“The mystery of a million book lovers in the modern age.” The BBC shows worrying ignorance of the global book fair scene

In a modern world where, supposedly, no-one reads books anymore because we are all bingeing on Netflix, perhaps we should not be so surprised that the BBC, once the bastion of fact-checked reporting and reliable perspectives, doesn’t take as much notice of the global publishing industry as it might. But it is still disappointing that the BBC should be speaking in awed tones of the turn-out at the recently closed Hong Kong Book Fair.

With one million visitors, says the BBC’s Linda Kennedy, Hong Kong has since 2014 been

the largest such literary gathering in the world.

In a post titled, with blatant disregard of the facts,

How the Hong Kong Book Fair became the world’s largest,

Kennedy fronts a news video from the fair which admirably focuses on issues of censorship, but sets the scene with an in-awe comparison of the visitor attendance at the Hong Kong Book Fair with the Russia World Cup.

Okay, (the Hong Kong fair visitors) were fewer than the 3 million that attended the World Cup in Russia, but that was over 64 matches,

says Kennedy, stressing that the one million Hong Kong turn-out was

eight times more than the Sundance Film Festival (and) four times more than Glastonbury.

It would seem books have never been so popular! Four times more people turning out for a book event than for Glastonbury? How can this even be possible?

In Kennedy’s TV-centric world the only reason Hong Kong attracts so many people is because visitors from mainland China head to Hong Kong to obtain books otherwise hard to get hold of.

At which point, while not minimizing in any way the issue of censorship Kennedy is attempting to address here, let’s have a reality check.

When it comes to censorship I’m sure Kennedy would agree with me that Iran is up there alongside China in the censorship offender ranks.

Unlike China, Iran does not have a half-way house equivalent to Hong Kong, where censorship and control is more lax than elsewhere. Least of all the Iranian capital.

Yet the Tehran International Book Fair, clearly not on Kennedy’s radar, regularly attracts not one but two million visitors, which for those mathematically challenged is not only twice the size of the Hong Kong Book Fair but eight times more than Glastonbury and sixteen times more than the Sundance Film Festival.

The Tehran fair is just one of a number of book fairs around the world that – don’t tell Linda – regularly clear more than two million visitors.

The Madrid Book Fair, for example, saw 2.2 million visitors this year, which was down slightly on the 2.4 million for 2017.

In April the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair in Malaysia drew a crowd of 2 million.

In the same month the Bangkok International Book Fair in Thailand fell just short of its usual two million, with record rainfall causing floods that reduced the book fair attendance to a mere 1.8 million over the eleven day event.

Also in April the Buenos Aries International Book Fair in Argentina attracted its regular 1.2 million visitors, and one million visitor book fairs abound.

While all eyes are on the London Book Fair this week, in the thirty days either side of the LBF over 13 million people are visiting book fairs around the globe

No time to make a comprehensive list here, but I’ll just mention in passing that the year kicked off with India’s Kolkata International Book Fair and the New Delhi World Book Fair, both of which are in the two million visitors club.

And it would be remiss of me to omit the rising star that is Sharjah. Last November the Sharjah International Book Fair clocked 2.38 million visitors in its eleven day run, selling books to the value of $56 million. This year’s event is expected to be even bigger.

Record-breaking Sharjah Int. Book Fair – 2.38 million visitors. $56 million book sales in eleven days

All very impressive, and all evidently happening unbeknownst to the BBC’s Linda Kennedy, so we can safely say Linda will have no idea that the actual winner of the world’s biggest book fair award goes to a country not in Asia, nor even in Europe or the Americas, but in Africa.

That will be the Cairo International Book Fair in Egypt, which last January had already hit the 2.5 million visitor market at its half-way stage –

Cairo International  Book Fair – 2.5 million visitors and only half-way through?

and went on to clock a final visitor count of 4.5 million.

Linda Kennedy at the BBC, that’s eighteen times bigger than Glastonbury and thirty-six times bigger than the Sundance Film Festival.

Oh, and it’s also 1.5 million more people than attended the Russia World Cup over its entire 64 matches.

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