I love the London Book Fair. It is my favorite of the three book fairs I visit every year (BEA and Frankfurt being the other two) and I have even more fun there than at Tools of Change. Book Fairs, for me, are about seeing publishing people from all over the world, catching up with their thoughts, and, most important from a selfish point of view, having them vet mine.
Getting some work done for clients and finding new ones is what justifies the expense, of course, and there was plenty of both of those.
I spoke at two events at this year’s LBF. On the Sunday before the Monday morning that LBF actually opened, there was an all-afternoon session which was a “report from America” on digital change put together by Michael Healy of BISG and (as we now know, revealed publicly in that very event, the likely new head of the Book Rights Registry, if the proposed settlement of the Google lawsuit is accepted next month.) It was a beautiful Sunday in London — bright and sunny — and apparently good weather has been in short supply (although you couldn’t prove it by me: was there from Saturday to Thursday and it was lovely every single day.)
Despite the attractions of the weather, about 100 people came to the Sunday session. It was supposed to run from 1:30 to 6. It started a bit early and ended a bit late (last speaker off the stage at about 6:20) and the crowd at the end swarmed the speakers afterwards with individual questions.
On Wednesday, I spoke at the Supply Chain meeting (my presentation being about this year’s BISG effort for Making Information Pay: “Shifting Sales Channels.”) That session had been moved from its customary spot on the last afternoon (Wednesday) to the morning. Michael Holdsworth, one of the organizers, expressed just a bit of concern about whether the change would affect attendance. It didn’t. The room was packed.
I tried to go to one other session. Our StartWithXML effort has a London partner to stage a full-day Forum on September 1. That’s the Publishers Licensing Society. So when their Executive Director, Dr. Alicia Wise, asked me to attend their session on ebooks for the visually impaired, I said I’d do it. Despite being a two-senses handicapped guy myself (glasses and hearing aids), this was not something high on my interest list and I figured it wouldn’t be on other people’s either. Wrong! I got to the session 10 minutes late and couldn’t get in because the room was jammed. But I didn’t feel too badly because I found my longtime colleague, Mark Bide, also waiting outside. He couldn’t get in and he was on the organizing committee for the event!
So even though there were fewer people in the hall than in prior years — I don’t know the official count but I do know what I saw and what everybody else saw and said — there was a real appetite for future-oriented programming. There was a session featuring four UK CEOs which I read about in the show daily. That one was also well-attended and attempted to be future-oriented, although from the account in The Bookseller show daily, it would appear not particularly successfully.
What I kept thinking about as I walked around the Fair was “who won’t be here next year?” My top nominee would be Publishers Weekly; it is hard to understand how they manage to keep the doors open except by burning through the parent company’s money. Right behind them would be BookExpo America, another longstanding operation which is exemplifies what happens to the horizontal publishing infrastructure as we build an increasingly vertical world. Although it is a popular pastime to “blame” PW editors or management for their predicament, I wouldn’t be inclined to do that. I don’t have a formula to suggest that would have saved them, nor do I for BEA. (Although if BEA goes down, an idea Michael Cader came up with that I joined him to put forward a few years ago called “Frankfurt in New York” might be something old that will suddenly become new again!)