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The London Book Fair 2001.

When one considers the British literary tradition, the mind reels. From Shakespeare to Dickens to Kipling, from Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to Mary Shelley, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, John LeCarre, and beyond, England is a land of words and wordsmiths without peer. In all the world, what better place for a book fair than Londontown?

The annual London Book Fair (LBF) is the smallest of the three major, international book-publishing events, after Germany's Frankfurt Book Fair (known simply as "Frankfurt" within the book trade) and the U.S.'s Book Expo America (BEA). Mighty Frankfurt, held in the fall, draws about four times as many exhibitors and more than 10 times the visitors as LBF, and is widely viewed as "the" place for the world's book publishers to launch new titles and conduct their international rights business. BEA, held in Chicago (usually) each spring, serves the largest English-speaking marketplace in the world for printed books and bookstore sidelines, and appears to have established itself as the key event for publishers and booksellers who are interested in investigating, publishing, and distributing e-books.

Given that LBF is unable to compete with the two bigger shows in any of these areas (to be fair, the show does provide a good venue for rights trading, and is striving to keep up with electronic publishing issues), what is its raison d'etre? Well, first of all, should you be tempted to think for a moment that LBF suffers an inferiority complex--quick, think Hugh Grant trying to sound Mafioso in Mickey Blue Eyes--forget about it. This, after all, is the United Kingdom, unrivaled as a wellspring of poets, playwrights, historians, and novelists. I suspect that herein lies the key, and that the celebrated English literary tradition itself is what draws publishing professionals the world over to London for 3 days each March. After all, you never know what incredible book or writer may emerge next. from England--not to mention Ireland, Scotland, or Wales.

The aisles of Olympia Hall in Hammersmith during LBF are a bibliophile's delight. Every type of book imaginable is on display from publishers large and small, old and new, classic and modern, sensible and uncouth, trendy and scholarly, and those that defy classification. A year or two into our new millennium, the essence of LBF continues to be a celebration of printed books--exhibitors of e-books and electronic publishing solutions are few and far between, though they seem to purchase a disproportionate number of signs and show program ads. Among them I discovered Microsoft, showing its Microsoft Reader technology, which is supposed to make text appear as clear and readable on a computer monitor as it does in a printed book. From the demo I was given, I think they may have brought along the wrong monitor. Versaware and Reciprocal were offering e-solutions for publishers interested in catching the e-book wave (er, ripple). Online trading in subsidiary rights continues to look like one of the most promising We b applications for publishers, though a widely accepted model has yet to emerge. For $200 per title (with a minimum of 10 titles per year), allows publishers and agents to promote their literary properties virtually to other publishers and agents, in the hopes of licensing translations, movie deals, and other subsidiary rights.

Seminars and events at LBF reflected a high level of interest in e-book publishing, print-on-demand (POD) technology, and rights trading. The 2-day "ePub London" was a heavily promoted event held just prior to LBF that looked at a wide range of electronic publishing issues. A workshop on "Quality Digital Content" examined the growing content-syndication market, describing how publishers can license their content to others and identify reasonably priced material to enhance their own Web sites. The "PDF to Print" seminar explored the use of PDF in creating e-books and realizing the economies of on-demand printing, while a full-day workshop sponsored by Versaware was this vendor's primer on the art of creating, marketing, and distributing e-books.

For the past 3 years, Information Today, Inc.'s Internet Librarian International (ILI)/Libtech conference (organized by The Reed Exposition Group) has run in conjunction with LBF. This appears to be a very good match. A conference and exhibit like ILI/Libtech--with its, focus, on Internet-based sources and strategies for U.K. and European librarians and info pros--should want to draw publishing professionals interested in electronic information technology, while a book show on the scale of LBF naturally needs to attract librarians. From a librarian's point having these events run concurrently provides a very clear benefit: the opportunity to learn about new electronic information products and books in one London visit.

LBF drew 12,795 attendees, 1,593 exhibiting companies, and 2,395 booksellers: About 514 of the ILI/Libtech attendees--less than one-third of the total number registered for the Information Today, Inc. event--crossed over to the book fair. Apparently, scanning their badges was the sole method employed by LBF to count librarians. To increase the numbers of librarians attending the book fair, LBF could more actively promote ILI/Libtech in its pre-event marketing materials, and make a greater effort to recognize and welcome its librarian visitors, As for traffic in the other direction, if you were drawn to London for LBF 2001 it would have been quite easy to miss ILI/Libtech. A more generous use of on-site signage, announcements, and show program listings at LBF would help here.

Given the obvious value of both ILI/Libtech and LBF to the library community in Europe and the U.K., I hope to see many more of my librarian friends in London in 2002. If you fancy a pint of bitter; mind the gap; look right, look left--I'm your pubmate.

John Bryans is editor in chief of the Book Division of Information Today, Inc., where he specializes in developing books for librarians and info pros, educators, indexers, and business users of online information and the Internet.
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Author:Bryans, John
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:May 1, 2001
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