Last week I was in Bologna and this week I shall be holed up in Olympia for much of my time. As I totted up the time away from my desk, the expense of sending staff and a stand to each event, and not least the effort involved, I found myself wondering whether book fairs are still relevant in this day and age.
Interestingly Philip Jones wrote an editorial in last week’s Bookseller on this very subject. His conclusion being that book fairs are suddenly significant again, providing a showcase for the great and the good in publishing.
I’ve come to the same conclusion but for different reasons. Showcases are all well and good but unless there is a solid business advantage then book fairs simply become a very expensive way to announce your new titles.
Video conferencing has made it possible to keep in touch with overseas customers more easily, and ostensibly reduced the need for an annual get-together (or more regularly if you meet again at Frankfurt or Bologna). Additionally, both rights and international sales teams will always visit your key accounts independently of the book fairs. However, the same cannot be said for the smaller customers. Those accounts that are geographically remote and not big enough to warrant the time or expense of a face-to-face visit are the ones that benefit the most from an industry-wide event. It’s a good use of time for the customer who gets to see all their publishers in one concentrated effort. And good for publishers to meet up in person with accounts they would otherwise struggle to visit.
And you can’t beat a face to face meeting for building and nurturing long term relationships in a way that Skype never can. If the last year has taught us anything it is that personal relationships, hand-selling, will be the saviour of the booktrade.