Posts Tagged ‘International London Book Fair’

PART ONE – I went to a Digital Publishing Conference at the European Parliament

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

I don’t particularly enjoy writing about book publishing, its production and the shake, rattle and roll of what’s going on in digital media. I’d rather write another book, make another video, edit my on-going audio books. But I do know publishing, live it, work it, study it, know it. Same with social media. There’s just not much teacher type in me, so Explaining Things in essay form is like kicking hard dirt.

But. That word that makes me go back on personal inclinations. So. Recently I attended a conference at the local European Parliament called “Publishing in the Digital Environment: First Dialogues “Author-Publisher.” I knew a lot about this; I wanted to see whether they knew something new.

After arriving at the European Parliament and being lead, with others, up escalators, across interior bridges, into elevators that didn’t work because there was an unknown emergency and so up some stairs and down some corridors, then landing us in The Location where free sandwiches and drinks waited for mouths. Also, the conference room where “Author-Publisher” event was to occur had been double-booked. So we needed to wait while the conference group inside finished a presentation, after which they were hustled out and our group was then allowed in. We took our places in an expensive, imposing conference-happening type structure. Some of the panel took their slightly more fancy seats up front. We were then informed that the European Commissioner who was supposed to be there and moderate this conference wasn’t going to because he had to be somewhere else in another country. Good scheduling skills. So far so not so good.

Some other male who would be the Head Guy would moderate. I didn’t retain his name because I was there for the publishers and the authors and not the bureaucrats. His opening remarks briefly mentioned the theme of the conference before he launched into higher pitched oratory concerning VAT and income tax and how it was imperative to make certain this “new” digital world needed to be legislated into obedience on this. People were making a living in the digital world without contributing to paying his salary and the upkeep of this conference hall (VAT is what keeps this EU universe functioning). Then a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) made some introductory comments that left little impact on my brain as the thoughts were rather generic and dusty. She did state that this was to be the first of many dialogues and debates on this matter. I was going to find that “dialogues and debates” was going to be an intention rather than a reality.

Val McDermid, who, according to the hand-out material I was given, has sold over ten million books and is thus a millionaire, spent a little time on the Author-Publisher relationship, basically saying her books were only so good and she needed a trusted editor to make them better. Only twice in her publishing life did her novels not need heavy editing and rewriting. So after confessing that she could not write her books without help, she launched into pointed remarks about digital theft. “Thieves take my ebooks without any payment and say they are sharing them as they make them available for free, but they don’t share anything with me in return.” I began my first squirming in my seat. Her Little-Brown publisher earnestly spoke of the need of putting protections in place for established publishers in this undisciplined digital world.

After that, the Head Guy—an older guy nearing retirement, slicked back hair, jowly—sitting up there on the dais with the speakers then opened the floor to the first “dialogue” part of the conference. He pointed to a member of the audience seated a row or two before me. She proceeded to thank the author and the publisher for their comments. Especially on the matter of “sharing”, which they, the MEPs, would keep front of mind. The Head Guy then pointed at another woman, next to the one who had spoken. She said more or less the same thing. A third one, a little to the left of me, was called upon. She repeated the thankful mantra that had been established. I got it. Those being called upon for “dialogue” were MEPs, and they all agreed with one another.

My butt squirmed some more. I have friends and acquaintances who work, or have worked, in or with the various European Institutions. Know some writers for various publications covering the European Institutions, even some lobbyists. I also know a number of non-EU connected people who gossip and moan about how the EU Institutes have too much money, too much power, just generally too much. Others believe the EC and the Parliament have simply turned into Institutional Power speaking primarily to Commercial Power. I was now wondering, sitting there, whether this dreaded scenario was being acted out right before my eyes and ears.

Then the German Author-Publisher tag team began to have their similar say. I turned and looked around. One after another of the audience members were taking notes. Without exception, from my vantage point, each and every one was putting pen to paper. I’ve been to enough trade fairs, digital and otherwise, such as the London Book Fair and I’d say at these conferences over 70% of the audience made their notes using mobile phones, iPads, portables devices generally. They actively twittered to online audiences from these conferences. Yet here we were, supposedly discussing the budding digital environment, and everyone was functioning in a pen and paper era. Not awful, just indicative.

Talk went on of saving the world from the bad writing and bad books the unregulated digital world was creating (as we all know, commercial multinational publishers never allow bad writing/books out into the world). Further urgent words were spoken on the controls needed for digital publishing.

So far this author-publisher dialogue was mainly concerned with profit protection, taxes and a legislative control of the digital publishing landscape. What was weirdly missing was any hint of enthusiasm for the rich spread of ideas digital media now allowed, or the power digital publishing opened to individuals. Sure, the corporate publishers said that the digital world opened many challenges and revenue opportunities … but only if the correct protections were in place. Now I was wondering if this conference was orchestrated by publishers so MEPs would hear their legislative concerns. Was this just one big lobbying effort?

Meanwhile, something odd happened. While the Germans were speaking, our moderator, the leader of the conference, the Head Guy, left his chair at the front, and came down to the audience. He made for the front rows right before me. He had a big smile on. He began greeting and cheek kissing the MEPs he knew and had just called upon for remarks.. A hello, a cheek kiss, a few murmured words, kissing the hand, then on to the next MEP, all women. He worked the room while the conference continued with his back turned to it.

Once returned to the dais just as the Germans completed their comments, he asked for more questions, to “continue the dialogue”. Again, he selected one of the MEPs he had just cheek kissed. She began by agreeing with everything that had just been said.

As yet, I could detect no debate or any dissent. Statements were being made by corporate publishers and MEPs agreed with them. My squirming increased. So, when the MEP before me concluded, and the Head Guy in front warmly smiled at her, I popped up my hand, which he could not fail to miss, since from his point of view my arm probably seemed to come out of her head.

He smiled, less sweetly, and indicated I could go ahead. I leaned forward and bent the microphone toward my lips.

(Part Two will be posted tomorrow.)

Reflections on the International London Book Fair, 2010

Tuesday, April 27th, 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.