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Article published 04/09/2020

Earlier this year the Edinburgh International Book Festival cancelled its summer programme as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and it looked as though, for the first time in over 70 years, there would be no cultural offering from Edinburgh this August.

However, organisers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival have successfully hosted the first online programme which has been hailed a success.

The 146 events have been viewed over 210,000 times by a worldwide audience – a figure still growing as audiences continue to watch events On Demand.

While significantly reduced from the programme the Book Festival expected to present in Charlotte Square Gardens – which last year welcomed over 900 authors in 800 events – the 2020 Online Book Festival welcomed 300 writers, illustrators, poets, politicians, translators, performers, interpreters and interviewers from 45 countries around the world to participate in 146 live and pre-recorded events.

All were free to watch through the Festival’s website. Two additional seminars were programmed and delivered for publishing professionals. 

While an online Festival cannot recreate the joyous coming together of authors and audiences, the cultural exchange and the stimulation of creativity that a gathering of people in one physical space can bring, I believe we have created something very special this year. It is clear from watching the interaction of authors and audiences that this year’s online Book Festival has generated its own sense of community. I am extraordinarily proud of the team who have turned themselves inside out, learned new skills and a completely new way of working to deliver events, in challenging circumstances, which have been warm, engaging, stimulating, entertaining and technically excellent. We have reached corners of the globe, and corners of Scotland, that we have never reached before, and brought an accessibility to the Festival that I never want to lose.

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

The online programme included 44 events in the Baillie Gifford Children’s Programme ranging from daily Facebook Drawalongs with illustrators including Axel Scheffler, Polly Dunbar and Cressida Cowell, conversations on YA writing with George Lester, Dean Atta and the bestselling US author Cassandra Clare, to former Blue Peter Presenter Helen Skelton joining Lily Dyu to discuss adventurous women. 

The most watched conversation in the 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival Online was Bernardine Evaristo with Nicola Sturgeon who had an audience of over 5,000 on the night and 11,220 subsequent views through the On Demand facility so far. 

This was followed by double Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel (10,235 total views to date), and Ian Rankin (9,304 total views to date). Audiences tuned into Book Festival events from every continent (except Antarctica) and every corner of the globe from China and South Korea, across Africa from Algeria to South Africa, to Australia and New Zealand, across the USA, Canada, Greenland and Iceland and into Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia. 

Most events from the 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival Online are available to watch, free of charge, on demand through the Book Festival’s website