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Good news from London/ Bad news from the US

24 March 2003

The London Book Fair seems finally to have come of age, confirming its position as the second most important international rights fair after Frankfurt. Trade attendees, at 13,532, were up 19% on last year. Despite the fact that war was looming, the international delegates leapt by 20% to nearly 5,000 people. The Americans seemed to be there in force, in spite of predictions that they would not come.

It was also a surprisingly upbeat fair, with plenty of big splashy deals announced, as well as a lot of solid business being done. In spite of the strains in the world economy, publishers, with their customary optimism, look forward to a bumper crop of new books.

Other international book fairs may be more welcoming towards authors, but the London Book Fair, with its packed aisles, didn't seem to have much room or time for writers. All the more important therefore that the PENSupported by eminent writers, this is the English branch of International Pen, which has centres in nearly 100 countries. It fights for freedom of expression and against political censorship. It campaigns for writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes murdered for their views. Mail Masterclasses catered specifically for authors, as reported last week.

US book purchasing down

Elsewhere, there was less cheering news. Ipsos Booktrends announced further results from their survey which tracks US consumer purchasing over time. There's a continuing decline in the number of households which buy at least one trade (or general) book a year, from 60% in 1997 to 56% in 2002. There's also been a demoralising shift to used bookstores and deep discounters, both of which reduce authors' income from their books. The amount spent is relatively stagnant, so increases in trade paperback prices mean fewer books are being bought.