The London Book Fair is underway, and there’s no question it’s one of the most important trade book fairs of the year.
But these big trade events (the London Book Fair, the New York Book Expo, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, etc,) are just that – trade-focussed events where public access is at best limited.
They are, if you will, a celebration of the business of books, not a celebration of literature and reading.
Elsewhere in the world book fairs tend to manage a better balance of professionals and consumer business, and the results can be quite spectacular. And surprising.
Here’s the thing. Most book fairs around the world tend to get a lot less attention from the western publishing media than the big North American and west European events, and that in turn generates the faux narrative that people in some parts of the world simply aren’t interested in books and authors and publishers need not bother about these markets.
So as a break from the very enjoyable and instructive coverage of the London Book Fair, which winds up today, here at TNPS I present a snapshot of the global book fair scene in the month either side of the London Book Fair, so from March 10 through to May 12.
That’s a little over sixty days. At which point you may be thinking, this won’t take long then. How many book fairs can there be in sixty days?
Probably more than you think.
NB: Book fairs inconsiderately don’t always start and finish exactly within the parameters of the snapshot timetable, but this should be close enough to be instructive. As this is my first attempt at tracking these events at this level I’m probably missing a good few.
So we start with the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in the UAE, which ended on March 10, one month before the London Book Fair kicked off.
In mind the London Book Fair attracts about 25,000 visitors in a country of 66 million, you could be forgiven for thinking the Emirates event will have been little more than a school fete. Dubai after all has a population of just 3 million.
But in fact the Emirates festival regularly attracts around 44,000 visitors. Almost twice the visitor numbers of the London Book Fair.
It’s by no means the biggest. Among the bigger players is the Bangkok International Book Fair which wound up just as the London Book Fair started.
This month Bangkok experienced its worst floods in fifty years, which hit visitor numbers and sales. Despite which, 1.8 million (no, that’s not a typo) visitors turned out for the eleven day book fair, and spent 500 million baht on books. That’s $16 million worth of book sales in eleven days in a country that conventional wisdom has it doesn’t read.
I haven’t got full visitor numbers and sales figures for all these events yet, and for those yet to happen this year the numbers given are from 2017 (where available) as a guideline.
As above, I may be missing many more. But what follows is a sample 63 days snapshot of the global book fair scene as the London Book Fair ends, but that unlike the LBF will pass largely unnoticed in the western publishing world.
Mar 1-10 UAE – Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (Dubai LitFest). 44.000 visitors
Mar 2-17 – South Africa – Time of the Writer
Mar 8-12 Italy – Tempo di Libri. 97,240 visitors
Mar 10-18 Turkey – CNR Istanbul International Book Fair. 450,000 visitors
Mar 10-18 Mexico – Yucatan International Book Fair
March 11 Jamaica – Kingston Book Fair
March 11-19 Venezuela – Book Fair of the Caribbean, Margarita Island
Mar 14-24 Saudi Arabia – Riyadh International Book Fair. 18,300 children at 2018 Children’s pavilion. 375,000 visitors
Mar 15-18 Germany – Leipzig Book Fair. 185.000 visitors
Mar 16-19 France – Paris Book Fair. 153,000 visitors
Mar 17-25 Turkey – Tüyap Bursa Book Fair. 265,000 visitors
Mar 19-25 Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City Book Festival. 1 million visitors
Mar 22-24 Saudi Arabia – Saudi Comic Con
Mar 26-29 Italy – Bologna Children’s Book Fair. 26,000 visitors
Mar 28 – April 7 Bahrain – Manama International Book Fair. 220,000 visitors
Mar 29 – Apr 8 Thailand – Bangkok International Book Fair. 1.8 million visitors. Books sold: $16 million.
March 29 – Apr 8 Iraq – Baghdad International Book Fair. 300,000 visitors
Mar 29 – Apr 9 Indonesia – Big Bad Wolf (BSD City). 750,000 visitors
Mar 31 – 9 Apr Egypt – Alexandria Book Fair. 60,000 visitors
April 4-21 Philippines – European Literature Fair EU and National book Store chain)
Apr 5-15 Iraq – Erbil (Kurdistan) International Book Fair
Apr 6-9 Pakistan – Islamabad National Book Fair. 300,000 visitors. Books sold: $156,000
April 6-15 Tunisia – Tunis International Book Fair
Apr 7-30 Morocco – Casablanca National Book Fair
Apr 9-15 UK – London Book and Film Week
Apr 10-12 UK: London Book Fair. 25,000 visitors
Apr 11-13 Pakistan – Sargodha Literary Festival
Apr 11-15 Canada – Quebec International Book Fair. 100,000 visitors
Apr 12 UK – Nielsen Book UK Children’s Summit
Apr 13-13 Sweden – Stockholm Literature Fair
Apr 17 – May 2 Colombia – Bogota International Book Fair. 500,000 visitors
April 18-28 Dubai – Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. 306,000 visitors
Apr 18-22 Indonesia – Jakarta Islamic Book Fair
Apr 18-22 Vietnam – Vietnam Book Day, Hanoi
Apr 19-22 Romania – Bookfest Timișoara
Apr 19-22 Hungary – Budapest International Book Fair. 60,000 visitors
Apr 19-30 Dominican Republic – Santo Domingo International Book Fair
April 20-25 Bosnia Herzegovina – Sarajevo International Book Fair
April 21 UK – Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival
Apr 23-29 Guinea Conakry – 72 Heures du Livre 2018
Apr 23 Spain – Sant Jordi Festival
Apr 25-28 Kazakhstan – Eurasian International Book Fair. 28,000 visitors
Apr 25-29 Switzerland – Geneva Book and Press Fair. 94,000 visitors
Apr 25 – May 1 UAE – Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. 300,000 visitors
Apr 26-28 South Africa – Rutanang Book Festival
Apr 26 – May 14 Argentina: Buenos Aires International Book Fair. 1.2 million visitors
Apr 27-May 6 Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair. 2 million visitors
May 2-12 Iran – Tehran International Book Fair. 2 million visitors. $38 million worth of books sold
May 3-6 Greece: Thessalonika International Book Fair. 85,000 visitors
May 3-7 Ireland: Strokestown International Poetry Festival
May 4-14 Turkey – Tanpinar Literature Festival
May 7-12 Nigeria – Lagos International Book Fair
May 10-13 Czech Republic – Prague International Book Fair
May 10-14 Italy – Turin International Book Fair. 143,815 visitors
It will be noted that I do not, as yet, have visitor numbers or values for sales for the majority of those fairs.
But just based on the numbers we do have so far we are looking just shy of 13 million people attending global book events just in the thirty days either side of the London Book Fair.
Two of those events alone – Bangkok and Tehran – will account for over $50 million worth of book sales.
And for those wondering, if we take the mature European and North American event numbers out of the equation (that is removing the numbers for Canada, UK, Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland and leaving just the so-called nascent markets) we are still left with an absolute minimum of 12 million book event visitors, just in that 63 day window.
I’m still collating numbers for the earlier part of the year but already I’m looking at at least as many again for the period January through the first week of March, thanks to major events like the Kolkata, New Delhi and Cairo fairs which alone accounted for more than seven million visitors.
Which means that, by the time Book Expo New York rolls around in late May, not even half way through the year, an absolute minimum of 25 million people around the world will have visited book fairs and festivals, spending many millions of dollars on many millions of books in the all but invisible markets where supposedly nobody reads.
And with the occasional exception of weather-impacted events like Casablanca (which typically attracts 350,000 but it snowed in Morocco this February) and Bangkok (floods, as above) there is a clear upward trend in both visitor numbers, volume of books sold and value of books sold at these events.
For those still not convinced I leave you with this image of the trend at the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela where a 28 day book fair raked in sales worth just shy of $10 million. In Bangladesh.
The global book market is so much bigger than you think.