For those who want a modern perspective of how the publishing business is marching into the future, the London Book Fair is now approaching rapidly. The annual fair serves as a timely reminder that publishing is evolving from a solid base, and remains a business still best done in person.
The fair is an antidote to some of the hysteria that now surrounds the business. Ten years ago some questioned the need for such get-togethers in an age of email and conference calling. But as we are discovering, enthusiasm and deal-making are still well served by face-to-face meetings, just as book buying is a richer experience when done in-store.
There are a number of details worth looking out for at this year’s event. The presence of companies looking to reinvent reading, deliver winning apps, or smooth e-book production processes will give the fair its customary digital edge. Discussions will inevitably revolve around publishing’s place in the new digital firmament, and authors (published or not) will be out in force, seeing publishers as a troupe more likely to be partners and suppliers than feared gatekeepers.
The “book of the fair” is likely to have been previously self-published, something that would have caused a revolution less than a decade ago.
Amazon will be a force, both seen and unseen, its influence having grown after the acquisition of Goodreads. This will also likely be the last year of Penguin and Random House as separate entities (perhaps others too). If we are to take Markus Dohle at his word (as reported last month), this time next year the leadership role to be played by the new PRH may be more evident too.
As our LBF Preview (included with the magazine this month) indicates, there are other book markets that face concerns far beyond the might of Amazon. Censorship, imprisonment, low levels of literacy, and poverty are challenges for many publishers across the globe, but they are often neglected in the stories spun about why publishing is/isn’t important.
The social web connects us to people far and wide, but it has a tendancy to make our thinking more insular—as was evident on Twitter in the aftermath of the Goodreads deal, where doom was piled upon hopelessness and served up with a dash of missed opportunity. The fair provides the perspective often lacking elsewhere, and the more we learn about this new world, the more vital this becomes.