Focus: London Book Fair 2014

The London Book Fair surpassed all my expectations. The venue was Earls Court, a vast space in which the buzz of deals being made, the showcasing and exploration of the latest innovations and the sheer excitement about the future of this industry were palpable. As the events draws to a close this year and having scoured every free catalogue and industry news pamphlets, I thought I would share some highlights which piqued my interest.

Market Focus on Korea

“Technology is now integral in helping to break into new territories”

The objective of the Market Focus is to draw attention to the great potential of certain territories in conducting business on an international basis. According to a an article in Publishing Perspectives, Korea has proven to be an increasingly important market for UK publishing with a reported 22% growth in exports over the last decade. The latest tools designed to enhance reading experiences were truly phenomenal. Tabon Books based in Korea specialise in the creation and distribution of ePubs and provide a range of enhancements, for example, animation, interactivity and text searching.  I was interested to learn that this year they plan to launch the Tabon eBook Shopping Mall concept which gives publishers their personalised “shop front” identity plus the additional benefit of having the freedom to sell their eBooks the way they want.  IPortfolio and Y Factory respectively focused on transforming the educational learning environment and the mental development of children in encouraging a curiosity about the world. I am personally delighted to see such commitment to the promotion of learning. The London Book Fair is the global marketplace for the negotiation of rights as well as the sale of content across a range of mediums. What was particularly evident to me was the evolving landscape of opportunity which makes for a very exciting time to be in publishing.

Business Models in Publishing

One of the advantages to studying towards an MA in Publishing is the rapid realisation that having an understanding of business terminology is fundamental to the industry and that publishing is as much about business as it is about nurturing and promoting creative talent. With an assessment which requires us to plan an affinity scheme which connects publishers with the readers of their books firmly in mind, I attended the Big Debate which took place at the LBF. In order to remain profitable, publishers as content providers have sought to address the wide gulf which has traditionally existed between these two components of the process by acquiring customer insight via data. This enables publishers to construct a reader profile which can serve to market titles more effectively. Harper Collins, for example, have set up a “consumer insight” department while some trade publishers have partnered with companies such as Oyster in order to share built-in audiences. The interesting discussion point was that research conducted by Publishing Technology last year suggested that online communities are a growth area in the marketing of content and that a news and fan portal would be valued by publishers and readers alike.

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Merchants of Culture?

This week involved the Publishing MA class discussing interpretations of this terminology and the title of John Thompson’s 2010 book, Merchants of Culture, which looks closely at the changing role of the publisher. This term – publishers as merchants of culture – is an interesting one and is open to much analysis.

The book highlights the increasingly competitive marketplace as publishers compete to acquire content by entering into contractual relations with authors or their agents. Added to this, publishers must also compete for the attention of readers and retail space once a book has been produced. The book marketplace is incredibly crowded and from the research I carried out for my latest course assignment, I understand the importance of the symbolic capital of the imprint, the social networking of publishing staff and the author in ensuring that a new title is not lost in the flood of books which appear each season.

Critiques of the publishing industry often focus on its corporate nature, arguing that the profit motive impedes decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. However, it is essential for publishers who bank on having a few big hits to offset a lot of flops. Thompson states that being “merchants” does not mean offering only low-culture products, but differentiating the offer in order to compete. It does not mean an end to the promotion of culture but of producing it in different ways and at different levels.

In a world where anyone can publish a book, publishers, like any business, cannot remain static. The diversification of sales outlets e.g. supermarkets, toy shops, the internet have meant that modern publishers have made efforts to connect their books with specific audiences by going where that market goes. With the advent of social media and the influence it has on book sales, a publisher cannot avoid being a merchant and ignore the taste of the ‘common user’. In other words, a book must be shown to be financially viable and that enough profit will be generated to support the company’s other activities.

In October 2013, The Business of Fashion examined the rise in popularity of books related to fashion, in particular highly illustrated monographs which retail between $150 – $500 on average. When the leading publishing house Rizzoli published a book on Tom Ford in 2004, the initial concerns were whether or not consumers would respond positively and whether a niche product would be only desirable to a limited audience. Ten years on, the book is still in print and selling remarkably well. It is a trend which can be observed internationally. Go in to most of the larger book stores and it is apparent that books pertaining to fashion design occupy far greater space on shelves than titles related to, say, architecture or product design.

Marketing campaigns have successfully positioned such books as being almost comparable to luxury accessories; akin to the latest designer handbag, for example. Additionally, fashion brands have international following and so benefit not only from the expertise of the publishing house but also from being able to introduce a form of the brand in overseas markets at a relatively small sum. The release of a new collection which seem to occur fairly frequently is a good opportunity to tie in with the marketing of the book. From a retail viewpoint, it is evident that a book can assist with maximising sales of a new line. If the brand already has a strong presence then it is a means by which the ‘brand’ can communicate with it’s ardent followers.

So, the fashion book has increasingly become an ‘objet d’art’ , a sort of collectors possession, which has escaped the fate of other genres in this digital age. This may go some way in explaining the ongoing popularity of fashion books and provides a fabulous and timely (at this stage in my course) example of a successful marketing campaign.