Warsaw, Minsk, Bucharest, Bratislava, Lillehammer, St. Petersburg, Dublin, Kiev, Madrid, Lisbon – the European book fair season is under way

Although we have had significant European book fairs already this year, it is in May that things really step up a gear, as winter is laid to rest, spring has sprung and thoughts turn to a summer of books.

May started with the Thessalonika fair in Greece (85,000 visitors) and the Tanpinar festival in Turkey, then moving to the Czech Republic where 44,000 turned out for the Prague fair, and then to Turin – final numbers not in yet but it hit 143,00 the previous year.

Yesterday the Dublin International Literature Festival got underway amid controversy and cries of censorship as one event at the show was cancelled, being in conflict with Ireland’s strict abortion laws. A reminder that arts freedom is not just an issue in countries like Iran. But let’s stick with the theme here, which is the literary fest happening across Europe this month.

Today (May 20) the Warsaw International Book Fair is winding down in Poland.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Poland’s independence and we’ll soon know if Warsaw 2018 drew more than the 75,000 visitors that came in 2017.

Just wound up yesterday was the Minsk City & Books Festival in Belarus. Not quite in the same league as Warsaw in visitor numbers – “only” 16,000 in 2017 – but a great opportunity for professional and amateur writers to get together alongside readers.

The Minsk City & Book Fair is not to be confused with the Minsk International Book Fair which takes place earlier in the year and regularly draws crowds of 60,000.

Another event concluding today is the St. Petersburg International Book Fair in Russia, where typically 200,000 turn out.

Also concluding today is the Bratislava Book Festival which, because the Slovak word for book is knižný, is known as the BRaK festival.

BRaK will be the guest at the Kiev Book Arsenal that runs May 30 through June 3, with this year in the Ukraine a look at publishing’s future tech’, with VR featuring strongly.

It promises to be an exciting event, but despite typically attracting 90,000 visitors it will of course be totally overshadowed by the New York Book Expo, and sadly that’s the case for several major European book events this month.

For example, the Sofia Spring Book Fair (not to be confused with the Sofia International Book Fair later in the year), which has this week been told it has to change its venue, due to security concerns. The Bulgarian EU Presidency event is due to take place at the same time as the Sofia book fair, so the book fair is being moved to a different location.

Yet another major European book event coinciding with the New York Book Expo will be the Norwegian Festival of Literature, expecting 25,000 visitors between May 29 and June 3.

And then there’s the Bucharest Bookfest in Romania, in what promises to be its biggest ever incarnation.

The Bucharest event is the largest of seven bookfests scheduled for Romania this year. Literally 50% bigger in terms of floor space, this year’s literary extravaganza is taking place at the new pavilion at the Bucharest Romexpo, with 15,000 square metres (161,500 sq. ft.) dedicated to all things book.

Some 1 million books will be up for grabs at the event, at big discounts, and with a Junior Bookfest event running in tandem. And with the USA as Guest of Honour, visitor numbers are expected to significantly exceed the 100,000 that have been turning out in recent years.

Said Grigore Arsene, president of the Romanian Publishers Association which organises the Bookfest,

We’ve dreamed of being able to get the Bookfest held at Romexpo in this new B2 pavilion; I hope the visitor experience is truly enjoyable because the Bookfest 2018 is an event organized to the highest standards and, dare I say, with the most beautiful stands dedicated to books.

Romania’s Bookfest Book Salon has local editions in Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Tirgu Mures, Iasi, Brasov and another international edition in Chisinau.

The Bucharest Bookfest runs May 30 through June 3.

But I’ll end this review of the May book fair scene in Europe on the Iberian peninsula where the Lisbon and Madrid events run independently but simultaneously.

Both events start on May 25 and run through to mid June.

The Lisbon event last year attracted a crowd of over 537,000. Not bad going for a country that doesn’t even warrant a Kindle store.

But the hands down winner for visitor attendance is the Madrid Book Fair in Spain.

While the publishing industry focuses on Spain’s LIBER event, which pulls in around 10,000 visitors, the consumer-facing Madrid Book Fair typically attracts 2.4 million visitors. In 2018 books to the value of almost 9 million euros were sold.

Yet almost none of these events will receive more than token publishing industry coverage outside their respective countries, feeding the faux narrative that there are only a handful of book markets in the world worth bothering with.

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