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MPS - Volcanoes and iPads at LBF 2010
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Volcanoes and iPads at LBF 2010

The morning of the first day of the London Book Fair this year felt more like the final hour as tumbleweed practically blew across the floor at Earls Court. As we all know, the London Book Fair suffered heavily this year from the volcanic ash that engulfed Europe and stopped planes from flying. The fair, originally billed as the busiest in its 39-year history, suffered a total drop in attendance numbers of around 32% due to the flight disruption.

The iPad caused the main buzz—no surprises there. 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 yet made an appearance on the British high street. MPS was no exception, and we were immediately won over by the colors, the touch screen, and the level of engagement it allows you. We saw a great example of what you can do with children’s books on the iPad with Kiwa Media’s version of Barnaby Bennett

Nevertheless, although no one denies that the iPad is going to be important, the jury was still out on what exactly it will mean for publishing. One thing is for sure, it looks set to have inspired a host of competitors, including one that Elenox had on display for just £99—less than a quarter of the lowest-priced iPad. (In the UK, the iPad starts at £429.)

Devices apart, discussions centered on digital formats and online selling strategies. Unlike earlier years, the question wasn’t “Should we go digital?” but “How do we go digital?” Many are not yet sure which eBook format—from ePub to an app—is best suited for their content. 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. On the eRetail front, most people seemed to feel that Amazon, despite the issues, is a must because of the marketing muscle it offers. Alternative platforms, including a publisher’s own website, can complement online sales but can’t replace Amazon—not yet, anyway.

And what of that perennial favorite, digital rights management (DRM)? It seems to be authors who are the most concerned about digital piracy. Publishers are caught between needing to protect their intellectual property and yet making content as easily available to buyers as possible. Many at the fair were also thinking about their bottom line—is the investment justified by the loss of revenue it is supposed to prevent?

Interviews 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 with Richard Charkin (Bloomsbury), David Roth-Ey, and George Walkley (Hachette) here:

Tim Corbett Winder

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