The guest of this year’s Fair is Turkey and the theme is e-books. Or is the theme Turkey and the guest an e-book? I know next to nothing about Turkey and not much more about e-books.
There is a huge amount of discussion about e-book readers and several tonnes of newsprint. Is this the i-Pod moment for the book trade? Can you read an e-book in the bath? Will Amazon control the market? Isn’t the Sony machine too expensive? If I buy an e-book in America will I be able to read it in Germany? And so on.
The truth is that none of us has an answer to these and other related questions. We in the book business know as little about the future as the world’s bankers know about sub-prime mortgages. Fortunately our mistakes won’t cost nearly as much.
What is certainly clear is that everyone in Hall 8 wants digital books to succeed. A vibrant e-book market would inject growth into the business; it would simplify the distribution chain; it would save trees and energy; it would broaden the potential market for all titles; and it would perhaps attract a new breed of reader. The problem for general book publishers (as opposed to specialists) is that it ain’t easy. There are legal issues, technology knots, author earnings questions, issues of pricing both for the hardware and for the content. And what is the role of the traditional independent bookseller? Or even the new Internet booksellers? Some people ( but not me) challenge the role of publishers. All of these discussions are taking place against a reality of relatively low e-book sales and lack of certainty about consumer uptake. Time will tell.
Something much more tangible was revealed on the Bloomsbury stand this morning – a brand new business is being created, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing and you can read more about it here. I may be proved wrong but my guess is that, away from all the hype about authors‘ advances and ‚the book of the fair‘, this will be the most significant deal of all.
And to end today’s sermon a few highlights and lowlights from the Fair.
The dinner for Peter Mayer of Overlook and Duckworth where all mention of e-book royalties was officially banned:
The famous German gymnast sitting with his literary agent at the bar of the Frankfurter Hof until 4 a.m. pitching his memoirs to any passing drunken publisher;
New York’s favourite publisher, George Gibson, was thought to be British purely on the basis of being seen kissing another man:
Rumour has it that the great British chef, Heston Blumenthal, is in fact German and that German rights to his Big Fat Duck book are about to be snapped up;
and I discovered a new term – T30 – any suggestions?