Due to the pandemic, the 90th edition of Lisbon Bookfair has been postponed to late August, early September. It seemed the most appropriate timing as the weather is still mild (usually it doesn’t rain). Many Portuguese are still on vacation, but close to its ending so they are coming back to Lisbon; the school year hasn’t started yet; and it was maintained a deliberate distance from Christmas season, as this is a privileged period to sell books in traditional bookstores and there was the concern not to endanger them.
This year’s bookfair was the second largest until the present day, overcoming the 2018 edition in which stands are concerned (310), matching it in exhibitors (117) and increasing the imprints’ participation (638). Thus, the 90th anniversary of Lisbon Bookfair was celebrated with the largest publications’ availability ever.
COVID-19 mitigation measures lead to another level of planning adjustment, throughout the whole structure of the event, including the calendar of cultural events, to guarantee that social distancing would be maintained.
For the first time in its history, Lisbon Book Fair had its venue’s perimeter bordered and with ingress control. In a close dialog with Lisbon’s Municipality Civil Protection Department, on a first stage, it was established a maximum capacity of 3.300 visitors simultaneously. This capacity was slightly adjusted during the two weeks the event took place, but it was a completely different scenario when compared to previous editions where, on weekend days, the Fair easily reached 12.000 visitors at the same time, and up to 60.000 during a full day.
Even with these constraints, (not having, so far, the final figures) the organization estimates that the 90th Lisbon Bookfair had achieved approximately half the visitors, comparing with past editions, which had around ½ million people. This is quite positive, all things considered, and it reflects the eagerness from the public to participate and to get back to a conceivable normality. It also shows that it is possible to host and participate safely in big public events.
Even though there is no legal obligation to wear masks in the open, it was implemented its mandatory usage while strolling through the venue, both for exhibitors as well as for visitors. By the entrances and scattered throughout the entire space, there were several dispensers with hand sanitizer, and everybody was invited to use them before entering the fairground and before flip through books.
With the purpose of increasing the mobility spaces and to assure the recommended distancing between people, the organization kept only the essential infrastructures. The food courts were also decreased and there was a strong concern while selecting concepts that would promote the consumption “on the go”.
Seated places, in the squares, were removed, exception made to those in the auditoriums where the cultural events take place. This year, the main Auditorium was transformed into an open-air space, and two new open-air auditoriums were created, placed on the top of Parque Eduardo VII, away from the circulation lanes between the exhibitors stands.
The cultural events had reached a total of 1.100, approximately, nearly half of those that occurred in 2019.
There was a broad, strong feeling that the event’s accomplishment brought a sign of hope, prompting the book sector and providing positive encouragement to publishers and booksellers who had the possibility to observe a certain revivification of the market. It is not possible to ascertain conclusive figures, only trends, but there is an awareness that the volume of sales was quite close to those resulting from the two previous editions. Some (few) had losses of up to 35%, aligning with the current Portuguese market variation.
It is also important to point out the outstanding visitor’s behavior, throughout the whole event, always displaying full cooperation, respecting the measures implemented in this pandemic context, always using face masks, regularly sanitizing their hands, maintaining social distance, etc. These allowed 18 days of complete tranquility, with no covid19 related incidents.
Taking all into consideration, the organization believes that, even though under difficult circumstances, Lisbon Bookfair was a triumph and would not hesitate to make the same decision to host it again.