Reflections on the International London Book Fair, 2010

I attended the International London Book Fair last week (and due to the Icelandic ash cloud, it was slightly less international than usual). Here’s some of what I did, saw, and got in my brain.


As an author who has launched a currently small independent publishing concern but with ten plus in-house years of experience in international publishing (and a lifetime of writing), and in attending the fair (which I had done a number of times previously) my interest this time around was in the electronic side of things. I am a PoD publisher, with eBooks and audio not only part of the package, but I believe eventually the bulk of the package.


I attended a number of seminars. The first seminar I wanted to hit was titled “Children’s Bookfutures: Children’s Literature & Digital Imagination”. As this was one of the first seminars on the first day, I was given crap directions by someone at the info desk who pointed my in the wrong direction with far too many stairs. I was three minutes late, and met a guy blocking the door: “There is no more room”.


I was not late to the next seminar (see below, title and panel names).
Winner losers in dig jungle slide names
They spoke of the importance of METADATA (this came up a lot), and that one should put an ebook in every possible channel, and APPS (again, many mentions) were the ruling prize while perhaps the 300 pages book had been a 20th century concept as the perfect sized book for commercial publishing but was meeting its death. Novellas may very well be the new ebook rule.


My next seminar, the opening slide of the speakers for this ILBF seminar. Guess what?
Vook no show slide of names


Vook no show seats
No one showed up — not a one. All ash damaged. And the rather sparse audience was only informed at the moment the show was supposed to roll, rather than informing us as we arrived. We sat there stupidly we hope in our hearts.


I had actually arranged to have a meeting with Brad Inman, the CEO of Vook, who was still in California. Vooks, for you all, is: “You can read your book, watch videos that enhance the story and connect with authors and your friends through social media all on one screen, without switching between platforms.”


Because I use words, images and performance for many of my stories, initially I was hugely interested in the “enhanced” multimedia e-books. Wowie-zowie, I can combine all of what I do. However, the more I researched it, the more I thought, One, I don’t really see a reader demand and yearning for it, and Two, an enhanced ebook already exists, and even available through mobile devices; it’s called a Web Site. So I have a big Hold On with this perhaps wishful development.


The whole point of fiction is the individual voice of the author speaking directly to the single imagination of the reader. The reader imagines through the author’s words the world of the novel or story. Add images, videos and voices and it may be more of an invasion than an enhancement, distorting, and in a way, narrowing what the individual mind can conjure. (Novels into films are the obvious metaphor: how many times has a viewer who was a fan of a book said, after seeing the movie adaptation: “I didn’t see it like that at all.”


In short, the author’s best tool is the individual reader’s imagination, and the choosing of the right words to spark the imagination. The rest can be clutter. I remain intrigued, and see possibilities, but perhaps not for most fiction.


Anyway, I had a sudden empty part schedule so visited the floor. Not a lot of action, but I did locate my PoD publisher, Lighting Source, owned by Ingram’s. Eleven years ago, when I already researching this independent publishing idea, I had attended the fair (and to see my now ex-literary agent) and their booth at that time had been tiny, one Vice President manned minor place tucked away in a maze of tiny, ghetto booths.


Amazing what a decade and a revolution can do. Here’s the booth this year:
Ingram booth 1
Ingram booth 2
Ingram booth 3


And surrounding this booth were these guys:
Little brown booth
HarperCollins booth
Penguin booth


And these were circling Ingram’s. PoD was no longer tucked away, but, symbolically, interestingly, it was at the center, surrounded by the others, the traditional industry.


A repeated phrase, from authors to publishers themselves, when it came to the changes overtaking the industry was: “Publishers don’t know anything.” It was judged that traditional publishers have neither the skills nor staff to make the sudden changes necessary to turn around toward digitalization and the ebook.


I turned up at another, less pertinent seminar for me on graphic novels and the digital world (but since I’d been locked out of the children’s seminar, I’d try this one). Here’s the panel:
Graphic novels to digital - panel names slide 3
Graphic novels to digital - panel 1
Graphic novels to digital - panel 2


This was a lively one. I was most familiar with Ian Rankin from television culture shows (he was one of those who said, Publishers don’t no nothing, like Hollywood execs”) but not his books.


iPad and Kindle were the reoccurring companions in the e-babble, but they may very well be a short term book-focused e-readers. They have, what, 10 million sold to date? The real action, the future-perfect, are handheld mobile devices: your phone. There are 2.7 plus billion sold. Currently Nokia, Samsung, etc., are all developing combined phones-ebook readers-game/playing-waffle-makers (joke) etc. with launch dates in 6-12 months time. Literary agents may end up have auctions on rights not with Random House and HarperCollins but Nokia et al for, say, the exclusive 3-month launch of the next Stephen King kind of novel on their mobile device before distribution goes wide.


Of course, versions 1 and 2 of e-anything are only development and not definitive, so it’ll be a couple a versions on, in 2-3 years, before it shakes out…


I also spotted at this seminar a “Facebook friend” and “Twitter” follower, Nick Harkaway, who wrote this book:
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - book cover


And here’s his signature:
Nick Harkaway signiture of "The Gone-Away World"
I almost went up to him to say, Hi, we’re fellow Twitter-followers and Facebook friends and I sent you a message two weeks ago wondering whether you were going to speak this year as you did last year on Social Media, but you aren’t, and you replied you were waiting for the invite and…” and my imagined confab went nowhere, except into stilted awkwardness, so I didn’t approach. Virtual nodding acquaintance is it.


The best seminar for me was this one:
Audio publishing for books read by authors
Ebook info slide - audible
Audible is still the best for getting your/my audio out there and into the ears of happy (willing) listeners. The seminar wasn’t greatly attended, but greatly appreciated by me.


After all this, I needed a massage. They have this row of young ladies ready to give a neck and shoulder rub for 7 minutes and you “give what you want”:
Massage 2
Massage 3
And here’s the one who relaxed me tensed muscles for a bit:
Massage 1


On the last day, I visited this seminar:
The Future of ebooks - ILBF 2010
The Future of ebooks - panel shot at London Book Fair 2010


Someone said 10,000 word stories will sell great in the future in ebooks. Another said the “Sunday Digital Conference had an average age attendance of 55: no one who knew what was going on was there.” Which is why I avoided it. Again, “Traditional Publishers know nothing,” the biggest cry.


Lastly, this one:
Want to be published? The rise of self-publishing.
Of little use to me, as I knew as much and more than the panel…which happened quite a bit throughout the fair, and its various seminars. I’m up to speed on a lot, following the correct industry blog, and seem to know my business fairly thoroughly. However, I would like to link Siobham Curham who has had four books conventionally published, but has turned down a two-book deal to go it on her own. She was proof of what some at this fair called “a movement for the future”, but it was happening already, and many are in major catch-up mode. That was the main rub. Many speakers were saying, “This could be happening in the near future,” while was already happening for a while, right at the show…


And here’s some general purpose shots:
ILBF - stands 1
ILBF - stands 2
ILBF - stands 3
ILBF - stands 4

Yep. A trade fair is a trade fair is a trade fair. They all look pretty much the same


And this is why, on this site, I like to just tell my stories. I don’t have a swell talent for journalism, travel writing, the exhibition visit. Where’s the story. Only facts and pointing out. I’m pointed out here.

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7 Responses to “Reflections on the International London Book Fair, 2010”

  1. Jeannette says:

    Thanks for sharing, V!

  2. leemans says:

    at least now we know

  3. JohnnyD says:

    Now we know what goes on at an international book fair. What did you tip the young lady who waffled your body??

  4. The massage-waffle was approx 7 minutes (probably 10 though), so gave 5 pounds sterling. She took the bill and stuffed it in her wallet that was already fairly thick. She spoke with an international American inflected accent but was half-English, half Thai, and had gone to school in Viet Nam. As for the book fair, this was just following me and my interests around. Others would have different routes, interests, obviously (and I didn’t even speak about the theater I saw, the places I ate, the the hotel I stayed at — if only world enough and time). Thanks for reading and commenting. Vincent

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks for including your thoughts on Vook for this post!

    The subject of reader imagination is one that comes up a lot when we talk about the Vooks, and you’ve made a great point about the value of Vooks in the non-fiction arena.

    Also, when it comes to fiction, Vooks are not meant to replace books, but rather bring to life the new experiences mixed media affords.

    For example, our Shakespeare Vook gives readers the chance to see the Sonnets come to life with actors, [http://bit.ly/bqPWTM] and our new Vook, Best of Times, is the project of animator and experimental filmmaker Jeff Scher.[http://bit.ly/cxcYuO]His films are combined with reflective posts from the NY Times blog, and the Vook can make your Web browser, iPhone or new iPad into a virtual art gallery.

    Hope you get to talk to us at some point. Your points are quite thought-provoking!

  6. leila says:

    Interesting, Vincent! What a pity about the ash cancellations though.

  7. Andrea says:

    Hey V – That was really interesting… I always wanted to know what went on there.

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