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    The Great British Bookshop goes to The Fair

    Published on 09/04/2014 by David Birkett

    Early April brings, along with Chaucer’s ‘shoures soote’ (or rain, to the rest of us) that international conclave of book trade folk known as The London Book Fair.  Publishers, authors, booksellers, literary agents, printers and the less well-known tribes related to the process of putting words on physical or imaginary paper and persuading total strangers to read them, descend on Earl’s Court to meet, sign agreements, take orders and attend the frequent and vigorous stand parties which occur (generally) after business hours.  Publishers of all shapes and sizes can be seen, from multinational household names such as Penguin and Random House (who recently merged to inspire various surreal and inaccurate suggestions for the new company’s name) to literal one-person bands inspired by their own passion and vision to achieve success in a highly competitive industry.  This range of size and scale is reflected in the stands used by exhibitors to display their latest and forthcoming titles and to host the half-hour meetings which characterise these occasions.  Stepping out of Harper Collins’ temporary city might lead you round a corner to a solitary confinement unit large enough to accommodate one person, a few Blu-Tacked posters and an obdurate sense of optimism, a quality (along with friendliness and civility) which characterises the industry.  My favourite location this year, for the very personal reason that I am not so much a fan as a disciple of Leonard Cohen, was that of Omnibus Press, who were promoting two new titles about The Man and had a giant photograph of him reproduced over a door in their stand. People sometimes complain they can’t get into Cohen – well, here was a place where that was literally possible.  My request to acquire this panel after the Fair was cruelly rejected.

    Today was the middle day of the fair, and the buzz-phrase was not related to a major book deal or technological innovation but to the appearance of The Duchess of Cornwall.  I think I saw Camilla echoed around the aisles as publishers’ faces glowed with that particular hue of excitement and joy more usually associated with having sold off the substantial remaining stock of a fabulously obscure hardback to an unsuspecting distributor.  The Great British Bookshop had a good day, as did its parent company Printondemand-worldwide, with a full programme of appointments alongside those unscheduled – and often very interesting and productive – conversations which result from people visiting the stand.  We’re in a demanding but very exciting phase of our development, wherein we’re introducing ourselves in detail to as many publishers as possible and working out with them the best way to showcase and sell their titles.

    Next year, The Fair is moving back to Olympia, which is a fine venue, but we shall miss the wit and wisdom of an anonymous Transport for London employee who delivers a cheery morale-boosting thought for each day via a whiteboard just beyond the ticket barriers.  We shall leave you with today’s offering.


    TFL sign


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