Book fair jury’s still out

The 5th Cape Town Book Fair (CTBF) shut up shop in Cape Town yesterday. As the 270 exhibitors, some from as far afield as China, Korea and Abu Dhabi, packed up their wares, the word on the ground was that the 2010 CTBF was distinctly smaller than previous years.

But word from the top is that its still too soon to tell if widespread mutterings about a greatly diminished book fair will be borne out by the numbers.

Claudia Kaiser, CTBF director, expressed her satisfaction with the turnout and says that initial feedback from exhibitors expressed satisfaction.

Acceding that yesterday, the final day was indeed quieter than last year, and expressing disappointment at the small turn out of school children this year, Kaiser attributed this drop to the teacher’s strike.

Kaiser, who previously held down stints at the Frankfurt, Beijing and Abu Dhabi book fairs, expressed her satisfaction with attendance: “I’m very happy.

Of course you’re always as happy as your customers are. We generally got very positive feedback about all the new things at the fair.”

Among the “new things” at this year’s CTBF was a trade day devoted solely to traders and publishing professionals, which took place on Friday.

The rationale for the trade day, says Kaiser, is to build relationships between South African publishers, authors and booksellers and global players in the book business.

Opened by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, literary luminaries such as Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka, international best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult, and Chris van Wyk were among the writers who attended this year’s CTBF.

Held previously on, or close to the June 16th holiday weekend, this year the fair was moved because of the World Cup.

Twelve publishers from ten African countries including Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria, and Kenya were present due to a grant from the Goethe Institute.

While Timbila Poetry Project, a smaller local publishers based in Venda and run by poet Vonani Bila exhibited thanks to a grant from the MAPP SETA and the Department of Arts and Culture.

Bila was one exhibitor who was happy with the turnout and says even though he came looking mainly for local and international distributors, he’d sold out most of the books he’d brought.

Among the reasons cited by several other exhibitors and visitors for the drop in numbers was the steep cost involved in exhibiting, as well as the fact that visitors paid not only to enter the fair but also had to cough up extra cash for some sessions.

Getting into a discussion by John Ledger on wildlife photography at The Labia would set you back R30, and R180 for the Satire Supper with Eric Miyeni, Marianne Thamm and other writers.

Exhibitors also had to cough up more money to show their wares this year.

Kaiser says: “Putting on a show like this is not cheap,” adding that the increase was simply inflation related.

And what returns on their investments exhibitors have reaped might never be known. Feedback from their customers does not include specific volumes of trade, says Kaiser.

Five major book dealers – Exclusive Books, Random House, CNA, Penguin, and Struik – were notably absent this year.

“CNA has never been at the fair, Penguin was represented through Wordsworth, Exclusive Books had their banner up and they were distributing,” says Kaiser, “the only big distributor that wasn’t here was Random House and you have to ask them why they didn’t come.”

The fat lady should sing later this week, according to Kaiser, who says she’ll be releasing figures for attendance at this year’s CTBF.

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