Frankfurt Book Fair Report

Booksellers Warned to Embrace Digital Future

This year the Frankfurt Book Fair takes place from October 4-8. "Everyone who is anyone" in the industry will be there: authors and publishers, booksellers and librarians, art dealers and illustrators, agents and journalists, information brokers and readers.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world's largest marketplace for trading in publishing rights and licenses, and a clearinghouse for the latest in publishing trends and technology. Here's an example:

Booksellers may have as little as a year and a half to prepare themselves for the onslaught of the next generation of e-readers, according to European Booksellers Federation president John McNamee.

McNamee was speaking at a special seminar on how booksellers can deal with digitisation at the International Booksellers and Trade Visitors Centre. He said it was only a matter of time before one of the many new e-readers currently being developed and launched onto the consumer market (such as the Sony eReader) caught the public imagination. "When the consumer falls in love with a device, everything is going to happen very, very fast," he predicted.

McNamee outlined the many fears booksellers have about the move towards digital content, the most significant of which is that they may be left out of the supply chain in the new digital world, as publishers go direct and online players drive innovation. Even a small four per cent reduction on booksellers’ turnover "will bring huge financial pressure on a large number of booksellers." While some booksellers will inevitably disappear, "I believe the printed book will survive - and good booksellers generally will survive," he said.

The key to survival, according to McNamee, was the increasing need for consumers to receive advice about the plethora of product available. This gave booksellers an opportunity. Booksellers needed to focus on "advice, service and trust" to become "a solution provider for our customer base."

Specifically, McNamee argued that booksellers should consider selling print and digital formats alongside each other, developing a stronger web presence and putting download, search and print-on-demand facilities in-store. He encouraged delegates to sell the e-Reader when it was available (‘we’ve got to be the guys who know about these e-readers’), as well as other non-book products.

It was also important for booksellers to have a good dialogue with publishers, lobby for better terms, and support publishers’ attempts to protect copyright. McNamee said it would also be pertinent to remind publishers that, unlike Google, booksellers actually paid for their stock. There was still time to learn from the mistakes made by the music industry, which had lost many independent retailers and, with them, a ‘huge knowledge base.’

McNamee expressed a concern at the number of booksellers who were facing the challenge of digitisation passively. It was important, he argued, for booksellers to become more involved in trade initiatives and be innovative entrepreneurs.

Spanish academic bookseller Juancho Pons of Libreria Pons spoke about the challenges of being an academic bookseller in the digital age. He expressed a great deal on frustration and confusion about the number of different ways publishers now handle sales of electronic editions. The most important thing was to own the customer, he observed, as ‘control of the contact is control of the sale. He expressed a desire for publishers to treat the sale of e-books in the same way that ‘p-books’ were sold, and advised booksellers to only work closely with friendly publishers.

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Source: Andrew Wilkins, BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine