Tuesday 20 April 2010

The London Book Fair Day One: the book is dead long live the book!

It's eerily quiet at the London Book Fair this year.

The LBF opens - last year this was a melee of elbows and publishers with heavy suitcases on wheels

The volcanic eruption in Iceland has resulted in a total ban on flights in and out of the UK. Even Tony Blair failed to turn up for his Random House appearance to discuss his memoirs.

 Everywhere there were empty stalls.

I was so sad to see all the empty stalls. At some stalls they had slotted boxes with this message:

Click on the image to enlarge if your eyes can't cope with the small size

There were so many stalls that at one point Noisy Dog author Sue Eves and I played LBF stallholder - setting up shop in one of the empty stalls.
Sue playing stallholder - check out our samples on the shelf in the background

Well. Not for long. We were just resting our aching feet.

But it was exciting too - this year, the buzz at the London Book Fair had to do with the promise of digital.

In fact the first seminar to do with children's books was a Booktrust sponsored panel titled Children's Bookfuture: Children's Literature and Digital Imagination.

It was a sign of how much things have moved on in the publishing world that the event began with Twitterers synchronizing hashes - Kate Wilson, managing director of Nosy Crow, the new, extremely right-on children's publisher, tried to encourage tweeters to use #LBFK (LBF for Kids) as well as #LBFDC (LBF Digital Conference). What a contrast from last year's LBF when, at a talk about online marketing, very few people knew what Twitter was all about!

I arrived at the book fair all set to do some fancy tweeting. But alas, I was one of the dinosaurs. I discovered I could not tweet fast enough AND take notes for the blog at the same time. I left the tweeting to Sue, who managed very well indeed!

The panel featured Amanda Wood (pictured left), managing director of Templar known for its all-squeaking, all-dancing, interactive books without a screen in sight. She said Templar's experience in novelty books made it easier for them to look at digital opportunities.
"The thinking is essentially the same ... is there a real purpose for the end user in that gimmick? Is it just a gimmick? Or can you give it some real worth? ... what’s the point in taking an existing book and squashing something into an iPhone? We have to protect the value of books because we are publishers."
On the other end of the panel was Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot Press, the first publishers to put a picture book app on the iphone.
"It’s always going to be about the pictures and the stories ... and that was a real focus for us in our work ... not to cover them with interface –  buttons,  instructions –  but to really let the story and the pictures shine through."
Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot demonstrating a picture book iPad app that they are due to launch at the fair. And yes, there was a ripple of excitement when he pulled the iPad out.

Author Naomi Alderman (her second book The Lessons is just out and is Radio 4's Book at Bedtime)  - not a children's book writer but a digital writer for such as games was there to envision how narrative for digital forms would have to change. With digital creator Jey Biddulph. Naomi wrote The Winter  House - an online novel with digital enhancements funded by Booktrust. She described the process as having to do with a bit of crafting story around what the technology could do (I'd love to do it!)

Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson asked the final question:
"Is there a place for publishers between the author and the reader?"
And the consensus was - the traditional publishing novel is on the brink of a revolution due to digital pressures. But one thing is for sure, though the book as object may be under threat, the book as story is alive and well.

So here's what I took away from the panel for my fellow authors: you have nothing to fear — our profession ain't dead yet. It's just that the message we craft will soon be using other mediums (media?).

As panel chair Chris Meade of The Future of the Book (which calls itself the "think and do tank for reading") said:
We spend so much time promoting the book on the page, on the paper and undervaluing the experience... The book is what happens inside you. The book is just the souvenir of that visit.


  1. Thanks Candy, I wish I had been there to boost the numbers, a truly London book fair

  2. Thought I'd see if my phone comment had appeared and it hasn't - I'm so rubbish. I was sorry to have missed the fair on Monday, thanks for sharing.

  3. thanks - i was writing in a hurry and re-reading i noticed all my typos. but i'm glad i got it out! it was a very interesting day.

  4. Very interesting Candy, thanks for sharing. You write a brilliant blog.


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