They have had to change their plans: delay, disrupt, experiment. And they have done so while continuing to engage with each other through the ALDUS network. Because in the scenario reshaped by the emergency, the functions of the network appear intact and even strengthened: to make innovation a vital tool for the achievement of the objectives periodically identified and to seek international openness as a space for dialogue.

In October 2019, the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) organised in collaboration with – the book industry association of Flanders – the ALDUS event Focus on book fairs, during which numerous professionals from European publishing associations were able to share their experience in the organisation of book fairs belonging to the network. An excellent summary of the shared information which emerged as a result is the report by FEP Deputy Director Enrico Turrin, published in January 2020 in the K-Hub section of

The event, moreover, epitomised the operational approach, spirit and function of ALDUS: a physical and digital platform to team up human and professional resources cooperating in global publishing. Infrastructure to link up national and international approaches, sharing problems and solutions. An opportunity to arrange rendez-vous in which to articulate ideas – but above all to structure and systematise the discussion. An opportunity to work on a shared definition of a benchmarking method and make it a tool for action and innovation.

October 2019 seems a lifetime ago if we think about what 2020 would soon have in store for us. In the first weeks of March, with a rapid sequence of book fairs cancellations, the coronavirus made its unequivocal entry into the publishing world.

Not just a concrete sign of the health emergency – and a stark anticipation of the socio-economic effects it would have – the cancellation of these events in many corners of Europe soon made us aware of how global the scale of what we were about to face was.

In October 2019, the book fairs of the ALDUS network communicated with each other by sharing innovative formats tested, objectives achieved and those to be aimed at. From their experiences, innovation emerged as a transversal framework through which to interpret and build the future: publishing content, the community of readers, the involvement of both the general and the professional public and the infrastructure of the fair itself. From these accounts, ALDUS was confirmed both as a network for sharing innovation formats and as an intrinsically innovative player, through the events, conferences and initiatives organized under its name at the various European fairs. These are all features that appear intact and strengthened, despite the upheaval of recent months. It is as if the ALDUS model was implicitly preparing us for something we could not have foreseen would happen. But it did happen.

It was in this context that the brochure European Book Fairs. Facts and Figures 2020 was published in early May. While, on the one hand, it could only reflect the uncertainty and peculiar nature of the period, on the other hand it reaffirmed the importance of this space for dialogue between the book fairs and the will to keep it alive. The update collects profiles of the 18 fairs belonging to ALDUS (now 19, with the arrival of Book World Prague), distributed across 14 European countries. Editorially completed just before the beginning of the health emergency, it gives a snapshot of the infrastructure of book fairs in Europe in a pose that they would have to abandon soon afterwards.

Among the many cancellations and postponements, many entities immediately began to explore alternative solutions to try to get around the restrictions introduced by the spread of the new coronavirus: from the opening of digital platforms designed for internationalisation to the partial reconfiguration online of the programming of initiatives, both for the general and professional public. Once again, ALDUS is both witness and incubator of these processes, and by facilitating comparison between the solutions experimented so far already helps us to grasp constants and glimpse trends.

On the subject of digital rethinking of meeting formats, the special edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair took place at the beginning of May and was “visited” by over 60,000 users with a total of 470,000 page views and 2.000,000 impressions recorded on the event’s social channels. A partner of ALDUS and pioneer of the spirit of the network – at the intersection between local and global themes and experiences, traditionally accustomed to reading and experiencing publishing content through the framework and tools of innovation – the online edition of Bologna Fair featured two initiatives organised in the framework of ALDUS. One is the BCBF Global Rights Exchange, a virtual hub for buying and selling publishing rights to allow exhibiting publishers and literary agents to present their titles, make and receive offers and schedule video meetings. This platform will remain active until the end of 2020. The other is the online edition of the Dust or magic masterclass, a consolidated appointment dedicated to anyone involved or interested in digital media for children and teenagers

A few days later – from 14 to 17 May – the Turin Book Fair also offered its public a special digital edition: the Salone Extra. In four days, 140 guests from all over the world had more than 60 meetings, naturally through streaming (the contents were watched in total for more than 64,000 minutes). More than 200 bookstores throughout Italy joined the SalTo in Libreria initiative simultaneously and 360 “restart books” were reported by publishers who would have been present at the event, ideally participating with the covers of the titles by means of which they will be aiming for a recovery. The digital experience of the Salone also generated a summer spin-off, the SalTo Notte. “In a historic moment in which the possibility of movement is returning to the world, but the direction to take is not clear”, this is a trip to Italian cities to discover sites of culture and literature, streamed through the fair’s website and channels late at night on Tuesdays.

An interesting virtual experience within the network has been piloted by Book World Prague (cancelled this year) which kept the dialogue with its audience alive through a calendar of meetings with writers. These were streamed from 8 April to 4 May, having as a stage the same historical building that would have hosted the fair. The initiative was linked to the Donio crowdfunding platform, through which users could send donations to support local publishers through the purchase of books, then donated to less well-off sections of the population.

The Leipzig Book Fair, due to be held from 12 to 15 March but cancelled for 2020, instead focused on a mix of initiatives undertaken by different stakeholders – partly autonomous and partly coordinated by the Leipzig Fair and Börsenverein. On the one hand, this leveraged the active role of the media (digital and traditional) already supporting the initiative, which used the slots and spaces planned to cover the fair to bring meetings, readings, interviews with authors live on air or online so that that the public could enjoy remotely. At the same time, it drew on the social involvement of exhibitors, bloggers and influencers of the book world, which has often followed spontaneous and autonomous paths both in the development of formats and contents by setting up hashtag campaigns, virtual readings and events.

The appointment with the Lisbon Book Fair was confirmed, but postponing the dates from June to 27 August – 13 September 2020, and introducing special measures to ensure health safety. The event, which this year celebrates its 90th anniversary, continues the collaboration between the Portuguese Association of Publishers and Booksellers (APEL) and the City Council of Lisbon, confirmed until 2022. Renewing the previous agreement signed in 2017, this collaboration translates into financial support of 120,000 euros per year for three years and strengthening of synergies with the fair, publishers’ association and local government aiming to achieve the same goals: first and foremost the promotion of reading. The partnership also has the objective of ensuring stability over time to the event, preserving its organizational structure and having particular regard for the “educational” function of the fair, in collaboration with the network of municipal libraries of Lisbon, aimed at the involvement of younger audiences, children and young people.

At the time this article was written  [ September 2020], autumn schedules have been confirmed for Napoli Città Libro (8 – 11 October) [then postponed to 8-11  April 2021] and the Vienna International Book Fair (11 – 25 November) [then postponed to 10-14 November 2o21]  while the International Istanbul Book Fair (originally planned from 31 October to 8 November) is postponed to new dates to be announced.

In Spain, the difficulties arising from the pandemic made necessary adapt the format of LIBER (originally planned from 7 to 9 October in Barcelona) and to move its dates to 27-29 October. LIBER 2020 will combine a face-to-face format with a virtual one organised by the Spanish Publishers’ Federation and Fira de Barcelona. Instead of the traditional Exhibitor’s Fair, a different participation format will be offered to exhibitors. Institutional events will be structured around the face-to-face format, while the agenda of commercial meetings and professional events will be organised virtually.

On the other hand, the Göteborg Book Fair (24 to 27 September) opted for an entirely digital format, with a streaming programme broadcast through several channels and media to reach a wider and more diverse audience, a new online platform and a partnership with the country’s major bookstores (the Akademibokhandeln chain and the online store Bokus) for the sale of books. There are two thematic containers. The Göteborg Book Fair Bildung Hub, in the first two days, is dedicated to topics at the intersection between the world of books and the world of school. It addresses professionals from the fields of didactics, teaching and libraries but is equally appealing to members of the general public interested in social issues. Among the dominant themes of the Göteborg Book Fair Bildung Hub’s programme is the promotion of reading and digital culture. Then follows the Göteborg Book Fair Literature Festival, from 26 to 27 September, more traditionally focused on presenting recently published books to the public. But there is no lack of space dedicated to poetry, theatre and translation.

The Madrid book fair, after being postponed from May to October, has been cancelled for this year; a digital programme will be held in the same days the fair was supposed to take place (2-18 October).

Similarly, following the cancellation of the Antwerp Book Fair – scheduled for November – the Flemish national radio and television broadcaster VRT and have joined forces to organise an alternative fair from Sunday 1 to Wednesday 11 November with a packed programme of television and radio events putting books, readers and authors at the centre of the schedule. It is also worth mentioning “the book marathon” that radio host Tom De Cock is “running” in the Antwerp studios, interviewing over 300 Flemish and international authors in ten days. This is backed up, all over Flanders, by a flying reporter gathering instead the thoughts of readers (as well as other authors) encountered in book-centred locations: bookstores, schools, libraries, cultural centres.

Frankfurt Buchmesse (14-18 October 2020) will take place this year with an extensive digital programme for publishing professionals, exciting online events at BOOKFEST digital for an international readership, as well as live events in Frankfurt on the ARD Book Fair Stage in the Festhalle and some 80 events as part of BOOKFEST city. The book fair’s traditional on-site exhibition is being cancelled this year due to the corona pandemic. The fair has received public support of 4 million Euros. The funds will be used to enable users to participate in the wide-ranging digital formats provided by Frankfurter Buchmesse. This includes Frankfurt Rights, the platform for the international exchange of rights and licenses where publishers can present their company and titles and create a catalogue of available rights. Operators interested in buying can browse the platform using filters and keywords, looking for promising titles and new business partners from all over the world. Thanks to the funds, editors and rights and licensing managers will be able to use the platform free of charge and will have continued free access for nine months after the fair is over. THE ARTS+ also goes digital, with a programme of presentations, masterclasses and pitches aimed at promoting partnerships and advancing business at the intersection between the publishing industry and creative industries. BOOKFEST, the festival of reading and culture that animates the city of Frankfurt during the days of the fair, takes place physically and, for the first time, virtually as BOOKFEST digital. So alongside this wide-ranging event, which brings poetry competitions, readings, artistic performances and debates onto the streets of the city, the new BOOKFEST digital offers a digital programme with contributions from various continents, broadcast from morning to evening on Saturday, 17 October 2020, on the Buchmesse website and its social channels, freely accessible to viewers from all over the world

After 18 consecutive editions, Più libri più liberi, the national fair for small and medium publishing in Rome, organized since its inception by the Associazione Italiana Editori, is for the first time skipping its appointment.  “Until the last possible moment we studied the feasibility of carrying out the fair in safety, but a sense of responsibility had to prevail,” says the President of the event Annamaria Malato. While awaiting a fully fledged relaunch in 2021, once again in the splendid Fuksas’ Cloud, at the Eur, the AIE has joined Insieme – lettori, autori, editori, a book festival promoted by Roma Capitale, the Lazio Region and the Centre for books and reading (Cepell), in Rome from 1 to 4 October. “A special event for a special year, designed specifically for the situation we are experiencing” comments AIE President Ricardo Franco Levi. “It’s nice to know that in such a difficult moment, books and reading offer the chance to create a system in the interests of the whole community”.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shocked the world, our world, and redesigned our interpretive categories. It weighs on our industry’s accounts and on the sustainability of creative industries, on their capacity to continue to do their work with dignity, making our lives fuller and more beautiful. Having a space for international exchanges – to discuss what has happened, the solutions that have been tried, the paths that have been taken, the needs that have been felt, the know-how that has been deployed and that needs to be developed – is essential to raise awareness of what is happening and to rethink the future. Such international dialogue will continue with ALDUS Up: the new project phase, co-funded in the framework of Creative Europe programme and starting in September 2020 will further develop the book fairs network to reach a pan European dimension and broad its scope to cope with core topics for the book sectors.

This article was originally published in the October issue of Giornale della libreria. The full issue in English is available for download here on AIE website.