Last week we had the London Book Fair, and the book publishing business seemed to be in fine shape. The organisers, Reed Exhibitions do a pretty good job and the web site is getting better (more usable and useful year by year). But it is a fact that Exhibitions and Conference organisers have not yet done a really good job on putting the key documentation on line in an easily searchable and linkable format: why not? But there were many signs of digital progress by the publishers themselves. Here were a few random comments I noted in the course of the week (with some ripostes in italics):

“The London Book Fair is now the ideal size for a fair in which you can do business. But we wonder what Google are planning to do next.” (an American Harper Collins Executive). Google will surely make a surprising and bold move in the books market soon. They will not wait for the copyright law cases to reach judgement.

“It is easy for Wiley, they just decide to put out digital editions of all their books. It is not so easy for us, we have to decide which titles to invest in first and how much to invest at this stage.” (a middle-sized academic publisher commenting on the way the digital tide is turning). But Wiley are surely right. Making a mistake at this stage is less expensive than not making a move at all.

“I am not convinced that digital editions of our books will sell, Cambridge tell me that their humanities titles are only getting 5% of the revenues from digital sales.” (a small to middle-sized publisher of humanities titles). Five per cent, sounds to me like take-up. I am not sure that the second-hand comment was very clear about what this was 5% of….Its when the take-up is less than 1% that one has to say that the jury is still out.

This was a show in which Penguin, Macmillan, Random House and other large publishers made big statements about putting many of/all their new books into digital format. One has the impression that digital publishing is now assumed to be a must for all main-stream publishers. The smaller academic publishers and small to medium size trade publishers do not yet quite see how to implement the new wave, but the future is clearly going to be digital. There is going to be a lot of devilment in the detail.