Posts Tagged ‘London Book Fair’
Coming down and calming down from two hectic days at the London Book Fair, I’m sitting in our Harlech office looking out at the waves and the wind and the sunshine, and contemplating the immense power of books.
There’s no doubt the publishing world is in turmoil, with fewer people buying books, ebooks taking an ever larger slice of the pie, bookshops closing every week and a general air of uncertainty hanging over everything. This of course adds to the excitement, and there is, as always in publishing, this sense of ambiguity — are we in the right business? Should we be looking forward? Or over our shoulders?
Two companies expressed an interest, however veiled, in acquiring fotoLibra. Of course there’s a world of difference between acquiring and buying, but it’s interesting to see that some firms are discreetly expanding, and not necessarily in their core disciplines. I should add that these are the first signals of this type we’ve seen in nine years. Flattering, I guess.
To get an indication of the measure of hope in the business, I posed a theoretical question: “If you personally had fifty thousand to invest, would you put it in a firm making printing machinery or a firm making screens?” No one answered directly. Everyone nodded slowly.
There is a rearguard action. At the fair advertising king Maurice Saatchi launched his Books Are My Bag campaign, claimed to be the biggest ever promotion of bookshops. Who doesn’t love a bookshop? But we’re all buying online, and condemning them to a slow, lingering death. Asked to name my favourite bookshop, I hesitated — there used to be two in Crouch End, now there are none.
It’s not because everyone is buying ebooks. An ebook is still a book; it’s just presented differently. And the only ebooks that are selling are fiction. Illustrated ebooks, as we have found out to our cost, are hard to shift. Heritage Ebooks, which we launched with great hope and wonderful images from fotoLibra photographers, has struggled to find a market. We did a deal with The Folly Fellowship, an organisation concerned with the history and preservation of this curious aspect of Britain’s architectural heritage, to give their members a thumping great discount on the purchase of any of our forty Follies of England ebook titles. How many folly enthusiasts took up the offer? None. Not one. Zilch. That is disheartening.
But The Guardian tells me they’re now doing a feature on our Heritage Ebooks, illustrating ten of our ebook covers. That would be nice. I’ll believe it when I see it. BREAKING NEWS: They’re not doing it. Our ebook covers are Portrait format, and they said they needed Landscape. The covers have lettering on them — the book titles, actually — and they wanted them without lettering. It turns out what they really wanted was ten free photographs of follies.
Despite all this doom and gloom, the London Book Fair was humming. Large companies had dozens of tables, each one with four people talking intently with heads bowed. Business was being done. Smaller firms were concentrating just as hard. The only oases of quiet were to be found in the Arab quarter: huge, lavish, glittering, empty national stands, as depopulated as the deserts.
I captioned this piece The Power Of The Word. The word has more power to stimulate the imagination than the image, I regret to admit. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “People remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear.” But we’re not told what sort of people they asked. These aren’t book people.
Book people feed on words. I’ll give you an example. I’ve known my old pal Mike for over forty years. We haven’t been in touch a lot since he left publishing, but we hooked up last Christmas and resumed normal service. For a Significant Birthday he was planning a tour of Japan. His highlight was going to be queuing outside a bookshop to be the first to buy Haruki Murakami’s new novel. That was, to borrow a phrase from Gilbert Harding, his Sole Purpose of Visit. What power can there be in words to drag a foreigner halfway around the world — literally! — to join (or in Mike’s case, form) a queue outside a Japanese bookshop? I wish I had readers like that. He’s still out there, by the way, and blogging about it as he travels around the country. You can read his adventures here. Oh — and he left book publishing to become a film-maker. Images for words.
So this week was the book fair. fotoLibra’s major source of income is from book publishers. Next week will be the picture buyers’ fair, fotoFringe in King’s Cross. It will be a busy week for us. And there will be some interesting NEWS from fotoLibra.
… or Feminization if you’re American.
At the Digital Minds Conference last Sunday, part of the London Book Fair (from which I’ve only just surfaced, so please excuse the tardiness of this thought) there were three keynote speakers. I’d always thought there could only be one keynote speaker, who would be The Keynote Speaker, but the conference world appears to have left me behind. Or common sense has left them behind.
One of the excellent keynote speakers (there were two) was Jim Griffin of OneHouse LLC. I didn’t know him or what he does, but I listened obediently. And what he had to say was good. I sat up when he announced “Every time someone has to click on your website, you lose half your audience.”
Of course you do! I do it myself! Like most youth, I suffer from diminishing attention span syndrome, and if I find a website is making too many demands on me, I will wander off elsewhere. Memo to self: must ensure that the new iteration of fotoLibra has as few jumps as possible. There’s a great art in this, and for someone as prolix, verbose and effulgent as I am, it is extremely hard to pare what I want to say back to the core. E.g. that 32 word sentence could have been written in seven.
Griffin went on to advocate the feminisation of marketing. In a few swift sentences he describes the shift from the Alpha Male marketing of the late C20 to today’s softer, more insidious techniques. And he’s absolutely right. Ten years ago companies would unblushingly describe their salesmen as ‘thrusting’, ‘aggressive’, ‘potent’ and displaying a ‘robust’ attitude. They might have well as stated their policy as “Wham! Bang! Thank you Ma’am!” Make the sale, move on. Scored! Or as I saw in one memorable, boastful but educated piece of grafitti: VIDI • VICI • VENI ( you can look it up for yourselves if you need to).
When I interviewed Jeff Bezos for The Times back in 1996 he told me that he’d chosen the name Amazon for his company because he wanted it to be the biggest damn retailer in the world and the Amazon was the biggest damn river. It seemed like braggadocio at the time, but they’re on their way. And they’ve done it through the feminisation of their marketing, not through the big swinging dick statements of their founder.
Jim Griffin pointed out that Amazon knows what you like to read. It knows your birthday. It knows the sort of music you listen to, the films you watch. It probably remembers the colour of your eyes and your wedding anniversary. It’s a woman, for God’s sake. And the customers keep coming back. Amazon isn’t interested in a one night stand, it wants a long term, loving relationship. As long as you keep giving it money.
What if you go off and start buying from someone else? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that in the future there’ll be some built-in module to penalise disloyalty.
They could call it Alimony.
This Sunday, as part of the London Book Fair, the Digital Minds Conference will be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London.
The organisers have told us to get there in good time because public transport in London sucks on a Sunday. In fact the real reason is because security at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre is so paranoid it will take you as long to get into the building as it takes an innocent Brit to get into the United States via JFK. Last time I visited I thought I saw the words “anal probe” being mouthed by the security guards. I vowed never to go again.
But all the leading lights of the ebook world will be there (if they’re allowed in), so attendance is virtually compulsory. Many sessions and seminars are taking place. Bill McCoy, the Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (they create and maintain the EPUB ebook format, the standard for ebooks) is chairing one session called Join the Conversation – Digital Platforms and Standards. This consists of round table conversations on a wide range of topics steered by industry ‘experts’, with three subject sessions and approximately 18 different tables covering a variety of angles.
The reason I put ‘experts’ in quotes is that I am one of them — my table theme is Photographic and Illustrated Ebooks. This will be an informal round table discussion with 12 people on the design, production, marketing and future of illustrated ebooks. You are welcome to join in. I’ve been asked to host this as a result of the publication of our first forty ebook titles by VisConPro’s digital publishing arm, Heritage Ebooks.
There are over 1,900 photographs in Heritage Ebooks’ Follies of England series, the majority provided by talented fotoLibra photographers. It is the biggest digital heritage ebook project ever published. And we created it to demonstrate a new method of visual content provision to digital publishers, fotoLibra’s advanceImages system.
Now we have a chance to sit down with other digital publishers and talk through what we did and how it works. It’s a great opportunity for us. And I hope it will prove useful for participants.
If you can’t run to the conference fee of £399, I’ll be happy to meet with digital publishers for free at the London Book Fair next week. We’re on Stand T905, through the kind courtesy of our hosts Publishers’ Marketplace.