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TLP’s London Book Fair round-up

Last week’s London Book Fair kept The Literary Platform team busy – dashing from meeting to meeting, circling around the stands and speaking on panels. Here’s a quick round-up of our observations:

Joanna Ellis, Associate Director

– For all the talk of “digital” the fair still feels very divided between traditional publishing and digital, with each grouped in their own hall. The digital zone is dominated by hardware and software, the latter of which seems to be mainly focused around supply chain, with little space given over to the creative technologists who are working on literature projects, on their own or in collaboration with publishers. Yes, they were represented on panels and in meetings, but there was little sense of their wonderful work as one wandered through the fair. Furthermore, while traditional publishers are producing some great digital work there was little evidence of it on their stands where print books remained the focus of displays. Following on from this it was interesting to see where Amazon located its Amazon Publishing stand – firmly within the digital zone. Their push into publishing continued a pace, with key announcements around LBF including licensing of the Bond backlist in the US and the launch of a publishing arm in the UK which will undoubtedly put pressure on existing agent/publisher relationships. As an aside I notice that Amazon publishing have a slush pile, something many publishers abandoned years ago.

– Naturally there was plenty of chat about Pottermore and whether it’s a model that can be adopted/adapted by other publishers or whether it is a one off, whose success is driven by the biggest author brand of the last decade. Either way it has certainly provided a focal point for the conversations about DRM among traditional publishers, and several of them appear to be considering going DRM free for part, if not all of their output, as a means of releasing themselves from the stranglehold of Amazon’s dominance in the ebook market. In fact, shortly after the fair Tor announced that all their ebooks were going DRM free.

– I took part in the PPC/BMS panel “Whose Role is it Anyway?” A publicity vs marketing stand off in which all members of the panel were agreed that integrated communications strategy and implementation, if not departments, were the way forward.

– Despite the relatively slow growth of the ebook market in much of continental Europe –attributed to pricing regulation – it feels like a very vibrant place right now for publishing-related start-ups including Readmill, Publit, 24symbols and games outfit Toca Boca – the latter being mentioned with some envy by pretty much every children’s publisher I talked to. None of them are fresh out of the box this year, but cumulatively they represent an exciting challenge to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony that can dominate our thinking.

Matthew Crockatt, Digital Minds Conference delegate

– The real action at Earl’s Court takes place above the stands – up on the surrounding balconies where rights are sold, generating huge sums of money for publishers. So it should come as no surprise to find rights and anxieties over monetisation at the centre of both the Digital Minds Conference and LBF 2012.

– Agent Ed Victor articulated the thoughts of many of the more experienced publishing folk when he spoke of an industry that had remained largely unchanged for a hundred years. Victor claimed he never thought he would live to see the day that the publishing model he had worked with all his life would be disrupted, but he had.

– Matteo Berlucchi, CEO of Anobii, stressed the importance of removing DRM from ebooks if rival platforms such as his are to stand any chance of breaking Amazon’s grip on the market.

– Andrew Steele from Funny or Die urged publishers to take heart. Funny or Die initially tried to create a kind of YouTube for comedy based around user-submitted videos. “The trouble is users aren’t funny,” he said. In the end, professional writers were the ones who had created the content that was funny and drew people to the site. He argued publishers should have the confidence that they had the content, the publishing experience and the skills to do incredible things and make plenty of money.

– Alison Norrington from storycentral DIGITAL also recognised the wealth of content at the disposal of publishers, but urged them to relax a bit about sharing access to it. She described publishers as the “gatekeepers of the story”. If more people could get creative with those stories, publishing as a whole would benefit. By shifting publishing from a push medium towards something that involved more “give and take” a great deal could be gained.

– Her comments echoed those of Jim Griffin from OneHouse LCC, one of the keynote speakers, who spoke of the need to “feminise” marketing saying “Amazon is a woman. She remembers your name, your hair colour and what you like to eat.”

Sophie Rochester, Director

– Digital was obviously at the forefront of everyone’s minds at LBF 2012, but walking through the fair you’re still faced predominantly with a sea of printed wares. Surprisingly I didn’t catch anyone in “General” making space on the stand to demonstrate any digital products (which we know exist) – with the exception of Profile Books’ Michael Bhaskar who was able to demo their new Inkle Frankenstein project (which looked really interesting).

– I joined Lynn Hatwell (Dove Grey Reader), Ruth Harrison (The Reading Agency) and Stewart Bain (Orkney Libraries) in a session chaired by The Reading Agency’s Miranda McKearney on social reading. We were all in agreement that the most fulfilling shared reading experiences are a combination of on and offline activity. We discussed the impact of shared marginalia (citing projects such as Readmill, SocialBook, Open Bookmarks and Copia) and how these products and projects fit into the way offline reading groups and libraries operate. Interesting stuff…

– The SYP also hosted a fun event on “How To Get Ahead in Publishing” where we did our best to encourage young publishers not to make money their main motivation in life, and to make each day as interesting a working day as possible. I was late – not such a good example.

– Finally, I was interviewed from LBF by BBC World Service technology programme Click. The Click studio panel included Dan Franklin, Salena Godden and Bill Thompson, who discussed the future of publishing, and where Salena Godden delighted all with a digital writing poem written in realtime. You can listen again to this programme here.

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