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Two Sides to Every Story: London Book Fair through the eyes of a Fledgling Print Author and a Digital Native

Gill Guest (56)

Gill Guest is an aspiring children’s author and sheep-keeper based in Shropshire. Previously a freelance garden journalist, her work has appeared in The Times, Telegraph and numerous glossy gardening magazines. You can find her on twitter @gillguest

Welcome to the London Book Fair. A three day assault and battery by words. It’s my first visit and I follow the wordpath snaking across the tarmac and up the Earls Court steps with some trepidation.

Duly badged, scanned and deluged with more leaflets than I can cope with, I find myself teetering on the edge of a vast shanty town of stalls bursting with books that completely fills the cavernous Earls Court space. I feel completely overwhelmed.

Where to start? What to look at? Who to talk to? I squeeze onto a white banquette next to a woman in killer heels and we beat our handouts into submission. We consult our maps and she heads off, heels clacking. Determined. Professional. Scary.

I phone a friend.

Well, actually, my daughter, who propels me firmly to my first seminar in the Children’s Hub, where I sit on a foam pillar and listen to two illustrators talk about picture books. I take careful notes then stay for another on App and Digital Development: brilliant. Encouraged, I explore the stalls, and eventually get my head round navigating the warren of similar passageways: left at Penguin, right by Switzerland, past the Hatchette book tower and over the irresistible interactive goldfish pond floor mat, creating digital ripples as I go. Virtual paddling is almost as much fun as the real thing.

I’m getting the hang of this now. I meet up with the agent who’s been reading my children’s manuscript, Annette Crossland from A for Authors, for a face-to-face session. I’m invited for networking drinks at the BIC Bar in Tech Central. There I’m told alcohol is free, but tea I will have to pay for. I crook a surprised eyebrow at my daughter and she shrugs.

“What?” she says, “This is a publishing event.”

Clearly, I still have lots to learn next year, at Olympia.

Natalie Guest (27)

Natalie Guest is Digital Content Executive at Ixxus, a tech company building digital solutions for the publishing industry. She curated the Tower Hamlets Writeidea Festival 2013 Literary Fringe, and has written for The Independent, The Sunday Times and New Statesman. You can find her on twitter @unfortunatalie

Publishing is an industry in free-fall, we’re told. Print is dead, content is king, and everyone’s a publisher now. From the thriving mess of stalls at London Book Fair, though, you could hardly be blamed for thinking that this was an industry in its prime.

But this is very much an industry in transition, still trying to get its head around what it means to be a publisher in the digital age. Nowhere is this more apparent than from the topography and semantics of the fair itself: whereas the area dedicated to technology used to be known as the “Digital Zone”, a small and zoned-off patch of earth, it’s now expanded to become “Tech Central” as more and more publishers focus their business strategy around digital. And Digital Minds, the pre-conference conference focussing on digital disruption and innovation, is now an established cornerstone of the fair.

I catch up with walking tech-hub Alastair Horne, perhaps better known by his twitter handle @pressfuturist, for his thoughts on this year’s event. He proffers a battery pack in my direction from his bag of tricks; I’ve been tweeting so much that my phone (and my fingers) are flagging.

“The conversation seems to have moved on only a little since last year,” says Horne, “Digital marketing – as seen in the session at Digital Minds – continues to outstrip digital content so far as innovation is concerned, and the mainstream remains as unaware as ever of the experiments at the edges of the industry.”

Horne’s comments about the mainstream remind me of a joke one of my colleagues told me. “How many publishers does it take to change a lightbulb?”, it runs, the answer, of course, being a bewildered “…‘Change?’” But change is here, if not yet thoroughly embraced across the entire industry. It will be interesting to see whether next year’s change of venue (from Earl’s Court to Olympia) will be one that finally ushers in an entirely new digital landscape.

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