Photo Essay And Report: The 2009 Cape Town Book Fair
A Literary Feature

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 26 June 2009

Thousands of people braved crazy winter weather over four days to attend the fourth Cape Town Book Fair, which was held earlier this month at the convention centre in Cape Town, South Africa. Here is a showcase of some of the highlights from the stands and exhibition areas, in the first of a few reports we have compiled.

The Cape Town Book Fair is always an odd affair. It is both a trade event, in which publishers from all over the world exhibit to network and do business, and a public event that allows those with a love of reading to meet authors and attend sessions and workshops, as well as indulge in their love of books for four days with other equally minded individuals. This intermingling (and I do mean that literally, considering how the stands are always laid out) of two very distinct, and separate, goals has always left me a little dissatisfied because you want it to be either one or the other, not both, or, failing that, at least to be distinct, physically.

I was interested to see what would happen this year, the fair's fourth year of operation, and how it would compare to previous years (I missed the first one but went to the second and third; the second was fantastic - it was an amazing experience for me - but I was largely disappointed by the third and was hoping that I was not witnessing the beginning of this exhibition's slide into eventual oblivion).

Here, in the first (and most extensive) of a few photographic reports I have compiled are my impressions of the fair, both positive and negative. Keep an eye on the site for future posts, in which I will be showcasing some of the authors, activities, and panels that took place over the opening weekend.

A panorama of the exhibition space
Above: A panorama of the exhibition space, which was noticeably smaller this year.

This year the fair was noticeably smaller (I read somewhere that it was 400 m2 smaller) - you felt it the minute you walked into the exhibition space. A number of publishers that have featured prominently in previous years were also absent from the stands this year, and not just smaller publishers such as Two Dogs but also larger publishers such as Jacana and Struik (although both Two Dogs and Jacana did host author sessions and panel discussions). I asked around and the general feeling was that it's becoming too expensive to exhibit (this is especially significant for smaller publishers that don't have a lot of money to begin with) and less and less cost-effective as the fair seems to be repeating itself year after year in terms of which prominent authors are involved in book launches and discussion panels, which could ultimately become a turnoff for the public. Additionally, not only do exhibitors have to pay for stand space, they also (in most cases) have to pay to host each author session, panel, and discussion, so it can become a very costly undertaking, even more so if they are not based in Cape Town and have to fly down to participate.

This year I also felt that the layout was not very well planned out, with the visually dominant and physically large (and therefore easy-to-find) stands placed overwhelmingly in front as you entered, obscuring much of the rest of the fair and making some of the smaller stands easy to miss or impossible to find without a map. I understand that they pay a premium for these positions but I believe one should facilitate movement and discovery (which makes the public feel welcome and encourages people to return day after day). I was at the fair for two days and I missed a number of stands because of the poor layout of the exhibition space. There were also a number of corners stuffed with many little stands that felt very unwelcoming - you almost didn't want to venture in to them because it was too much in too confined a space.

Exclusive Books shelves
Above: Books for sale at the Exclusive Books stand, which was smaller and more cramped than in previous years - last year the stand housed a huge, eye-catching showcase of the top 10 books for the previous 10 years, as chosen (in terms of purchase rankings) by its Fanatics loyalty-programme members. This year the stand was far more subdued and it was also situated way in the back of the exhibition where it didn't really catch one's eye. I actually went in search of it because I ran across Wordsworth Book's much better situated stand and then wondered where Exclusive Books was - and if it was even at the fair this year.

This is indicative of some of the negative public sentiment I noticed that arose after the fair (although I am sure that an overwhelming majority of the claimed 57 000 visitors enjoyed their experience), as there were very few deals to be had and discoveries to be made, and most stands only promoted and sold titles that are expected to do well, foregoing smaller titles that could do with the publicity that the fair could generate (see my brief discussion with author Pat Hopkins in the comments section of my review of his book Johnny Golightly Comes Home for more on this). In fact, if you take into account the cost for the public to attend the exhibition (R50 per day per adult, discounted to R25 if they belong to Exclusive Books or Wordsworth Books loyalty programmes, plus parking at R20 to R50 per day, depending on how long - and where - you are parked), as well as the fact that there were almost no discounts or bargains (bar, from what I saw, loyalty points for book purchases made by Fanatics members at the Exclusive Books stand and a special offer on Concise Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas, which was a popular purchase), and that e-tailer has been running a book sale this month, it becomes a potentially wallet-draining experience - but for all the wrong reasons. The only reason you might have purchased something at the fair, bar impulse purchasing, is if you wanted to have it signed by an author then and there - otherwise most people would probably happily wait a few days to receive a significantly cheaper delivery from directly to their doors. All these issues combined meant there was very little incentive for people on the margins - potentially interested but possibly needing a little push - to attend the fair unless there were lots of sessions and panels that particularly appealed to them, but I'm sure many would argue that they'd seen it all before.

Books being showcased by various publishers
Above: Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas, which we wrote about during the fair as we found it so fascinating, was a big hit with the public (and the press). Briza Publications, which was exhibiting it, ran out of copies of the smaller (and more affordable) atlas, Concise Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas, on the first day and had to take back orders to keep up with the demand. Juta, meanwhile, showcased a number of hit titles including Zapiro's The Mandela Files, which is a coffee-table book of political cartoons about former South Africa president Nelson Mandela. Zapiro, aka Jonathan Shapiro, participated in a lot of panels and discussions and made himself available for book signings, to the delight of many of the attendees.

The Book Southern Africa stand
Above: Book Southern Africa, which is the resource for book news, events, and launches in Southern Africa, had a small stand with a computer set up so that passersby could post tweets directly to the @CTBF Twitter feed. (You can also follow along at the @booksa feed.) The team live blogged all the events and sessions for the web site and kept the public (those at the fair as well as those unlucky enough not to be able to attend who were following vicariously via the Interwebs) up to date with tweets highlighting events. They did a magnificent job of covering the happenings and I found the coverage very interesting as I couldn't physically be at every session I wanted to attend so it gave me an idea of what I was missing.

A session at the Pan Macmillan stand
Above: The Pan Macmillan stand showcased recent titles and hosted a number of sessions. Pictured above is a shot of an interesting (and popular) informal talk by three experienced Pan Macmillan representatives who explained to aspiring authors the intricacies of getting published - what to do, what not to do, and what expectations to have. Much valuable information was imparted.

The Hubbard Dianetics Foundation stand
Above: People manning the Hubbard Dianetics Foundation stand didn't seem particularly impressed with me when I was pretending not to be trying to take a photo of them while I was trying to take a photo of them. I guess I need to work on my covert-ops techniques. In defence of my skills (or lack thereof), I - as far as I know - managed to evade all attempts by Book SA's Ben Williams to photograph me. He, on the other hand, cannot say the same... but then he's not camera shy.

Piles of Spud
Above: One word: Spud mania! Ok, so, that's two words, but I'm not known for being succinct, as you are aware, if you've managed to read this far. A few days before the fair author John van de Ruit launched the third (eagerly anticipated) title in his "Spud" series, Spud - Learning To Fly. As with two years ago, when he launched the second book, John van de Ruit was a huge hit with teenagers and adults alike (for the uninitiated Spud is to South Africa what Harry Potter is to the UK, just without magic and mythical creatures). He was once again an absolute trooper, appearing all over the fair, giving talks, signing books, and enthralling crowds with stories of writing the books and bizarre travel experiences that have influenced his life. His books were for sale in massive piles such as this absolutely everywhere. You couldn't miss Spud.

Above: Shhhhh! I have happened upon a herd of sport-watching book haters mesmerised by DStv, which poached them from the fair with flashy images of cricket, soccer, rugby, and any other sport that could possibly be foisted upon one television screen in eight hours per day. Do not disturb or you may be injured by a tribal cricket bat or soccer ball hunting weapon liberally applied to the skull from 10 metres away.

Reader's Den
Above: Who said books (for adults) can't have pictures? This is the stand that I most look forward to seeing every year because I love graphic novels but this year I nearly missed it because it was off to the side in a position that wasn't very prominent. Reader's Den had many graphic novels for sale that would appeal to mass audiences, and not just niche readers, and there were also (English versions of) manga books for those curious as to what has been enthralling the people of Japan for decades.

This stand was also the only stand prominently displaying science fiction, a genre I love that is constantly, frustratingly sidelined. In 2007 there was a wonderful collaborative science-fiction stand that hosted a number of author readings and informal discussion panels. This year I only saw Reader's Den and Lauren Beukes, author of Moxyland, who participated in a Jacana author panel, fighting for the cause.

For your information, Reader's Den is one of only two (that I know of) dedicated comic-book stores in Cape Town. It is currently trading in the Stadium On Main complex in Claremont. Please support it!

The children's corner
Above: Last year the children's offerings were expanded significantly - to the detriment, I felt, of the rest of the fair, although I do appreciate seeing the efforts put in to fostering literacy and excitement about books and fiction in children. If I was 10 years old this would all have been heaven to me.

This year the children's section was less dominant and overwhelming but it still played a huge part in the programme, with many activities and showcases that were geared for kids. Pictured is the play area where story times were also hosted and tired parents could rest while their kids enjoyed being read to and entertained.

The Book Lounge
Above: Kids and adults browse the wide selection of books available from The Book Lounge, an independent book store situated in Roeland Street, Cape Town. The Roeland Street shop has shelves from wall to ceiling that are filled with books, making it feel more like a small library than a book store. It regularly hosts evening book launches and sessions with authors, which are popular with Cape Town's locals. Downstairs there is a small coffee shop and comfortable couches where you can relax and just enjoy books. There is also a kids' corner with a wide selection of good books that appeal to children.

The HSRC Press stand
Above: HSRC Press was all over the fair this year with a number of significant book highlights from its back catalog as well as new, topical releases. It ran many author sessions and discussion panels related to the books it was promoting, covering subject matters that ranged from politics to sexuality, sport, and African history. It's worth spending some time having a look at the site as the books are available as free PDF downloads (read about its open-access philosophy here) as well as hard-copy publications that you can purchase. Some of the books highlighted at the fair included Imagining The City: Memories And Cultures In Cape Town (2007), edited by Sean Field, Renate Meyer, and Felicity Swanson, and The Prize And The Price: Shaping Sexualities In South Africa (2009), edited by Melissa Steyn and Mikki van Zyl.

A number of university publishing houses, such as the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press and UCT Press, were also represented at the fair, where they primarily showcased non-fiction works.

The David Lurie photographic exhibit
Above: Off to one side, in a location that was unfortunately easy to miss, there was an exhibition of shots from photographer David Lurie's forthcoming book, Fragments From The Edge. The book focusses on the effect that human migration from rural areas to the peripheries of cities in search of employment has on the people and the environment, as poverty thrives and slums and an "informal working class" are created. The book is going to be published by David Krut Publishing, a small fine-arts publishing house that was represented at the fair this year.

The Penguin stand
Above: Some of the most high-profile books launched at this year's fair were published by Penguin Books South Africa. We will have more on a few of the authors in future Cape Town Book Fair photo essays.

Komori SPICA 29P printing press
Above: Paarl Print, part of the Paarl Media Group, set up this huge beast, a SPICA 29P offset printing press manufactured by the Komori Corporation (Komori is a Japanese company that was founded in 1923 and is one of the largest printing-press manufacturers in the world), and did numerous printing demonstrations for the public. You could hear it churning out the sheets from the other side of the room and everyone was quite enthralled by its operations. The press was an absolute highlight at the fair for anyone who loves toys and gadgets. Of course, anyone familiar with the printing industry knows that this is a tiny machine compared to the multi-storey, mult-million-rand printing presses that are installed at printing factories but for those new to the world of printing this was a fascinating introduction to how some forms of printed materials are produced.

Shelves at the Wordworth Books stand
Above: This year the Wordsworth Books stand was in a much more prominent position and it had a wide selection of fair favourites on offer.

If you've made it this far you can see that even though this year's fair was smaller, and had less formal publisher representation, there was still lots to see and do and learn. I had my concerns, and I still do, but I have voiced them and perhaps things will change for the better next year. Nevertheless, I spent the days that I attended, the first two of the fair, enthralled by all the activities and rather manically covering some of the sessions on Twitter for the benefit of those that couldn't attend. I felt that my time was well spent. After all, it is up to the individual to create experiences out of every available opportunity.

I think that in many ways this year's fair was a good exhibition as there were still many noteworthy moments for book lovers and the industry. However, and perhaps my heart will always lie with what to my mind was the hugely successful 2007 fair, I feel there is room for improvement, to the benefit of both publishers and the public. Therefore I am looking forward to the 2010 fair in the hopes that the organisers and publishers will collaborate more closely to put together a world-class event that will appeal both to locals and international visitors, who will be arriving in our city at around the same time to attend the FIFA 2010 World Cup. So let's snag some of those sports lovers and get them reading books rather than have them all crowding around a large television screen!

On The Internet
Official Site: Cape Town Book Fair | Blog

Elsewhere On
Feature: Photo Essay: Panel Discussions At The 2009 Cape Town Book Fair
Photo Essay: Panel Discussions At The 2009 Cape Town Book Fair
In the last in our series of photo essays on the 2009 Cape Town Book Fair we highlight some of the interesting discussions that took place during various panel sessions with authors and academics. Visitors to the fair can attend almost all the panel discussions for free, which makes them a popular feature of the fair every year. As a special bonus for this essay we have included video clips from two of the most popular sessions.
By: Mandy J Watson  |  Posted: 15 July 2009  |  Add Or Read
Category: Books > Features

Feature: Photo Essay: Authors At The 2009 Cape Town Book Fair
Photo Essay: Authors At The 2009 Cape Town Book Fair
The opportunity to meet authors - both local and international - and hear them talk about their writing processes and experiences is one of the most exciting aspects of the Cape Town Book Fair. Here is a selection of some of the authors that were manning stands, launching books, and signing autographs for fans at the 2009 fair.
By: Mandy J Watson  |  Posted: 30 June 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Books > Features

Feature: A Look At Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas
Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas
In 500 years' time what will the legacy be that we have left on this planet? With wars, clashing religious ideologies, and climate change threatening to decimate the world as we know it Earth - The Comprehensive World Atlas, with its detailed descriptions of countries and cultures as they stand today may become one of the few remaining published records of the time we spent here during one of this planet's most tumultuous periods.
By: Mandy J Watson  |  Posted: 15 June 2009  |  Add Or Read
Category: Books > Features Speak Your Mind

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