I attended the London Book Fair at Earls Court this month; the first time in several years. I was left with several over-riding impressions.
The Fair remains the premier International Book Fair. It was busy – very busy – with 25,000 delegates, half from overseas, attracted by the 1,500 exhibitors from 57 countries. The Bookseller suggested that the USA DoJ ruling on the Agency Model (eBook pricing) had dampened the mood considerably for rights sales.
I am very much against this ruling as it simply hands yet more power to an already menacing monopoly. I applaud those Publishers who have decided to fight this rather simplistic ruling. Amazon has already done considerable damage to our High Streets, and not just to Bookselling. It’s quite foolish to view Amazon as a consumer champion.
China – this year’s Market Focus – with their visually stunning Fair Pavilion (designed by Yang Liu). The Market Focus logo was in the shape of a hand-fan as used by the Royal Family in China 1500 years ago. LBF reported that China had sent 1,200 people (including 50 authors) representing 180 publishers – quite a commitment! So why China? Well, English and Mandarin are the two dominant world languages and China is a vast country with a 1.3billion population speaking over 50 dialects. It’s projected to overtake the USA as the world’s largest economy within the next 20 years or so, and yet paradoxically it’s still 90th on the GDP index despite its recent spectacular economic growth.
The sheer size of the country with its many regional imbalances and huge social challenges is overseen by the pro-business centralised Government. For the Western creative industries, protection of Intellectual Property and Copyright remains the pressing issue. Good quality translation skills remain scarce.
There is the inevitable controversy over issues of censorship when judged by the ideals of liberal democracy. Indeed, the Fair’s impressive China and Europe Publishing Forum attracted a goodly number of silent placard waving protesters; ‘Free speech is not a crime’, ‘Stop literary persecution’. The London Evening Standard ran an interview this week with the Chinese author of Wild Swans in which she stated that, in her opinion, ‘Censorship in China is worse than it was 10 years ago’.
The Chinese Government oversees all media output through GAPP and it is this body which issues the requisite ISBN’s. Since 1949, China has published around 34,000 titles of British books within China. Apparently, ¼ of all books imported into China are from the UK! Through its 600+ Publishing Houses and with a workforce of nearly 57 thousand employees’, China has the largest publishing output in the world by volume (300,000 titles in 2009). It’s a mature and self-confident market set to generate revenues of $9.5billion in 2012. China is poised to take over from the USA in levels of scientific journal publishing.
There are 167,000 bookshops across China, with some state-of-the-art seven-story bookshops in the largest cities. The number of bricks and mortar shops is growing by almost 5% per year! The state-run chain, Xinhua (new China) has 6,483 outlets.
Why is this of any interest to us Brits? Because there are more people learning English in China than anywhere else in the world and more English speakers in China than in the rest of the English speaking world. Language learning is paramount. For publishers, this obviously represents a huge market and a pressing opportunity. There is a very attractive market for educational and English language publishers!
I was very struck by Pearson’s almost evangelical mantra, ‘Not just touching people, but transforming lives through learning’.
Islam – I was forcibly struck by the number of large and impressive Islamic publishing stands at LBF. These were in stark contrast to the mainly small booths of the Christian publishers, aside from the usual welcome presence of Lion Hudson PLC. Islam clearly has plenty of financial backing, is investing heavily in literature and is clearly committed to book distribution in a way that some Christians seem to have forgotten.
Print still dominates, at around 80-85% of the UK market and much smaller elsewhere in the world. We should keep the eBook ‘hype’ in perspective. The digital presence at the Fair was actually quite small, tucked away in one smallish zone. Interestingly, KOBO eReaders have said that 10% of their eBook sales are now for self-published authors. In China, authors are uploading self-published works in instalments, books which are then picked up by publishers and eventually making their way into bookshops; the reverse of our model in the West!
UK Publishers do increasingly view their role as ‘Content Providers’ delivered via various platforms but print currently continues to dominate their activity.
LBF 2012. Quite an event, and yet again, another reminder of just how quickly our world is changing. The tide of globalisation and digitalisation continues to alter the way we all do business yet the basic desire to read remains.
In his summing up, Lord Powell of Bayswater said, ‘The English language is the highway to bring the world to China’. I suspect that China is actually finding her way to the rest of the world!
View more LBF photos here.
Cross posted by Eddie Olliffe.