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The cancellation of The London Book Fair was inevitable. Once the major houses began dropping out, SS Olympia was holed below the waterline. London Book Fair Director Jacks Thomas tried to make repairs in the shape of strong positive announcements that the fair would be going ahead, even saying as late as 3 March that there were still 34 international pavilions “planning to be here”. But really, it was only a case of time and Wednesday’s (4 March) announcement from LBF owners Reed that the fair would be cancelled “following the escalation of COVID-19 Coronavirus in Europe” surprised no one.
In the days and weeks to come everyone will notice the disruption – the changes to plans, the scores of cancelled meetings, the re-arrangements, the tedious but necessary process of insurance claims.
More immediately what people will notice is a strange emptiness. The publishing industry is arguably the most people-based industry in the world and one of the best aspects of The London Book Fair and other international gatherings, is simply the chance to see friends and colleagues, and yes, to touch the flesh, to shake hands and kiss and feel that fellowship that is such a part of the global book industry.
For that to have been take away this month leaves a sense of loss, almost like a bereavement. Those who have been in the industry for more than ten years for whom the books fairs are a fixed part of their calendar, will notice it acutely. In London the daffodils are just coming out, the sun is starting to shine (just), spring is here and that must mean Olympia and the book fair and its sense of common purpose beneath that glorious roof.
Its disappearance – so suddenly and for such an usual reason – is a real loss. But if anyone can make it live again it is Jacks and her team and wewish them well.