Reading Time: 3 minutes

For anyone whose interest is primarily scholarly publishing, the London Book Fair is a rather tantalizing affair. There is a lot of noise, and crowds in all the aisles (over 30,000 attendees, according to the organisers), but the bulk of the attendees are there for the trade publishing. Scholarly publishing, and digital tools, tend to be the poor cousins to the big publishers. The scholarly and tech stands are mainly around the edges and along the galleries upstairs – and, strangely, the galleries don’t seem to be shown on some of the maps of exhibitors on the ground floor. Scholarly publishing is there, but you have to hunt a bit for it.

It’s as if all the halls of Frankfurt were crowded into one big room, with the resulting queues and lack of comfort exacerbated by providing almost nowhere to sit (despite the claims that more seats were provided this year).

If the show was crowded, some of the presentations in the Tech Theatre were even more so. There was no prior booking, and the session I tried to attend, by Spotify on how they manage their spoken-word audio, was full 20 minutes before the session began, and those unfortunates (including me) who tried to stand outside couldn’t hear what was being said (rather ironic for a presentation about audio). Of course, there was no suggestion of re-running this event, even though it looked at least three times over-subscribed. By contrast, a session on using DITA for creating learning modules was only half-full. Clearly, the LBF public is keen to hear about the competition, what other companies in the space are doing, and perhaps less interested in standards-based best practice.

The general impression of noise was not simply because there were a lot of people in the halls. Most of the presentations at the Fair were rather curiously held in zones of the main hall, rather than in separate rooms. There were seats, but the general noise from the Fair mixed with the presentations with a general increase in confusion.

While I was observing the Book Fair policy of making everything take place in one big auditorium, perhaps as befits a trade fair, which is assessed by the buzz of people and events, I noticed a rather odd habit. Most of the stands had a table and some chairs for meetings, and as you walked along the aisles, without attending any meetings, you found yourself right up close to what seemed to be earnest business meetings. Yet you frequently noticed the people in the meetings were glancing at you, and at all the other attendees; they appeared to be checking who you were and (I guess) if you were important enough to acknowledge. In other words, one essential function of the Book Fair was to see and be seen.

My vote for the best stand: the Poetry Pharmacy, offering poetic prescriptions

As for the stands themselves, there was the usual disparity between large and small. Those countries with a small population but a big budget (UAE, Dubai) had stands many times larger than perhaps their size warranted. The most disproportionately large stand was that of Malta. Some publishers had notably smaller stands than others (that for Cambridge University Press was considerably smaller than the Oxford stand, for example).

All in all, regulars at the Book Fair, have perhaps learned to live with its idiosyncrasies: the queues for the ladies loos and for the cloakroom, the lack of seating, the sense of chaos. I’d much rather it were busy and noisy than silent and contemplative.