The London Book Fair 2012 was more than a month ago. I got some free tickets through friends and so I went, along with a fellow writer and student Rose Zussman and some others.
First, compared to the Frankfurt Book Fair, this one is tiny. Second, as an unpublished writer you feel very out of place.
The first day we just browsed the stalls and politely asked for internship positions at such publishers as Harper Collins, Penguin, and the other giants. In vain, of course. All we gained were blank faces and upturned eyebrows that seemed to ask: “What the hell are you doing here?” Although Rose did manage to get one contact at a small children’s book publisher.
The second day was really interesting. We snuck into the Keynote event featuring George Lossius of Publishing Technology, Richard Charkin, Director of Bloomsbury, John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound, which is a crowd-funding project for authors and readers, and Donald Katz, CEO of Audible. Discussed was the future of publishing.
I took some notes and I’ll try to string together what was said.
George Lossius believes that it’s very difficult to predict the future in the publishing industry. Publishers are hesitating to invest, while they are being “dazzled by Apple, Google, and Amazon” who are taking the initiative and developing new technology and distribution systems.
His solution? Publishers should stop trying to predict the future but stay entrepreneurial. They should get used to change and not resist it. Business models will not last for 10 years in the form they were invented in. Before Barnes and Noble was evil for eating up independant book stores and pushing the price of books down, now Amazon is the evil villain, and even Barnes and Noble find themselves under pressure.
Richard Charkin also deplored the current business model. He found so many disadvantages with it prior to the keynote that he sat down on stage feeling depressed. He noted that a book is handled about 24 times before it reaches the consumer and questioned if such a business model was economically and envrionmentally at all desirable.
Of a 10 pound book, 1 pound goes to the author, and nobody really gets much in the chain of people working on it (the biggest cost at Bloomsbury is editing). He believes publishers are losing the trust of readers and authors, but they are doing their best to change and adapt. At the end, he stressed that as long as publishers retain copyright, the business will work…. Uh, ok.
Praise must go out to Donald Katz, a journalist and author himself once upon a time, for giving recognition to whom it belongs. He said, “There is nothing harder than sitting alone in your room and writing a book.”
The problem, he says, is that not many authors understand the economics of the publishing industry. He thinks that with social media and more transparency it’s time for authors to swim with publishers, to understand the business and work with each other.
Interestingly, he said that Audible is running out of Sci-Fi and doesn’t have enough titles to represent this genre. He also lamented the publishers’ tight grasp on copyright (for audiobooks), which, he says, limits the number of books available on Audible. He would like to see every book get turned into audio, but some publishers are not playing along.
This was a direct attack on Richard of Bloomsbury, who responded that Audible is undermining the core relationship between reader and author (Why? He didn’t explain), and anything that breaks this relationship is wrong. Donald also said that Audible would be investing more into its community, something which Amazon is really lacking, he thinks.
After the keynote we headed to a self-publishing seminar. I hoped to gain some tips and tricks there, as I’m about to self-publish my novel. Unfortunately we fell victim to Acorn Independant Press, who had masked the event as a seminar about self-publishing, while in reality they were merely trying to sell their own publishing packages which they displayed in brochures conveniently placed on every single chair in the room.
Not that they are a bad company. But the seminar was not what it had been advertised to be.
Oh well. On the whole, the two days at the fair were really fun and interesting.