Frenemies, Freegans and Digital Jewellery: A New Language for European Publishers?

James WoollamBy James Woollam, Managing Director, F+W Media International

The 4th London Book Fair Digital Conference ran on Sunday, April 10th. Under the title of “The Digital Now: Creating Lasting Value,” a packed conference centre enjoyed a series of keynote and panel sessions. “We are not learning to be digital publishers. We are in the digital market,” reminded Stephen Page, conference chair, and with that the day began.

Morning sessions featured two keynotes from the music and entertainment industry. Michael Cornish of Blinkbox and Paul Brindley of Music Ally Ltd talked to the lessons publishing could learn from video and music. Both raised the need to change business models and highlighted a mindset shift that publishers needed to embrace in moving from a product focus to a service one. There was particular reference to the need for the music industry to understand customer relationship management (CRM), prompting Page to question when we might see the first CRM Manager within a publishing house. Cornish encouraged publishers to aim to shape the market as much as they could, reminding the conference that Apple was a Frenemy – both friend and enemy.

Next up, Evan Schnittman took the floor under the banner of talking to the narrowing gap between UK and US publishers. Having struggled to find concrete data to talk to this subject, the keynote focused largely on what UK publishers might learn from the more advanced US Market. It was this session that raised the most controversial topic of the day when Schnittman talked to a slide showing enhanced ebooks and apps across a tombstone and suggested there was no commercial future in either for publishers.

The morning session was concluded by Gordon Willoughby from Amazon. In a presentation that Digital Book World attendees will be familiar with, Willoughby highlighted case studies of Kindle sales performance and encouraged faster conversion of backlist, pre-publication availability and greater creativity in marketing.

Post coffee, there was more talk of data from the energetic Michael Tamblyn of Kobo. Tamblyn walked through a day at Kobo to give the audience an insight into life within an ebook retailer and the focus Kobo has on the reader and the social experience of reading. In talking to customer personas, Tamblyn introduced us to the Freegan – the free ebook buying customer.

Into the afternoon and it was the turn of Tanya Field, Daniel Winner and Andrew Bud to talk to the Mobile Market. The implication from all three was that publishers may be missing an opportunity by not talking to carriers about content opportunities. Bud in particular highlighted the $35 million “Digital Jewellery” business of ringtones and wallpapers that is looking for fresh content and inferred there would be opportunities for publishers here.

It wasn’t until after the afternoon break that piracy had its first outing of the day with David Shelley of Little Brown encouraging the audience to pursue piracy issues aggressively. This was the first and only panel to mention, albeit briefly, direct to consumer with Brian de Fiore suggesting this was a key way that publishers added value. Author Lisa Gee, replacing Kate Mosse, told the audience she wanted her publisher to bring vision, collaboration and courage.

The conference ended with a showcase of recent and highlight digital products which was a good departure from the PowerPoint led panels earlier in the day.

I’m sure that the day was a valuable one for many attendees, and it was certainly a reminder that publishers need to be reviewing how they change the business model and explore new opportunities. For those that have attended other digital conferences the level of new learning from this event may have been limited, but there were certainly some thought provoking moments and good opportunities to network. It’ll be interesting to see how the London Book Fair team take this conference to the next level in 12 months.

[Ed.: Still need to get caught up on events at the London Book Fair? Check out our DBW Weekly Roundup: London Book Fair Special Supplement.]

James Woollam is the Managing Director of F+W Media International, the UK business of F+W Media. With a background is marketing, he is passionate about digital and emerging market opportunities in the industry.

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