Amid the pandemic, the festival must go on.

To the delight of avid festivalgoers, as well as bibliophiles, the country’s largest book festival –the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books – is going virtual for an autumn opening. 

The 2020 edition of the L.A. Times-curated Festival of Books (which now goes by the name Festival of Books, Stories & Ideas) was originally scheduled for April 11-12 but was postponed to October 3-4due to public concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The book festival is now scheduled to start on October 18 and will span over four weeks rather than its traditional two days. The Festival of Books will be reimagined as a community-wide gathering to be held online instead of at the University of Southern California (USC) campus. 

In partnership with USC, the L.A. Times will celebrate 25 years of the Festival of Books, Stories & Ideas with 25 individual virtual events. The L.A. Times will celebrate storytelling with author panels, readings, and other events –accessible from home. The full programming schedule lineup of panels and participating authors will be announced in mid-September.

The opening of the 2020 LATFOB in autumn seems to be perfect timing, due to the return of school and the cool weather that makes it conducive to stay home in the evenings and read a good book. While people won’t be able to roam stalls from booksellers and exhibitors, they will still be able to catch four weeks of streaming readings and panels. 

LATFOB 2020 complements current trends

The virtual L.A. Times Festival of Book somewhat complements the current trends in book sales towardseBooks and audiobooks, both of which are seeing increased sales amid the COVID-19 crisis. 

The pandemic has forced bookstores and libraries to close shop across the country and globe but also ignited a revival in reading (and loaning) eBooks, which market had been declining for the past six years. The prolonged unavailability of physical books has also led to the uptake of audiobooks, which sales are expected to overtake that of eBooks as they are a lot more convenient to use and allows the listeners the flexibility to do unrelated activities while listening to them at the same time.  

Amid the pandemic and prolonged staycation, readers are navigating the new normal in acquiring – and consuming –books, particularly audiobooks. Listeners (as the terms “readers” don’t apply in this context) are finding ways to incorporate audiobooks into their lifestyles. People are now listening to audio content while doing chores and hobbies, gardening, during workout or yoga. People listen to audiobooks not just only to pass time while commuting but for mental breaks throughout the day, mindfulness, meditation, etc.

Publishing houses, libraries, and online eBook/audiobook services have also launched special programs and deals to compensate for losses, as well as satisfy the readers’ appetite for more content. Reading subscription services have opened their entire library for anyone who signs up for a free 30-day subscription. Some publishers have offered certain free titles for downloads, thanks to the generosity of the authors who agreed to make their works available. Imprints that focus on educational materials have also opened their library to help parents with homeschooling their children. 

LATFOB 2020 presents opportunities

The digital Los Angeles Times Festival of Books – the largest book festival in the country – is the picture of all things to come. Though the pandemic has wreaked havoc with the marketing and promotion of many authors, publishers, and booksellers, it has provided them with a renewed focus on targeted book marketing and promotion. 

For established authors and other big names in the book industry, they could rely on their name recall or author brand recall. As for new, self-published authors, however, it would be an uphill battle to have their efforts noticed. They should take advantage of the fact that there is a growing interest in a broad range of categories – romance, crime thrillers, children’s books, and nonfiction – so effective marketing will be essential to promoting sales. 

Both authors and publishers could create a huge impact by planning targeted book marketing and promotion strategies across all platforms in order to attract the right audience at the right time. That way, new and self-published authors could entice readers to go for new works, not just familiar titles. 

The virtual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books should encourage readers to browse through a plethora of titles from the comfort of their own abode and give chance to new, unfamiliar authors. For authors, they could compensate for the loss of multicity book tour opportunities by participating in online book events, such as the LATFOB 2020, to reach out to readers they might not have encountered in any in-person book events and even go to more places, albeit virtually. 

The virtual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, given its reputation in the book industry, will be expected to host more authors, exhibit more books, and above all, attract more visitors.