London Book Fair 2015 — A classic return to Olympia

The London Book Fair 2015 made its return to its traditional venue of Olympia this week and it looked very much at home there in the April sunlight.

Moving is always stressful but the organisers, Reed Exhibitions, didn’t have too much choice when it came to switching venue as the LBF’s home for the past decade has been Earls Court, also in West London, which is now closed and scheduled to be demolished to make way for a massive redevelopment.

The choice was either nearby Olympia or one of the East London conference halls, such as Excel, which proved to be so unpopular when the show moved there in 2007 that it promptly went back to Earls Court.

London Book Fair 2015 Olympia
The Grand Hall at Olympia, London Book Fair 2015. Photo: Copyright 2015 rogerpacker.com

Like so many conference venues, Olympia is awkwardly situated for easy public transport access. West London isn’t particularly well served by the Underground network and Olympia is in a netherland between Hammersmith and Kensington High Street, but it did once have a decent service that ran especially for conferences.

However, in its dubious wisdom, Transport for London closed Olympia Underground station in 2011. Since then, the venue has been served only by the London Overground service, which comprises largely of trains with just three or four carriages that get packed with passengers very quickly. There are plenty of buses to Olympia but it’s a great shame there’s no Tube any more.

The TfL move to close the Underground station was widely seen as an attempt to shift conferences to East London to bolster the ‘Olympic legacy’ after the 2012 London Games received so much public investment, which is particularly ironic as Olympia in Greece was the venue of the original Olympics (hence the name).

London Book Fair 2015
The Victorian splendour of Olympia’s single-span iron and glass roof. Photo: Copyright 2015 rogerpacker.com

I’m a particular fan of Olympia (the West London one) as it has such a light and airy feeling.

The Grand Hall is a great Victorian building covered with a single span of iron and glass, it’s the British equivalent (although much less ornate) of New York’s Grand Central Station. The rest of the halls were added in the 1920s in the Art Deco style.

It all makes it a lovely and unique place to visit for a trade show, but it does pose difficulties in navigation as there are a lot of different areas and some are tucked away.

The Show Insights Guide did have a good map which set out the layout simply and graphically but that was also tucked away inside the front cover.

The more detailed Pocket Planner map was confusing — as these small-type flat plans inevitably are — if you didn’t already know your way around Olympia. There were helpers dotted around the show, however, to guide people around the venue.

The Grand Hall was very busy when I was at the show on the opening day and the big publishers had suitably imposing presences.

London Book Fair 2015
Penguin Random House was proudly presenting the top two fiction blockbusters of the year. Photo: Copyright 2015 rogerpacker.com

Penguin Random had a very well situated spot close to the entrance and was showing off the two big fiction blockbusters of the year — The Girl on the Train and Go Set A Watchman.

Hachette's impressive stand had a circular meeting area on top
Hachette’s impressive stand had a circular meeting area on top. Photo: Copyright 2015 rogerpacker.com

Hachette had a particularly impressive stand in the middle of the Grand Hall, which featured a meeting area on top of the stand with electronic advertisements for forthcoming books.

The LBF is, of course, very much a trade show, and the major business by far is between publishers, distributors, agents, booksellers, etc, but there has been a swing in recent years, notably 2014, towards events that cater for authors as well.

This year, an LBF Fringe event was added at Foyles on the Friday after the show, but the Olympia fair itself also featured several areas of interest to authors and smaller publishers.

The big one was the Author HQ  where audiences could hear a wide range of talks and panel discussions which proved to be very popular.

The Author HQ at London Book Fair 2015
The Author HQ had a wide and varied programme of panel discussions which were very well attended. Photo: Copyright 2015 rogerpacker.com

Last year at Earls Court, the Author section suffered from being in the maelstrom of the hall, with noise from all round making it difficult to follow the talks, but at Olympia the Author HQ was well sited and participants were miked-up with excellent sound quality which improved the experience considerably.

There was a lot of good advice being handed out from the Author HQ panels on successful book design, how to sell your books, social media strategies, and how publishers and agents are discovering new talent, among many other subjects.

I was also impressed with the Interactive Theatre, which, as well as having an excellent programme of talks, had a great solution to the problem of its noisy position in the gallery overlooking the Grand Hall — headphones.

The Interactive Theatre at London Book Fair 2015
Listening in at the Interactive Theatre through headphones. Photo: Copyright 2015 rogerpacker.com

Everybody who wanted to listen to talks on subjects such as Building a 21st Century Publisher, and Working with BookTubers were handed a pair of wireless headphones to listen in undisturbed — it all looked rather like a silent disco without much dancing.

There were many book deals announced which were reported to be in the six-figure and seven-figure areas, with some featuring self-published writers, such as erotica best-seller Meredith Wild, whose Hacker series has sold over a million ebooks and 200,000 POD books, and AG Riddle for his big ebook hit, Departure, a plane-crash, time-travel thriller which has seen the film rights snapped up by Fox.

All in all, despite transport difficulties and the problems of a more complex layout, it felt like the London Book Fair 2015 had come back to its roots. Next year’s event will be held from April 12-14, 2016 at Olympia.

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