Bologna Book Fair may come too soon to allay concerns: “We expect an equally wise decision from the fairs that must take place in the next three months. They also note, “We are getting used to a more restricted social life and this has led to a 50 percent drop in bookshop sales in the Milan area for the last week.”
In the US, the AWP Conference & Bookfair has decided to go ahead with their show, starting March 4 in San Antonio. But they are providing refunds or a transfer of registration and exhibits to next year’s event on request. They say they post a list of literary partners and featured presenters that have cancelled, and they are trying to livestream more the scheduled events. Separately, publishers are organizing an #AWPVirtualBookfair 2020 to offer discounts on their books to make up for some of the lost cost and opportunities.