Reflections on the London Book Fair 2015

Well, the London Book Fair has been and gone. Is it only a week ago that I was trudging home with publishers’ catalogues and notes from the various sessions I attended?

I found it really useful: three days’-worth of excellent talks and discussions, for the princely sum of £35. And that included the mega-useful directory, with all the exhibitors’ contact details in it.

The main place I went to was the Authors HQ, an island of self-publishing in a vast ocean of traditional publishing. All of the talks there were tremendously useful, and I have loads to follow up on.

Loved the idea of a gigantic sofa for "social networking"!

A couple of highlights for me were:

  • Finding out that video bloggers, or vloggers, cover more than just make-up tips for girls or puerile drivel for blokes. It seems obvious now, but I found out there are book vloggers too, known as “book tubers”. I had a quick look and there are tons of them. Hopefully I will be able to find one who will review my (forthcoming) self-published works.
  • Hearing about NetGalley, where readers can obtain books to review, and authors can pay to have their books available for review. I thought I’d give it a whirl as a reader before shelling out as a writer. I’ll report back in due course.

I also attended a fascinating talk by Marcello Vena called The Myth of the Long Tail. That was the term coined by Chris Anderson, of Wired Magazine, to describe the situation in which, because of low storage costs, extremely niche products could be made available on the web.

I didn’t think an awful lot of it at the time his book came out, although I thought the idea was interesting. By the time his book Free was published, I’d had enough of what I considered to be his dubious analysis. See Book review: The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson and Free, by Chris Anderson - A Non-Review respectively.

According to Vena, in the field of digital music as well as in that of ebooks, most people sell very little. In the words of a 14 year old girl to whom I’d once said that research has shown that girls have more of their brain devoted to language than boys do, I think we all knew that!

Like me, Vena believes that the costs associated with the long tail are not zero. At the very least, web storage costs money, but beyond that are the costs, especially in terms of time, of creating and then marketing your work. (Read Revisiting the Long Tail Theory as Applied to Ebooks for a more in-depth exposition of his analysis.)

Vena was at pains to stress that when Anderson wrote his books there was no data available; now there is. But as he said, a wrong theory isn’t necessarily useless, and a useful theory isn’t necessarily right.

(This is absolutely true of course. You only have to consider that Newton’s theory of how the universe works was useful but, in the light of Einstein’s work, wrong (or, at least, not the complete picture). The same is true in other fields, such as Economics.)

I suppose the key question for self-publishers is: will realising that the benefits of the long tail, from a producer’s point of view, are non-existent make any difference? I think not. We authors tend to be an optimistic bunch, otherwise we wouldn’t do what we do. The statistics may tell us that most of us won’t earn much from our writing, and some of us may actually lose money (see What do writers earn?), but we will not be deterred.

Back to the Book Fair.

I prefer Olympia, its new home, to Earl’s Court, but as always I did find myself frequently geographically challenged, despite the excellent signage. Still, it seemed to work well, and what I liked in particular was that getting from one talk to another didn’t seem to take as long as it did at Earl’s Court.

The programme of talks was excellent. I like the idea of short, 20 minute ones, but in practice I found that I skipped a few because of the risk of arriving 5 minutes late, and thereby missing 25% of the talk.

I thought Midas PR did a great job of hosting the talks in the Author HQ. Also, the girls in the Media Office, who were also from Midas, were always friendly and helpful. If it hadn’t been for them, I would probably still be wandering around Olympia looking for the Apex Room!

All in all, a good experience, and I am looking forward to the London Book Fair 2016.