A good book always enlightens, and we might be wise to read them more often, even as a self-imposed assignment. It is only by reading the best literature that we can understand the world in which we live, and change it – even if that chance is measured in micrometres.
Book fairs are cautiously returning. Almost all major fairs have again reduced their total exhibition space this year compared to 2019, with significantly reduced numbers of participants – exhibitors, but the number of visitors has also decreased comparably. In the countries of Western Europe, ministries of culture are attempting to preserve book fairs by subsidising part of the costs of leasing space for exhibitors. For example, thanks to the support of German Commissioner for Culture and Media Claudia Roth, lease prices at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair will be reduced by 30% for all exhibitors, according to the size of their stand. This difference in price will be reimbursed from Germany’s Neustart Kultur programme, which was established in 2020 to strengthen the industry of books and publishing, and to support book fairs during the pandemic.
The International Belgrade Book Fair wasn’t held during the previous two years, while this year publishers bravely registered for participation, though the majority of them fear that they won’t make back the money they’ve invested. Online sales, internet marketing and major discounts from publishers throughout the year, but also the continuation of the pandemic, will impact on reducing the number of visitors, and thus reduced book sales are expected. Renowned world fairs conduct research almost every year and provide exhibitors with timely information on projected visitor numbers and their educational and age structure, forming space leasing and ticket prices on the basis of the results of that research. These data are invaluable to participants, as they form the basis for them to be able to plan their earnings, or determine how much the investment pays off. Unfortunately, the Belgrade Fair doesn’t invest in this kind of research.
In this third decade of the 21st century, digitalisation and the internet are reducing the interest of publishers in investing in branded world fairs, as there is a much faster and cheaper way for information about books to reach readers or foreign publishers, if we are talking about copyright
Only when the Fair ends and publishers “count their takings” will it become clear what will have to change in the concept of the event itself. The Book Fair will probably have a festival character in the future; it will be obliged to offer a programme with significantly higher quality content in order to attract the highest possible numbers of attendees from our country and the region. My prediction is that publishers will be unable to finance such an event on their own in the future, but rather the state, together with the Belgrade Fair (or some other organiser), will have to find new financing models.
Throughout the history of the Book Fair, the biggest stands in Hall 1 have always belonged to publishers that are so-called market leaders, who have published the most titles during the year, and that remains so today. Fortunately, significantly smaller publishing houses also have their stands in the same hall, thanks to the quality of their publishing programme, and that is primarily a good thing because of the structure of visitors, because we mustn’t forget that the Book Fair must also be profitable for participants. If it gains a festival character, which is my prediction, Hall 1 certainly won’t just be a ‘megastore, but will receive other mise-en-scènes.