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Spring Sunshine Brightens a Desperate London Book Fair

LBF had an "air of desperation"  

LBF had an “air of desperation”

The sunshine yesterday in the city put a gloss on a seemingly lightly visited London Book Fair. The immediate view below the LBF banners when walking out of Earl’s Court tube stations were the numerous people outside enjoying the bright Spring day while puffing their last cigarette of hope. There were small groups of people quietly talking to each other or into their mobile phones, but there was no great buzz. Melodramatic maybe but the Fair seemed strangely subdued.

Inside, I had one meeting with a publisher lined up and an hour to kill, so I wandered over to the ‘Digital Zone’. Looking at it on the map, it was a yellow section at the far end of the exhibition. To get to the ‘Zone’ I had to make my way through children’s books, computer books, military books, distributors, printers and publishing recruitment consultants.

The computer books people I know well and, fortunately, they have been investing in digital technology for a long time to diversify their business offerings. Retail was tough but their online, direct business was starting to make them returns.

The children’s section seemed remarkably empty with several stands which you would expect to be busy looking more like a back street restaurant on a wet Monday night judging by the number of empty tables laid out for doing deals. The military book publisher looked busy. War always generates good wealth!

I bumped into an old contact who runs a large ‘print-on-demand’ business who was expanding his empire and his career nicely. On demand seems and its efficiencies seemed to be doing well. Distributors looked busy but I could see an interesting placement of a shipper and a distributor stand near to an eBook company. The fun that the show organisers must have when allocating space to their clients. Do they think like a ‘reality TV’ producer to see if they can make sparks fly?

Oh, and the recruitment consultancy stand was busy. Quelle surprise? 

And, now, I was at the ‘Digital Theatre’. But, theatre was an exaggeration. It had enough seats for about fifteen and, so, on arrival I could see there was a crowd of people spilling out watching a salesman (who had a quasi-antipodean-Dutch accent) from an eBook company explaining about the “global audience” his customers can reach with his product without the need for Royal Mail, UPS or FedEx to get their dirty hands anywhere near your products.

Bolted onto the theatre was the ‘Sony Reader Lounge’ which had several leather seats and sofas and a single Sony Reader bolted onto a table. Where was the fun in that? I am not sure if I needed a ticket to have a play with the device. Could Sony not afford anymore of their readers for the stand? And this summed up the digital area. It was the small back yard of the big mansion but crammed with people trying to get their ‘heads around digital’.

At this stage, I was getting bored of the eBook demo so I decided to have a Twitter moment and took a photo of the proceedings which I sent up to my “global audience” using TwitPic with a comment. The moment was saved when a publisher contact saw my ‘tweet’ and suggested I come and chat to him on his stand. Hooray for Twitter and ‘yah-boo’ to anyone who thinks Twitter is stupid. I picked up a brief for some potential work from the publisher after a very good chat. 

This particular publisher’s view of the Fair was that there was an “air of desperation” about the event with people as keen as mustard to do deals. There were less ‘freebie hunters’ and more serious business people. 

I met my publisher contact at 1pm and sat on the floor for a coffee and a catch up who is getting up to speed on ‘digital’, hopefully with our help. This is how finding new business should be these days. And the LBF organisers should start to provide some proper stands for the ‘digital zone’ because interest was outstripping capacity.

I think I am in the right place at the right time.