Exhibitors at the annual Book Fair accused organisers of overreacting to Typhoon Vicente in shutting down the fair early and costing them a lot of money.
At 3.45pm yesterday the Observatory said it would hoist the No 8 storm signal in two hours. The Trade Development Council, which runs the fair, reacted by saying that the fair would shut down within two hours, cutting off ticket sales and any admissions.
About 10 small and medium-sized publishers reacted angrily, saying the council had earlier promised that the fair would close only after the No 8 signal had been hoisted for two hours.
'They [the council] are liars, because the [No 8] signal was not officially issued, yet people were stopped from entering the fair,' said Jimmy Pang Chi-ming, owner of publishing house Sub-Culture.
Pang said the poor arrangement seriously affected attendance, costing his firm a loss of up to 60 per cent of the day's expected revenue.
Carmen Kwong Wing-suen, editor-in-chief of Up Publications, said it was already offering steep discounts to encourage sales. But the early closing, before the peak evening hour for visitors, would cost it up to HK$100,000.
A group of exhibitors asked the council to refund part of their rent to cover losses. They were also unhappy that the fair could not be extended to make up for any losses, because another exhibition was scheduled at the venue, the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.
Some fair visitors were also angry, complaining about the early closure. 'I had to shop alone because I could not meet up with my friends. They were stopped from entering the fair right after I got into the venue,' said Wong Wo-mei, 20.
The council said the announcement to close was made immediately after the 3.45pm Observatory decision for the safety of exhibitors, fair workers and visitors, to give them enough time to leave the venue. If the No 8 signal was lowered at or before 1.30pm today, the fair on its final day would reopen two hours later, the council said.
Visitors with unused tickets could get a refund after the fair ends or they could use them to gain entry if the fair reopened today.
Anita Wan Wai-ling, assistant general manager of The Commercial Press, expected to see a 10 per cent drop in profit due to the sudden exit of visitors.
'We have been doing a lot of promotions,' Wan said. 'If the fair reopens, we plan to cut 20 per cent off remedial tuition books and try our best to recover from the loss.'
Publishers this year offered deep discounts to boost the somewhat low attendance numbers seen during the first two days of the fair.
Metrobooks, a retailer that mainly sells fiction and children's publications, offered a 30 per cent price discount on all its books from the first day of the fair, increasing to 40 per cent at the weekend.
Even one of Asia's leading book retailers and publishing houses, Page One, had more promotions than at last year's fair, to boost sales. It offered 35 per cent off for purchasing two books and 40 per cent off for purchasing three.
But some exhibitors, such as Cambridge University Press, decided against offering further price cuts even when they learned the fair would close early because of the storm.
'We are staying at our original discount of 20 per cent', said Murphy Yeung Ka-chun, Cambridge's booth manager.