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London Book Fair: focus on digital April 20, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in eBooks and digital publishing.
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The suddenly active Icelandic volcano threw a fairly large spanner in the works of many exhibitors and visitors planning on attending the London Book Fair this week.

When I went along on Monday as a visitor, there were a number of stands left empty by those unable to make the journey because of the closure of all UK airports, while visitor numbers were also down on those expected by organisers.

However, the volcanic ash failed to completely decimate the show and there was still plenty of interesting meetings to be made and discussions to sit in on – mostly, perhaps predictably, surrounding the digital future of the publishing industry.

One of the most lively seminars I sat in on was titled: Taking the Plunge: the Electronic Textbook Conundrum. Almost since e-books became commercially available, academics, students and librarians have increasingly pressurised publishers to digitise textbooks – although publishers remain concerned over whether this would unduly affect income.

There seems to be little doubt that the medium term will see all students in schools given laptops or notebooks (or iPads) on which to work in the classroom, necessitating a general overhaul of traditional textbook production process.

Indeed, a new survey in the USA suggests that digital textbook sales there will surpass 18 percent of combined new textbook sales for the Higher Education and Career Education markets by 2014.

This figure will be influenced greatly by factors such as e-content pricing, availability of digital textbook content and advances in technology related specifically to digital textbooks, but still suggests a sizable chunk of the market will be digital in just four years.

Almost every industry – from travel agencies to newspapers – that has moved to a digital model has seen its profits decimated and some existing participants bankrupted, so publishers are going to have to tread carefully to ensure they remain economically sustainable in this new industry.

Alex

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