The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a registered charity, a non-profit making organisation. It is a distinctive international showcase celebrating the written word, literature and ideas. It brings leading and emerging international, British and Scottish authors and thinkers together to inspire each other and audiences in an extensive programme of public events.
Discussion, performance and interactive events have become prominent features of the Festival, complementing the more traditional interview-style conversations and readings, and contributing to the Book Festival’s reputation as a powerful forum for the public to exchange views with writers and experts on a wide range of issues: social, ethical and political as well as literary and cultural. At the heart of the Book Festival’s activity is an integrated approach to creative learning and education, with the aim of expanding participation in democratic discussion, fostering a love of reading and developing engaged, knowledgeable audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
The Book Festival’s Baillie Gifford Children’s programme of author events, activities and workshops is produced for young audiences of all ages, from babies to teenagers, attracting family audiences of around 20,000 each year. In addition, an extensive schools programme is created for primary and secondary pupils, with around 14,000 school children attending each year.
The Book Festival aims to inspire people of all backgrounds and ages to explore new ideas and expand their horizons. Since 2015, a Communities Programme has expanded its activities to take the essence of the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the road around Scotland. Working closely with local organisations to create events and activities tailored to the area and the needs of each community, the Book Festival puts on author events in Scottish prisons, hospitals and arts centres, and develops activities for groups that face significant challenges, such as homeless people and refugees.
The Book Festival runs its own independent bookselling operation. All proceeds from the sales of books are invested back into the running of the Book Festival.
From its beginning in 1983, the Edinburgh International Book Festival grew to stage over 900 events every August, attracting around 250,000 visits, making it the largest public celebration of the written word in the world. Up until 2020, the Book Festival took place in a specially built tented Festival village in Charlotte Square Gardens, in the heart of Edinburgh.
With the global pandemic the world changed. As a small agile festival operation, the Edinburgh International Book Festival responded swiftly to the changing environment by staging a fully digital Book Festival in August 2020. With little experience, the Festival team boldly embarked on creating a new interactive online environment, where authors came together in 147 live and pre-recorded events. Real-time chatrooms, live author Q&As and book signings created a lively online forum where people gathered, and authors interacted with their audiences. Most importantly, conversation and the exchange of ideas were able to continue. The new digital format was enthusiastically received, and many thousands of people tuned in and chatted with each other from countries across the world.
Building on the success of 2020’s fully online Festival, 2021 opens up a new chapter: a long-term strategic partnership with the University of Edinburgh gives the Book Festival a new central location at the Edinburgh College of Art and presents the opportunity to reimagine an exciting hybrid Festival for the future. The range of distinctive indoor spaces and the grassy outdoor courtyard offers the Book Festival the facilities to build broadcasting studios for digital events and a range of flexible spaces for audiences to enjoy live and screened events in-person. See the news for the full story.
Prior to the pandemic, the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s annual turnover was around £4.2 million, with under 20% of the income coming from Creative Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council to support core operations. The remainder was raised through ticket sales, the sales of books through the Book Festival’s highly successful independent bookshops, corporate sponsorship, grants from trusts and foundations, and donations from individuals. With the newly restructured 2021 Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Book Festival Charity will continue to raise its income from these same sources.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a founder member of Festivals Edinburgh, the organisation created by Edinburgh’s 11 major Festivals to support joint strategic development and maintain the position of Edinburgh’s festivals as global leaders. Together with its counterparts, the International Festival, the Jazz & Blues Festival, the Festival Fringe, the Art Festival, the Film Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival forms what is now widely regarded as the biggest and best arts festival in the world.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival's current director is Nick Barley, who was appointed in October 2009.