Five Lessons from the 2014 London Book Fair

by Johanna Vondeling

Subsidiary Rights Director Maria Jesus Aguilo, Senior Subsidiary Rights Manager Catherine Lengronne, and I recently returned from the 2014 London Book Fair, which BK staff have been attending every year since 1996. While there, we met with 62 publishing partners from 23 different countries, as well as with scores of digital partners and other collaborators from across the globe.  As always, we enjoyed doing business and raising a glass of wine with old friends and new acquaintances. This year’s fair was bittersweet, in that it’s the last time the fair will be held at Earl’s Court, which the city is demolishing to make way for residential and retail development. Next year, the fair is moving to Olympia London.

Johanna amidst the hustle and bustle
Here are five things we learned this year in London:

1. Translation Market On the Mend: Since the global financial crisis, we’ve noted a fairly gloomy attitude among our international publishing partners. This year, we detected a refreshingly upbeat attitude. Advances, which had been dropping for several years, seem to have found their new normal.

2. You Never Know: We learn this lesson over and over again every year.  It’s impossible to predict what’s going to catch international publishers’ attention. This year, the most requested BK book was the forthcoming personal development title, “Your Life Isn’t For You,” by blogger Seth Adam Smith. But this wasn’t indicative of any particular trend.Titles on subjects as wide-ranging as personal optimism, rebalancing society, and motivation in the workplace were nearly as popular. So it pays to never stop pitching!

Dinner with folks from Gabal
3. UK Education Shakes Up: Despite heated protests, the UK government in 2012 voted to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year for annual tuition. Savvy, price-conscious students are now shopping around, and the race is on to attract these paying customers.  To compete, universities are now increasingly bundling course materials (including e-textbooks) into the tuition package. As a result, publishers’ academic target audience has changed. No longer is the professor the “decider.” Now, licensing to the institutions themselves 
is the holy grail of revenue.

4. Disruption in the Library Space: Local governments and universities are building fewer libraries and buying fewer books, but there’s still a lot of money in the pot. Libraries are increasingly spending that money on digital content, which is helping to lure younger readers back into the library space. As a result, the marketplace is in flux.  Proquest just acquired EBL, while Overdrive and EBSCO are battling it out for market share.  Meanwhile, new entrants are crafting new business models to better serve the unique and cost-conscious needs of libraries in the US and around the world. Prediction: more consolidation ahead.

Maria Jesus and Catherine hold court
5. Where’s My Wifi?: On a tech note, LBF organizers have made good strides in recent years, but it’s still a struggle to get consistent, ready wifi access in the hall when we want to show partners cool videos (like this one) to help sell new titles. I enjoyed better wifi access in the cheap pizza joint where I ate dinner one night than we did in our hotel. For a world class city, some sites could still stand to step it up a bit.  We’re looking at you, Best Western!

Personally, we three love attending LBF in no small part because it’s both an opportunity to reconnect with our international friends (we shared a lovely — if jet lagged -- meal with the stunning women from our German partner Gabal) and to savor the annual ritual of breaking bread with our local Bay Area friends at North Atlantic, whom we rarely see at home.  Renewing these friendships at the fair always makes our annual stay in London fun-filled and memorable.

With our North Atlantic pals
In the end, our deepest impression of LBF this year was one of gratitude. We’re deeply appreciative of all the hard work our print and digital partners across the globe do to help create a world that works for all. Thank you!