The morning of the first day of The London Book Fair this year felt more like the final hour as tumble weed practically blew across the floor at Earls Court. As we all know, the event suffered heavily from the volcanic ash that engulfed Europe and stopped planes from flying. The fair, originally billed as the busiest in its 39-year history, saw a total drop in attendance numbers of around 32%.
Organisers at the fair were expecting 1,672 visiting companies – up 7% on 2009 – but 54% of these were travelling from overseas. Behind the UK, the US (300), and Market Focus country South Africa (52) were due to send the most companies. Exhibitors were also expected from many other countries, including Canada and Australia. The show organisers have been widely praised for their management of the crisis, with daily letters distributed to exhibitors updating them on the travel issues and subsequent disruption to events.
Predictably, the iPad was the main buzz of the fair. Attendees made a beeline for the few stalls that had one on display, eager to see and hopefully touch the device itself which of course hadn’t – and still hasn’t – made an appearance on the British high street. Nevertheless, the jury was still out on exactly what the iPad will mean for publishing and most are still focusing more on the digital basics.
Devices apart, questions centred on digital formats and online selling strategies. Many are not yet sure which eBook format – from ePub to an app – is best suited for their content and how to protect it from piracy. Amazon continues to be a vital part of eBook sales and distribution but pricing is a growing issue. Most publishers who talked to MPS wanted to discuss how to re-use, sell and market their content –of whatever type, from walking guides to books on design techniques – via electronic media.
Interviews from the fair with some of UK’s digital publishing bigwigs suggest that their main preoccupation is how to “put digital at the heart of our business”, rather than as a “bolt on”, in the words of David Roth-Ey who oversees the digital publishing programme at Harper Collins. You can watch the podcasts of the interviews here: http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/page.cfm/link=194.
What kind of effect did the lack of numbers have at this year’s fair? Well, from MPS’ experience it wasn’t as bad as you might expect. Obviously many meetings with international publishers were cancelled and the empty or single-manned stalls showed just how many exhibitors were unable to come. Publishers hoping to secure international rights deals were also badly affected.
The combination of iPad and volcano certainly made this an LBF to remember.
Tim Corbett Winder, Global Marketing Manager
MPS was scheduled to give a talk at the London Book Fair on Managing and Monetising Digital Content but like many other talks and seminars this had to be cancelled as our speaker was stuck in Chennai. The talk will now take place in the form of a webinar at the end of May. Details to follow soon.
Some of the MPS team – minus India-based colleagues – at the stand.