London Book Fair 2010 – and the future of publishing


AVA’s experiences at the book fair, e-books, iPads and the state of the industry.

The London Book Fair has gone ahead this week in spite of the chaos caused by the Icelandic volcano (which everyone is avoiding naming out loud – it’s AYA-feeyapla-yurkul apparently but listen to newsreaders do their best here) spewing dust and ash into the atmosphere and preventing any air traffic from reaching Britain. I was lucky enough to be there on Tuesday – no travel difficulties from Worthing – and got a chance to wander around and admire everything the other publishers had on display.




Finding the AVA table in the International Rights Centre was not as hard as it should have been. After arriving at Earls Court and taking the escalator up to the IRC, we were confronted by a sea of empty tables. Although downstairs there were many people milling about, unfortunately the IRC suffered extremely badly from absences, with many meetings cancelled and those present looking, for the most part, either glum or just lonely. All this caused AVA Publisher Brian Morris to be a little disappointed with the 2010 fair (he claims his spirits are raised by the prospect of a tour of visits to co-edition partners all over the world and the rest of us are very jealous). Expectations have been raised for Frankfurt, and with several publishers claiming that they no longer rely much on the LBF for business, questions have also been raised over the future of the event. Andrew Franklin, MD of Profile, has been quoted as saying “It may make people realise that you don’t need to be here” (read the rest of this article here).

However, many agreed that the absences did allow for more free time and therefore more appreciation of the books on show, and more time for old friends and colleagues to catch up and compare notes.  And one of the recurring topics of conversation was….e-books. With the odd iPad present (closely guarded by a proud American and often surrounded by impressed onlookers) many publishers are asking what these advances mean for the future of printed books. It is an exciting development for publishers like us, who have been eagerly awaiting the advent of colour e-reading devices because layout, design and colour are important aspects of everything we publish. But there has also been a lot of anxiety on this front. Difficult negotiations over e-book rights have given rise to some negative news coverage, Google is in dispute with many authors and publishers over its settlement terms and in The Bookseller Daily being distributed at the LBF, Catherine Neilan’s article stated that “The buying habits of early e-book adopters could have ‘quite worrying’ implications for high street booksellers…”

But.  A few weeks ago, a previous article by Catherine Neilan, “Academic publishers seeing strong growth from e-book sales” (here), painted a somewhat more positive picture. There The Bookseller highlighted the fact that these changes are going to affect different fields of publishing in different ways.  According to this article, “Nearly 90% of commercial academic publishers have seen growth in e-book sales over the past two years … For those publishers with e-book programmes growth had been extraordinary, with one publisher recording e-book growth of 44,000%.” The figures were particularly promising for “very small” publishers, who can now reach a larger audience. In the USA from 2002 to 2009, the percentage of industry book sales accounted for by e-books has risen from 0.05% to 3.31% and presumably the rate at which this growth has taken place will continue to increase.

So this is good news for academic publishers, who also have less to fear from piracy than trade publishers. We are a small, academic publisher, and yes, things are going pretty well. And for all those design/photography/fashion (etc) students who long for an iPad, soon you can have a collection of AVA books sitting on your virtual bookshelf!


iPad bookshelf


I came across this earlier – Phil Johnson in Advertising Age: “For a while, I’ve been arguing that advertising agencies can learn a lot from the publishing industry about the creation of content, skills they will need if they want to provide more than traditional advertising services. When I made this point in a presentation recently, someone immediately asked why anyone would want to emulate a dying business. My answer was that, even though publishers may be suffering, they know how to create a steady stream of content and distribute it to consumers better than anybody else. They’re just struggling with how to make money from all the digital channels.

What a difference a week makes. With Apple’s announcement of the iPad last Wednesday, publishers may have just gotten a reprieve from their death sentence…”

See the rest of Phil Johnson’s article here.

From my point of view, the London Book Fair was a success – but then I didn’t have anything to compare it to. In spite of the absences though, no one who had made it seemed to be suffering too much. And the few tales of intrepid travellers hitchhiking from Belgium (for example – someone from Pearson South Africa apparently) suggest that it is still an important event in the publishing calendar. We might be all for the latest technology and increasing our online presence, but a little face-to-face socialising/networking still seems to be a popular activity.


The below video was created by Dorling Kindersley and I think is appropriate and impressive – you have to watch it all the way through though…

See The Future of Publishing video here.

Also see an article in the Sunday Times, “Will the iPad change our reading habits?” covering the same issues here (although Bryan Appleyard seems to have concentrated solely on trade publishing).