Now the party’s over
and everyone’s gone home,
each one to their own world
and you are left alone…
The words of a half-remembered Christian rock song, but they seem to fit. The London Book Fair is over for another year: everyone’s gone home; or if not home, back to business as usual. Was it worth it?
I didn’t sell anything; I didn’t buy buy anything except a coffee; but for me, as a bookseller, even more specifically as a Christian bookseller, it was definitely worthwhile. Because, to take Grant Leboff slightly out of context, it’s not about the books, it’s about the experience; more to the point, it’s about the people. More about Grant Leboff later.
I started my visit on Monday with breakfast (deluxe canapés, coffee and bucks fizz: gratefully received) at the English PEN Literary Café, where I had the privilege of meeting the project’s Director, Jonathan Heawood, who explained briefly what the organisation is all about.
From there, it was off to find the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) stand to catch up with Michael Covington, ECPA’s Information & Education Director, to arrange collection of sample product from the ECPA Collective at the end of the fair. Unfortunately, come Wednesday afternoon when I returned, the vultures had got there first: it seems that the last afternoon at LBF tends to degenerate into something of a free for all with scavengers going around and grabbing anything and everything that’s left behind as the stall holders split the scene. Michael had found himself more or less fighting people off as they tried to help themselves without so much as a by-your-leave. Nonetheless, I departed with two boxes of books which have been gratefully received by folks at LST, so my thanks to Michael and to those ECPA members who generously donated their wares.
Back to Monday, however, and on to the BA stand, where I’d hope to be able to leave my exchanged Book Tokens. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible: the BA were unwilling to accept the risk of loss between Earls Court and BA HQ in Victoria. If anyone from the BA happens to read this, perhaps you’d like to consider providing a Book Token drop off point at LBF as a service to members, please?
Jane Gregory kindly walked me through the new web-based electronic gift card system that’s due to replace the old paper tokens later this year. On the BA’s demo set-up it worked splendidly; then I asked the billion dollar question: would it work on a Mac? The answer was no: Macs, Jane explained, don’t support the system. Wrong answer: it’s not Macs that don’t support the system: it’s the BA that doesn’t support Mac users. I ask myself, in a world where ageism, racism and sexism are not acceptable, why is OS-ism so blithely tolerated? Why are Mac users ostracised by the Booksellers Association? Apparently I was only the second Mac user Jane had encountered so a shout out to Mac users: please contact the BA and tell them you want to see support for Macs in the new Book Tokens scheme!
Next came a whistle-stop tour of the stands: my annual visit to Marston Book Services, first to thank them for their excellent service over the past year, and second to ask them when they’ll be joining batch.co.uk, to which I received the same answer they’ve been giving for the last four or five years: they’re in discussions with batch and yadda yadda yadda… How long, O Lord?
For anyone who may have missed the news in the trade press, Marston and Orca have now merged; this year’s fair saw them sharing a single stand. I said that I hoped the merger would see Marston lifting Orca up rather then Orca dragging Marston down. “Is there a problem with Orca?” came the response. Oh yes, dear people, and the entire British book trade is now looking to you good people at Marston to sort it out. I do hope you know what you’ve taken on: you’ll find some discussion here.
The time flew by and I whizzed my way around the main hall, Earls Court 1, a friendly wave to the folk at Lion Hudson, stopped off to open a DVD account with Gardners (who refused to be drawn on whether or not they’d ever recovered the money owed to them by St Stephen the Great Bookshops following J Mark Brewer’s ludicrous attempt at filing for bankruptcy in the USA last year), danced my way past the MacMillan stand where I picked up a proof copy of Peter James’ forthcoming novel, Dead Tomorrow, and on to Hodder to collect a proof of Gerald Seymour’s latest, The Collaborator. Proofs seemed to be in short supply this year: normally I leave with at least half a dozen; this year, just the two.
After lunch — lubricated with a bottle of mineral water courtesy of Sweet & Maxwell: thank you — I made my way to the BA Small Business Forum presentation by Grant Leboff, Selling and marketing your bookshop has changed – have you?
Grant, I think, successfully persuaded most of us that old ways of marketing are dead. Social networking, he explained, represents the biggest revolution in communications since the invention of the printing press. The printing press made communication possible one to many; TV and radio have continued that trend; but online communications have changed all that and given us many to many communication. That turns the entire model upside-down: we, as sellers, are no longer in control of the information available to our customers; and what we’re selling isn’t the books but the experience. It isn’t about the books: Amazon have that sorted; but what Amazon can’t provide is the experience and space, the human interaction. We can; and if we’re to survive, we must.
There’s more, much more: twitter, for instance, with songbirds at both the Bookseller and Booktrust merrily tweeting their hearts out whilst the staff on their stands seemed blissfully unaware at the mass of cyberactivity going on behind the scenes. For my personal blow by blow — albeit somewhat disjointed — account of the day, see my twitter feed under #LBF09. If you’re one of the many in this trade of ours who hasn’t quite worked out what twitter is yet, do please try to get up to speed before #LBF10 comes around next year; and if you intend to tweet the event next year, please make a note of that hashtag now.
My thanks to everyone — the team from the BA, the Reed Exhibitions people and the Earls Court staff as well as all the exhibitors — who conspired to make #LBF09 |#LBF such a worthwhile experience. We may be in the midst of a depression, but this trade of ours is decidedly and distinctly alive and kicking. See you next year, I hope!