As we all know, there are three big book events every year – the London Book Fair, the New York Book Expo, and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
And if we stretch the imagination a little we can count a few other big book fairs – Guadalajara and Bologna, for example, and lately Shanghai and Beijing – as worthy of our attention.
This month, while an obscure book fair in Nigeria briefly made the headlines thanks to the IPA holding a regional conference in Lagos, by and large you could be forgiven for thinking May is a dull month on the publishing calendar and we’ve all been quietly recovering from the London Book Fair in April and counting the days until the New York Book Expo at the end of May.
The reality is rather different.
Let’s set aside the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, as most of its 300,000 visitors will have turned out in April, although the event ended May 1.
The Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair began in Malaysia on April 27, running through May 6.
Let’s assume even attendance over the ten days, which means we can allocate 1.2 million visitors to the Kuala Lumpur fair in the six days of May.
That’s 1.2 million book fair visitors to start the month.
The Buenos Aries International Book Fair in Argentina also started in April. By happy coincidence that’s exactly how many the Buenos Aries International Book Fair attracts each year. The Argentina event runs April 26 through May 14, so we have five days worth of April visitors to deducted from the 1.2 million turn out that ended May 14.
Assuming an even daily attendance we can attribute 845,000 visitors to the fair in May.
Earlier this month the Thessaloniki International Book Fair happened in Greece. No final numbers yet but 85,000 were expected.
The Nigeria event, which wound up yesterday, was expecting 14,000 visitors.
The Tehran International Book Fair in Iran also wound up yesterday. Again, too soon for 2018 numbers but typically 2 million turn out.
Again, too soon for 2018 numbers but the Prague International Book Fair that ends today was expecting 44,000.
No numbers yet for the eleven day Tanpinar Poetry & Literature Festival in Turkey which finishes tomorrow.
Also finishing tomorrow is the Turin International Book Fair. According to the official website there were 143,815 visitors in 2017. I have seen mention of 340,000 in previous years, but let’s take 140,000 as a likely guideline for 2018.
And also just winding up is the Yaoundé Book Fair in Cameroon, one of three major book fairs in Africa this month. Nigeria I’ve already mentioned, and still to come is the Abidjan Book Fair in Côte d’Ivoire.
Now that’s enough to keep any publisher or booklover happy, but actually we’re only halfway through the month.
Still to come this May (and again, visitor numbers based on 2017 where available), here’s what’s in store.
On May 17 the Warsaw International Book Fair in Poland kicks off, with 75,000 expected.
Also on May 17, a little further east in Russia, the 2018 St. Petersburg International Book Fair opens. Last year 200,000 turned out for the event.
On May 25 the Iberian peninsula comes alive with books as both the Lisbon and Madrid Book Fairs launch.
The Lisbon event runs through to June 13 and last year attracted 537,000. Assuming an even daily attendance we can allocate to the six May days a turnout of 170,000.
For Madrid things get more interesting still.
The May Madrid Book Fair is not to be confused with the LIBER International Book Fair which alternates between Madrid and Barcelona and happens later in the year. While the LIBER event is strictly trade, the Madrid Book Fair in May is a consumer-facing event aimed at booklovers.
More significantly, this book festival is the largest cultural event in Spain.
Just stop to savour that for a moment. The largest cultural event in Spain is a book fair.
In fact it’s possibly the largest book event in Europe. Last year the seventeen day event pulled in 2.4 million visitors, and publishers exhibiting at the event (480 of them) were raking in an untold number of sales.
Deducting the portion that would have attended in April we are left with 1,553,000 booklovers attending the Madrid Book Fair this month.
Then on May 29 it’s Scandinavia’s turn as 25,000 descend on the Nordic Literature Festival.
And on May 30, running into June the Bucharest Bookfest launches in Romania, the second of seven major book fairs in Romania this year. The Romania event attracts 100,000. The event runs through to June 3, so taking the May share, assuming even attendance across the event, we can factor in 40,000 May visitors for Bookfest Bucharest.
And finally, on May 31, it’s Georgia’s turn as 50,000 head for the Tblisi International Book Fair. The event runs through Jun 3 so May comprises one quarter of that attendance, giving us another 12,500 expected as the month winds down.
I say finally with some reservations as I’ve probably missed several more.
But in that quick snapshot of book fair and book festival events just in May 2018, while all eyes are on New York Expo, significantly over six million people will be descending on book fairs and festivals elsewhere around the world.
None of these are in the US or UK, where many publishers and authors focus all their energies, and very few are in western Europe, where we tend to assume the only other worthwhile book markets are to be found. Only two of those countries have a Kindle store.
The global book market is not only bigger than we think, but could be bigger still if publishers, retailers, and distributors could work together to offer more choice at better prices.
That, after all, assisted by social media and smartphones, is what draws 44,000 Czechs to a book fair in Prague, or 100,000 Romanians to a book fair in Bucharest, or 1.2 million Argentinians to a book fair in Buenos Aires, or 2.4 million Spaniards to a book fair in Madrid.