Monday, April 20, 2009

The credit crunch Fair

Initial impressions of 'the credit crunch Fair'? Busy busy busy. This is the first London Book Fair since the global economy collapsed, but you wouldn't necessarily have much sense of it at Earls Court today. Yes, we know times are tough, we know redundancies are in the air, but to walk past the stands of HarperColllins, Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, Simon and Schuster was to see crowded booths, all the tables occupied, a palpable sense of business being done.

HarperCollins' worldwide CEO Brian Murray (left)knows exactly where the optimism lies. "The hope is on the digital side of the business. We're finding that consumers want their books on a variety of different devices - Kindle, Sony....Our digital sales in the US are growing at a faster rate than we expected."

Does he think the iPod moment for books has arrived? "I don't think there will be an iPod moment for books. It's not the same as it was for music. Pirated music created a legal marketplace for pirated music. People wanted tracks rather than albums, so you can't compare the two markets. I think in the future you'll have everything in both formats. There won't be a reduction in titles, but there will be fewer copies printed."

As if to underline his points, HarperCollins has a Sony Reader on its stand promoting the company's new digital deal with the Tolkein estate. Lord of the Downloads you could say.

Penguin MD Helen Fraser chaired a session on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and noted that "many companies have now picked the low hanging fruit: they've reduced travel, they print on FSC paper, they've reconfigured their buildings, and yet they still find they have not met their carbon neutral targets".

The difficulty - and complexity - of CSR was underlined by all the speakers. The eponymous Alastair Sawday said that "in an ideal world governments would support companies who behaved morally". Michael Green, author of Philanthrocapitalism, favours a "capitalism that gives back", and cited Bill Gates as its poster boy. He also praised Starbucks for "working further down the supply line and giving better rewards to farmers". Veruschka Selbach of Earthscan said the house was planning a "biodegradable stand", which will surely be a first.

Of course, despite the crowded stands, if you bump into an editor out on the aisles - Cape's Dan Franklin, for example - it's all: "There are no books, it's very quiet...." which is always the tradtional response. After all, you don't want to admit to having missed something (not that Dan would miss anything).

David North ( left), here at his first LBF as MD of Quercus, was frequently punching the air and beaming. Nothing to do with a new rights deal, but everything to do with his beloved Everton making it into the FA Cup Final.

Meanwhile, Profile's Andrew Franklin, had his jacket over his shoulder. "I've just been to Brompton Road Cemetery. It's full of publishers....." Let's hope his words aren't prophetic.

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