David Blackburn

Is a hard rain gonna fall?

At 5pm today, the doors will close on this year’s London Book Fair. What have we learned from the publishing industry’s major annual conference?

First, most publishers and agents agree that the e-book will soon outstrip the paperback. This, insiders claim, is an opportunity. Speaking at an event on Tuesday, Corrine Turner of Ian Fleming Publications argued that the e-book was more flexible than the strict format of the paperback, which means that publishers can reach a more diverse range of customers. Production costs are also significantly less, so an ever greater number of books can be published to exploit niche markets across the globe.

The upshot is that the days of vanity publishing are numbered – trust a convocation of publishers to arrive at that conclusion. The market may be depressed (March 2011 saw the worst performance since 2005), but some of the big-wigs are in bullish mood. MDs and CEOs are pitching everything on securing the rights for English language books, as the rise of the internet and digital editions makes publishing an increasingly globalised industry. Speaking at a seminar called ‘The Book is Dead: Long live the global book’, Bloomsbury’s group sales and marketing director Evan Schnittman argued that protecting ‘territoriality’ was essential if publishers were to compete:

‘Selling the English-language rights to different territories opens up the opportunity for competition. The internet will undermine all the protections we put up. The most important thing to do as a business is to make a decision as to how to manage territoriality.’

The rights deals concluded yesterday suggest that many British publishers are consciously consolidating.

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