Book Fairs in the Virtual Future

(Publisher, author, and blogger, Jeff Gomez, looks at the fate of book fairs in a digital world)

Are We More in the Print Age or the Digital Age?

As author of Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age, which examines the relevance of books in an online world, I spend lots of time trying to think about what the rise of computers and the dominance of the internet will mean for the publishing industry.

Yet, for all the ways I think publishing is going to change in the next couple of decades, as consumers become more and more used to acquiring and consuming electronic content, there is one area of our industry that will remain fundamentally unchanged: the book fair.

Well, that's not entirely true. We're going to have to come up with a different name, because the deals that will be made and the rights that will be sold at events like the Frankfurt Book Fair will increasingly have less to do with books, and will be more about content in general.

Magazines and newspapers are in trouble, and publishing faces more competition than ever before. Not just from the usual foes of television, music, and movies; but also from new concepts like social networking websites and user generated content.

Younger generations are beginning to eschew print for other kinds of immersive experiences, ones that are interactive and allow them to become part of the content.

The idea then of a Frankfurt Book Fair being a place where we buy and sell books will have to change; what we'll buy and sell instead will be the ideas that books contain.

The internet has no borders, and ideas know no limits; concepts are as sinewy and silky as mercury, and can easily and instantly travel to where ever there's an open mind or a receptive ear willing to take them in.
-Jeff Gomez

What's inside a book are words, sentences, and ideas; these are the things that are important. The least important part of a book is its pages and its cover (even though authors wish that people would not judge a book by its cover, they often do).

So, the Frankfurt Book Fair will become less concerned with selling the rights to books and more focused on selling the rights to content.

As little as ten years ago, what mattered at Frankfurt (in terms of rights) was hardcover or paperback. Our industry treated stories as if they were groceries to be lumped into a sack, and our only consideration was "paper" or "plastic".

Now it is about delivery options which sound as if they have come straight out of a science-fiction film, and yet, they're already part of our collective reality: smart phones, PDAs, iPods, labtop computers, and e-book devices.

The internet has the power to shatter the physical boundaries that the publishing industry has previously imposed on its products.

In the present, and more in the future, thoughts will go beyond the book and be more focused on finding ways to make our printed materials available to people who want it, wherever they may be and however they choose to utilize it.

-The contents of this page consist of excerpts from
The Frankfurter Buchmesse Bookseller,
"The Frankfurt Book Fair Daily", Wednesday, October 10, 2007;
featuring an article by Jeff Gomez, titled, "Frankfurt in the Virtual Future"; page 7.

The further backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.

-Winston Churchill

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