Sixty per cent. That’s what London Book Fair is offering by way of a refund to thousands of publishers and other exhibitors who in good faith paid up for the 2020 London Book Fair event, only to have the organisers cancel it at the last minute, after a long period of avoidable uncertainty.

The coronavirus pandemic was of course no fault of the London Book Fair, but the mishandling of the event’s cancellation, insisting the event would go ahead on schedule, in blatant defiance of common sense and of the health risk to staff and to participants, was entirely down to the LBF.

It was plain in February that the London Book Fair was a cancellation waiting to happen, and the month ended with major publishers and related exhibitors announcing their withdrawal rather than wait for the London Book Fair to do the decent thing and cancel.

March began with more exits from major players.

And still the London Book Fair pretended there wasn’t a problem.

Eventually even the London Book Fair had to face reality.

But by then the damage had been done. The London Book Fair had demonstrated by its actions that its words of assurance that the health and safety of visitors was paramount were meaningless rhetoric.

In leaving the inevitable cancellation as long as it possibly could the London Book Fair lost the trust and respect of countless publishing industry stakeholders.

One might think that alone would have been enough for the LBF organisers to think carefully about their next move, and to make sure everyone who fell for the faux message that the 2020 show would go on would at least be fully refunded, to reassure prospective 2021 exhibitors and visitors that their money would not be at risk.

Instead, per a report from Publishers Weekly, the London Book Fair is offering a 100% carry-over refund, meaning exhibitors can carry their payment forward to the 2021 event.

But for any exhibitor or other participant needing back now the money they handed over on good faith for the 2020 event, the best the London Book Fair will offer is a 60% refund.

That would be a lousy deal even if the cancellation had been a one-off only impacting the event itself – a fire, for example, rendering the premises unusable.

But this paltry 60% refund comes as publishing stakeholders across the spectrum are struggling – many facing imminent bankruptcy – and where every single penny matters.

We all understand the London Book Fair has costs and losses here, but since when it that the problem of the exhibitors and visitors who paid their money to receive an agreed service?

The London Book Fair surely had full insurance provision to ride out an event cancellation such as has just happened. So why can it not refund its clients in full?

And if the London Book Fair for whatever reason failed to make provision for such a refund scenario, why should any publisher, exhibitor or visitor ever trust them in the future?