The 2010 London Book Fair lived up to my worst fears and expectations. The Icelandic ash cloud wreaked havoc across the event with a host of no-shows and cancelled appointments. I am not sure of the visitor numbers but they were markedly down on previous years and I have never seen so many empty stands, As far as the quality of the show goes I have to say it was equally disappointing.
Whether this was a reflection of the no-shows or just general malaise it was hard to say. Personally I am opting for the latter as the quality of the offering seemed lazy. Many of the seminars offered nothing in terms of quality of content with hosts seemingly happy to offer information that was neither new, innovative or showed any effort in terms of strategic thinking. The ‘Digital Zone’ like previous years is once again nothing more then paltry lip service with many of the companies (squeezed into a very small area) rightly complaining of the many restrictions hoisted upon them from the show organisers. While the publishing industry continues to say that digital publishing is a vital and growing part of the industry it is clear that in truth they wish it would go away. I got the distinct impression that the organisers are patting themselves on the back for being so innovative.
On the product front, it was good to see some new e-reading devices made to accommodate the myriad of publishing formats for eBooks. Although this is beginning to look like closing the door after the horse has well and truly bolted, as ePub is going to be the industry standard.
The iPad made its unofficial UK debut with the machine being displayed at many stands, and whilst the machine is impressive in the way Apple excel in terms of style, design and functionality, I was left wondering if there is longevity in the machine. It is surprisingly heavy and possibly just too large to be used every day as an alternative to an eReader and without the usefulness of a physical integrated keyboard, does not fill the criteria of a laptop. The eBook app is slick and extremely functional and will without doubt increase the popularity of eBooks throughout the world. Something worries me about the usage of these machines past the honeymoon period though and I can see many of these becoming a must have item which becomes quickly neglected. The LCD screen make reading over longer periods harder on the eyes than e-Ink readers but the ability to integrate multi-media content is a definite plus in its favour. The cost of the machine though may prove prohibitive for many who are not swayed by just wanting the coolest gadget on the block.
There are many new machines creeping up on the heels of the iPad and one of those that will be a strong contender is a machine from British company Elonex who have a smaller slate computer with a colour LCD display retailing at £99. Sadly it was not possible to see a working model to test the eBook functionality but the price and overall usability will make this a very popular machine. Elonex already have a number of e-Ink readers and the range is increasing with 3G and Wi-Fi models being rolled out soon.
The Green Reader Ltd has a range of small machines which are promising and being pitched with an eye for the environmentalist. Whilst I don’t believe these machines are any greener that many of the competitors the readers were packed with features and functionality and not too large. Notable aspects of the Green Readers is their ability to read in any language and an impressive 2.5GB memory.
Overall you have to ask the question as to whether the London Book Fair is running out of steam and the answer on yesterday’s performance is yes. Let’s hope net year sees a marked improvement in quality, access and content.