Digital Adolescence: Reflections on LBF

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Growing up as an industry can be painful, but LBF gave signs that we’re getting there.

It’s nearly two weeks now since the London Book Fair, and many words have been spilled about people’s experiences. Looking back, though, I’ve been left with one over-riding impression.

Getting real

The tone of publishing events has changed over the years. Only two or three years ago, the overriding tenor of presentations and conversations was barely concealed panic over ‘digital.’ Many people worried that ebooks and apps and games and ‘the internet’ would roll over the publishing industry and wash us away.

But it hasn’t played out like that. All these concerns still remain, of course, but people are starting to wake up to the fact that the world hasn’t ended. Many of the problems we face are entirely soluble — and often aren’t as pressing as the more rabid digital advocates would have us believe.

The real immediate problems aren’t technical, they’re commercial and practical. How do we respond to Amazon’s dominance? How do we learn about our customers? How do we effectively deliver quality content? And so on.

Grappling with the issues

With the realisation that we’re not dealing with an unknowable future but an understandable present, the conversation has moved on from fear and uncertainty to confidence and planning.

Publishers are no strangers to dealing with commercial and legal issues. As Michael Baskhar reminded us in an LBF panel, we are an old and successful industry, and there’s no reason to think that we’ll fail to weather the current storms as business models change and the product mix evolves.

And the practical issues are just as tractable. Our editorial and production teams are highly skilled and experienced, and although the changes in formats can be a challenge, they’re well up to the task of creating the new workflows we need.

At LBF, there were fewer stands this year talking up their offer as The Solution To All Your Digital Problems. Instead, the tone has moved much more towards partnership – of confident, competent suppliers who are willing to work with publishers to solve the well-defined issues that remain in their workflows. And publishers are starting to remember that print still makes up the vast majority of our business, and is surprisingly strong in many sectors.

Growing up

I believe that publishing is weathering its ‘digital adolescence’ and becoming adult. We’re realising our responsibilities and opportunities in the new world, as well as the pressures and restrictions that it imposes. The days when we flopped back and forth with every passing fad are (fortunately) becoming rarer.

As with every time of growth, we’ve still got immense challenges to overcome, but the lesson of the London Book Fair, for me, was that we are starting to knuckle down and get the job done. And that’s something I can be grateful for.

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About John Pettigrew

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of Cambridge Publishing Solutions, John Pettigrew has over 15 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development. He is now developing Collate it, an on-screen proofing platform that marries the best of the print world with the best that digital can offer. He also maintains Publishing Matters: the Collate it blog.

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