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A Day at the London Book Fair

April 12, 2011
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The London Book Fair - some great ideas and some old-fashioned ones

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of old friends at the London Book Fair – including some people I’d not seen for over 10 years. A wave here, a chat there. A cup of coffee in a quiet corner. Former jousting partners now laughing like old friends…

It’s amazing how an industry like publishing, which is so vast, is also one of humbling familiarity. Behind the biggest brands and the smallest operators, people still provide the substance.

Indeed, as I approached Earl’s Court on the London Underground, I began to see lots of people who just had to be¬†publishers. That’s because publishers tend to look alike: publishing attracts people who are slightly off-the-wall. The worn jacket, the fusty clothes, the rimmed spectacles and the sense of Britain as it once was: eying the world with dusty caution.

And then you enter the lofty halls. Inside the great showroom, you quickly become swept along by the buzz – even in times like now when publishing is under huge pressure and when March’s book trade figures are the worst for many a year. Despite despair there is always hope.

E-solutions abound: whereas book publishers have endured their worst March in print, e-companies say they have never been busier. Definitely a sign of where things are going. If apps aren’t the route to profit, other technologies offer themselves up. For every crusty poetry publisher, there’s a social-media savvy newcomer eager to test the waters. Excitement still prevails…

Yet hidden away behind the scenes are still people peddling old ideas. One of the most shocking I heard yesterday was an agent who said, in the face of year-on-year decline in sales going back 5 years, that the only thing to increase sales of books was to decrease prices.

What hogwash! Publishers reading this, if ever your agent says the problems with your books is that they are not cheap enough, tell him or her to go hang. Demand for sure has decreased in recessionary and technological times, but value never declines.

If sales people can’t sell value then they can’t sell. It is better to sell fewer products on value-based lines than to sell more at the lowest price just to shift stock. Low prices only ever does one thing: reduces your audience’s perception of you. Oh, and reduce your revenues and profits too…¬†Once you give in to lower prices, the game’s up.

The point is, the industry is in flux. But audiences still demand information. The task is not to devalue information but to maintain the perception that information is worth paying for.

If a day at the London Book Fair taught me one thing, it’s this: publishing is a tough industry, the worst thing that it can do is to think that what it does is not valuable.

Image: courtesy of London Book Fair Website

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