LBF: Change needed, but publishing still vital

Profile m.d. Andrew Franklin has dismissed self-publishing as irrelevant in a heated debate on the relevance of publishers. The discussion, held at yesterday's London Book Fair, was between Franklin, Bloomsbury's executive director Richard Charkin, the author Cory Doctorow, and technophile James Bridle.

Franklin said that while digital meant self-publishing was easy, it did not mean authors could replicate all of a publisher's work. "If you self-publish on the internet, you might as well not bother, you will be silent," he said. "Free is far too much to pay for the overwhelming majority of books self-published‚ you can't even give them away."

Both Charkin and Franklin pointed to the health of the fair as evidence that publishing was still vital. Franklin added that so long as publishers provided a service that connected readers to authors, they would remain in business.

"The job of publishers is to persuade readers that they should part with money to read an author's work," he said.

However, both admitted that publishing had to change. Charkin said it had to begin marketing 24/7, and improve its speed of production. Franklin also conceded that publishing was not in a "healthy state" and warned: "Some publishers will go bankrupt this year."

Doctorow argued that publishers had been prevented from proving their obsolescence because as an industry it was not big enough to bring in "stupid laws", as happened in the music business. He attacked the PA's Richard Mollet, saying he found it incredible that Mollet could argue on the BBC that e-books could not be owned by consumers. He said: "To tell someone that books can no longer be owned does not make you obsolete, it makes you an enemy of publishing, of books and authors."

At the end of the session, 201 voted against the debate's proposition that publishers would become irrelevant, with 45 agreeing.