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Mood buoyant at spring book fairs

18 April 2011

The two big spring book fairs in Europe, Bologna and London, have both gone rather well, with packed aisles and a lot of solid business being done.

This is all the more surprising because the book business internationally is in something of a crisis. The two big English language markets are both down on book sales, the UK by 3% and the US by a worrying 9%. Although sales of ebooks are growing, especially in the States, this is not yet compensating for the lost print sales.

In addition to the problem of declining sales and keeping up with digitisation, there is the distinctly uncomfortable fact that bookselling chains are under pressure in many places. Australia and New Zealand have already suffered the bankruptcy of their biggest book chain, Borders in the US continues to totter on the brink and HMV in the UK looks like it is about to sell Waterstone's, the sole remaining UK book chain of any size.

Yet the upbeat mood in both fairs was noticeable. Perhaps it was the very international nature of these occasions, since when one country is down, another may be booming.

At Bologna classic picture books seemed to be back in demand and dystopian fiction appears to have overtaken paranormal and vampire romance as the genre in demand fro teenagers. Speaking from her own experience of setting up her new publishing house, Nosy Crow, Kate Wilson said: 'The downward price pressure is impacting on creative investment and experimentation.' Addressing publishers she said: 'The pricing decisions and content decisions you make now will decide whether we have a market.'

At the London Book Fair a record numbers of exhibitors, 1,698, came from 58 countries. It was a sign of the times that the digital zone exhibitors were up from last year's 22 from 7 countries to 54 from 14 countries this year. The International Rights Centre was sold out.

Both fairs were attended by a strong American contingent and there was a feeling that the US was emerging ready to buy after a period of relative isolation. Everyone was looking for the big book, or the special book which would work for them or in their territory. As Joanna Pryor, MD of Penguin General put it: 'The tougher the market, the more unforgiving, the more you need to have the right books. There isn't a disconnect - it means the terrific books and projects become more sought-after, because you need winners.'