It’s definitely not a game

29th June 2006

Has anyone spotted the irony of Earls Court’s being included in a new version of Monopoly, the world-famous property trading game?
Anyway, the legendary Hollywood mogul, Sam Goldwyn, probably had very little experience of the British exhibition industry, however, he made one observation that has a certain resonance with things that have gone on recently.
This was the contention that ‘a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on’.
I wonder to what extent the organisers of the Frankfurt Book Fair are chewing over this wisdom as they consider how they proceed after Earls Court’s intriguing
u-turn last month.
Frankfurt announced at the beginning of May that it was to run a new show at Earls Court that would rival Reed’s London Book Fair that had transferred to Excel after years at Olympia. Not only this, but the dates were going to be the same, a real head-to-head.
Suddenly this new event was off after Reed decided to take LBF back to West London, this time into Earls Court itself. This apparently followed book industry discontent with the move to Excel and Reed, listening to what the customers want, felt a return was necessary.
According to Earls Court there was no signed contract, which means that Frankfurt may have jumped the gun by making an announcement before pen had been put to paper.
As far as EC&O and Reed are concerned, there are obvious reasons why they would welcome the turnaround.
Earls Court and Olympia have seen a steady leaking of profile shows towards East London over the last few years. How marvellous it must have been to get the chance of bringing back a real flagship international event. Not only that, but the debate about Excel and its distance from central London still simmers occasionally so a great opportunity has fallen into EC&O’s lap to tell the organising fraternity that not all exhibitors and visitors are happy with their events being moved.
For Reed, LBF is its UK flagship show and, like any organiser, it would have ignored its customers at its peril. The fact that Frankfurt says it wanted to launch in London as a response to publishing industry discontent shows that Reed’s initial decision to move to Excel was unwise.
There will doubtless be a healthy number of lawyers who, even as we speak, are busily scrutinising the small print to find a precedent for what has happened. I suspect the answer will actually be that, with there being no signature there is nothing legally binding – ‘that’s business’, in other words.
By the way, did the existence of the EIA, with contractors, venues and organisers all under one roof, have any effect on the outcome of all this?