In the fiftieth year since its founding, the 26th biannual Jerusalem International Book Fair (JIBF) hosted 5 days of exhibits, panels, and literary events from February 10-February 15, 2013. More than 400 publishers from 30 countries exhibited, and the visitor head-count for the week exceeded 45,000. Amid jubilee celebration, though, a growing contingent of long-time participants feels strongly that this venerable event must change. While publishing is all about dramatic demands for change these days, ideas for transforming the JIBF are, on the whole, fairly straightforward. “The 2013 Fair absolutely confirmed the impression that many of us have held over the last several years that this should no longer be a book fair but a literary festival,” says Jerusalem-based agent Deborah Harris, who is a longtime contributor to JIBF programming. The reasons for such a shift are deeply rooted in Israel’s own publishing and literary landscape, along with the growing global circuit of events for publishing professionals.
The JIBF has always been “less about the Israeli book business and more about the [international] ‘JIBF family’” that has gathered for the occasion over the years, says Deborah Harris. However, Ziv Lewis, Foreign Rights Manager for Kinneret-Zmora-Bitan Dvir Publishing, points out that no matter how international the “JIBF Family”, the fact that some of the largest Israeli publishers chose not to exhibit at the 2013 JIBF “was a striking aspect of this year’s event.” The rights market that the JIBF offers is negligible, and with the value of books so diminished in the eyes of the public through the Israeli national chain stores’ discounting war, there is less incentive for the public to show up and buy books. As well, publishers have fewer resources to travel from Tel Aviv (the center of Israeli publishing) and buy exhibit space. Even if the emphasis is more international than local, a Fair that fails to serve the basic needs of the domestic industry hardly seems to live up to its promise as a viable business destination; many of the exhibits in the international hall this year were national literary or cultural organizations (“Books from Romania” or “Books from Hungary”, etc), as opposed to major international publishers there on business.