Thursday, 18 April 2013

London Book Fair 2013

London Book Fair (LBF) is an annual book-publishing trade fair held in Earls Court. There aren't many opportunities to buy books at this event - unless you want to order them by the box load - neither are there, as I had to explain to my daughter, any fairground rides.

My understanding is that the International Rights Centre is really the beating heart of LBF. It is on the second level, is restricted to "appointments only" and is where most of the deals are made. Apparently it is quite a sight - a huge room full of publishing people in meetings - but I have never been up there.

My reason for going to London Book Fair 2013 is what happens on the unrestricted (as long as you buy an entry ticket) ground floor level - according to the LBF website directory there were 1,864 companies exhibiting their wares this year. 

Of course you can go to bookshops or libraries to see books and this is the best way to look at them, but in these situations they are normally grouped by genre, age group or author. For me, seeing books grouped together by publisher in dedicated stands designed to tempt large scale buyers at London Book Fair, is fascinating - what books do they put up front, what looming author mug-shots are on their huge display boards and so on. 

This year I toured LBF with the intention of gauging, in a random and completely unscientific way, how much impact graphic novels and comic books are making in the world of mainstream UK book publishing. It has seemed to me that there is a growing interest and enthusiasm for sequential art in books in this country but I wondered if I had gained this impression via the heightened awareness that comes from having more contact with fellow enthusiasts rather than from any wider change.

A few years ago London Book Fair had a "focus" on graphic novels. This turned out to be a tiny café/seating/meeting area and a couple of exhibitors bundled together in a corner.

Superficially, from my observations as I poodled around the major stands, it did not seem to be much better this year. Though I know that many big publishing houses have a graphic novel or two on their lists this was not immediately obvious in their displays.

Digging a bit deeper into the aisles I found the stand for SelfMadeHero - an independent publishing house dedicated to graphic novels. Sam, who was manning the stand, has agreed to chat with me about their books at another time so I will write more about SelfMadeHero in a future post but I will mention here that he seemed optimistic about the market for graphic novels and certainly both the SelfMadeHero stand at London Book Fair and their range of books seems to be steadily growing - it was quite impressive to see their display.

I did not find any other UK based graphic novel publishers with their own stands however I did find a couple of stands where some graphic novel and comic book publishers were represented within a group. At the stand for Turnaround Publishing Services (an independent supplier to the book trade) I was told that they were entering more and more into the graphic novel and comic book market by forming connections with specialist publishing houses. This, I was told, was because of a growing demand for this kind of book. Turnaround Publishing Services had a number of publishers within its stand including Knockabout, Panini and Cinebook with many graphic novels and comic books on prominent display.

The second stand that caught my eye was the one for Bounce Marketing (a specialist sales and marketing agency for children's book publishers). Its display included a range of books by Graphic Novel Publishing House NoBrow's new imprint for children Flying Eye Books.

Based on my limited observations and conversations during my visit UK graphic novels and comics do seem to have a slightly increased presence at London Book Fair and there are signs of a growing interest in this kind of book. This makes me very happy.

I should say that I noticed a good number of graphic novels on the Bureau International de l'Edition Française (BIEF) stand at London Book Fair - the BIEF is responsible for the international promotion of French books - and there were graphic novels on other non-UK stands. Plus the market focus was on Turkey and there were many beautiful Turkish books on display.

If you are interested in graphic novels and comic books I recommend going to Comica Comiket. It is on this Saturday  (20th April) held at, for the first time, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. I am told that it will be bigger and better than ever!

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