Book Exhibitions in a Time of Pandemic

6 min readMay 12, 2020


International Rights at the London Book Fair

Global events requiring international travel and the congregation of thousands of visitors in exhibition halls are one of the heaviest casualties of the COVID-19 economic and social crisis. The Barcelona Mobile World Conference was one of the first cancellations. The 2020 Olympics may or may not take place in 2021. The UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for Glasgow in November is postponed. The major annual book fairs are a case in point, it will be very hard to plan a show for London in March 2021 if there is no certainty that American and Asian publishers will be able to fly there. And anyone who has seen the cramped, hectic, but tightly timetabled style in which negotiations on rights are conducted at a Book Fair will know that ‘social distance’ has no margin in those cheek by jowl circumstances. These likely cancellations are serious setbacks and will result in global, political, cultural and economic loss. Scientific and commercial congresses are a big business with big budgets and most can not now be scheduled, planned, or financed with any confidence. This means that the largest such conferences almost certainly will not take place for 18 months or 2 years.

There have been some useful postings at The Scholarly Kitchen that look at the way scholarly and scientific conference promoters are reacting to this challenge. It is certainly pertinent that the crisis-crucial scientific disciplines (medicine, molecular biology, genetics and epidemiology) are prolific in their use and dependence on international meetings. Michael Clarke at the Scholarly Kitchen notes:

As circumstances change, societies may find themselves reconceptualizing some physical events. While bringing 10,000 people from around the world to a single venue may not be feasible in the near term, it may be possible to hold a series of smaller local events, perhaps combined with streaming and interactive online resources. It is important to recognise that physical meetings and virtual meeting are not mutually exclusive. The physical meeting can incorporate some of the affordances of the virtual world even as virtual meetings, when appropriate and safe, extend to physical meetings, with their own set of outstanding affordances. Scientific and Scholarly Meetings in a Time of Pandemic

Since the science is urgent and fast moving some of these international congresses will take place and as an earlier posting by Sami Benchekroun and Michelle Kuepper illustrates there are a wealth of digital interactive tools now available to those who need to hold remote digital meetings and conferences: YouTube, Vimeo, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Slide Share and many more. Some of them rather carefully crafted for academic or scientific deployment, such as Panopto which provides a well thought out suite of tools for virtualising and broadcasting lectures and seminars, also including the Morrissier company, developers of a system for virtualised scientific poster sessions, where Benchekroun and Kuepper work.

It is a notable feature of these new systems, several of which pressing on us some crisis-induced familiarity, that they often achieve popularity by incorporating or assimilating other digital platforms or technologies (Zoom particularly seems familiar to things that have gone before). Slide Share and Panopto piggy back on Power Point, as Zoom or Google HangOut can absorb happily, or squat on top of, anything on a virtual desktop. This ability of the best new interactive technologies to absorb and gain energy and leverage from existing technologies leads one to wonder whether we could be doing more with them for digital books. What in the digital-book world can we offer to virtual meetings in a time of crisis? What do we need for valuable digital books to become more interactive and more digitally adept? More transactionally useful?

How for example could digital books be more vividly engaged in a virtual Trade Show where hundreds of publishers are erecting notional stands and exhibition tables, and hundreds more editors and agents are negotiating about titles shortly to be commissioned or perhaps already for sale in their home markets? If we try to ‘reconceptualize’ this physical event (to use Clarke’s term) what sort of digital books will we be handling?

There are three established digital formats: ebooks, audio books and PDF files. These formats have deep and essential roots in the publishing eco-system. Virtual book fairs or exhibitions when/if they come to pass will still need all these formats. The challenge is that these formats taken together and separately do not do enough for us. They are not interactive and they do not play well with Zoom or YouTube or even Spotify. All these formats share the problem that they are downloadable media. If you inject the downloadable file in a shared and interactive situation the format may be copied, downloaded and even edited and altered by some of your guests or fellow participants.

These fully downloadable media formats have substantial limitations when it comes to using a “digital book” in a forum that will be perhaps widely shared with an uncertain audience. Any complete and downloadable media used in such a situation is effectively beyond the control of the originating publisher. These widely shared but uncertain audiences may last for an hour or two, or longer, they may have fully registered and acredited memberships or they may be more free-form and even subject to Zoombombing or other forms of unapproved inclusion. For such occasions and such forums it would be very desirable to have a format in which books, periodicals or other literary publications can be temporarily and fully exhibited but with the publisher able to maintain some control of the accessibility of the work and the digital object. It is after all distinctly irritating when one goes to a good bookshop or magazine stand to find all the displayed copies shrink-wrapped and un-inspectable, but it is also understandable that booksellers and exhibitors may not be happy to see all their stock walking off the stand, whether or not they want to give it away! Downloadable digital formats tend to face this uncomfortable decision.

Exact Editions does have a non-download, streaming, standard format for publications almost all designed and produced primarily for print publication (sometimes with deep archives). The Exact Editions platform works from a database to deliver digital representations that can be accessed in any interactive web environment to search, page-through, read, link-from/to or browse print publications in a self-contained ‘edition-based’ environment. Recently we have introduced a new general-purpose tool through which publishers who work with us they can create temporary reading environments for their magazine issues or books via a Reading Room link. These links are ‘open’ to anyone who has the link, but the user needs to click on the link to get in to the publication. The publisher makes these links as/when needed and can distribute them privately (for privileged evaluation) or publicly (for promotional sampling). These Reading Rooms have 4 pre-set time periods (an hour, a day, a week, or 30 days). The precise expiry time being set from the moment when the Publisher refreshes his account page at Exact Editions.

Here are two Reading Room links:

For 1 week access to the The Caring Museum: New Models of Engagement and Aging

Expires Tue 19 May 2020 15:32:31 UTC.

For 1 week access to FlashArt a magazine trialling with Exact Editions

Expires Tue 19 May 2020 15:33:41 UTC.

From the point of view of book marketing and promotion, the most important thing about these two vivid representations of book (or a magazine issue), is that the representation is time-limited. Digital representations of books (or PDF files) have not previously been considered as designedly temporary resources. The length of the representation is controlled by the code in the link (and the setup in the database), since this technique is generalisable it opens new possibilities for subscription sales, inspection copies, or ‘rentable’ resources. These are genuine and attractive possibilities, but Exact Editions is most concerned, for now, in the marketing or promotional potential. When transit and the transport of physical books is inherently difficult or even not practical, it is important to explore new and more controlled methods of digital representation. Especially those with marginal reproductive cost.

Any publisher of books or magazines interested to explore this technique for promoting the sale of physical books or printed magazine issues is invited to upload a trial file or volume at with due reference to

If a digital format makes books look very attractive there is a good chance that it will encourage the sale of more beautiful and permanent books as we emerge from lockdown.