/ 23 May 2024

Two literary fairs are one for the books

Gettyimages 1146758567 2 Min
Autobiography: Caster Semenya will be at the Kingsmead Book Fair. Photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images

Doomsayers: “South Africans don’t read.” South African bibliophiles: “Hold my book!”

If one looks at just last weekend’s Franschhoek Literary Festival, the country’s largest book festival, and this weekend’s Kingsmead Book Fair in Johannesburg, while it is certainly not booming, the book industry is not about to go bust. 

Both festivals, like numerous established and new ones across South Africa, are growing impressively.

The hope is that this will translate into book sales, because according to the recently released Retail and Wholesale of Books and Stationery in South Africa in 2023 report, sales “have been on a downward trajectory since 2013. The sales of R16.5 billion in 2022 were slightly below pre-pandemic sales.”

Book revenue is expected to plateau from last year to 2026 and decline slightly in 2027, it says.

But, as the Franschhoek Literary Festival’s director Jennifer Ball told the Mail & Guardian, “South Africans care about books.”

That was reflected in ticket sales last weekend. This trend is expected to be similar at the Kingsmead fair.

The diverse programme includes more than 150 authors participating in about 80 sessions throughout the day in the adult, young adult and children’s programmes. 

Participants include Caster Semenya, Jonathan Ancer, Naledi Shange, Jo Watson, Shafinaaz Hassim, Pip Williams, Femi Kayode, Natalie Conyer, Barbara Boswell, Ivan Vladislavic, Oyama Mabandla, Kobby Ben Ben, Shubnum Khan, Buntu Siwisa and Alistair Mackay.

The theme is Read to: Imagine, Dream, Explore and Reveal. 

“We are excited about the authors on our programme and being able to expose the community to rich and varied topics and sessions,” said fair director Alex Bouche. 

“We hope this year’s programme provides an opportunity to engage with new authors and genres or even to immerse yourself in that with which you are most comfortable.” 

The books report said there are between 150 and 200 publishers, an estimated 1 600 bookshops, around 500 used bookstores, 750 stationery wholesalers and 1 547 stationery retailers in the country. 

Their researchers could do worse than to plug into the book festival circuit. It probably does not make a huge difference in sales in the bigger scheme of things, but especially one like the Kingsmead Book Fair, with its focus on young readers too, will hopefully help establish a reading culture among future generations.