Hype about the iPad was refreshingly absent from the London Book Fair Digital Conference on Sunday, which was well-attended in spite of the inevitable, volcanic ash-induced absences. Instead, there was a good deal of attention on iPhones and other smartphones. Three of the speakers--Maureen Scott of Ether Books (BookBrunch story), Tony Lynch of Mobcast, and Peter Collingridge of Enhanced Editions--represented companies that produced material specifically for mobiles. A good part of the material produced by audio company Creative Content, whose founder Ali Muirden was another panellist, is also downloaded to phones.
"Mobiles are going to govern our creativity," said George Lossius, CEO of Publishing Technology. Specialised e-readers were, in his view, sustaining the market, but mobiles - with millions of owners already, offered an opportunity to increase revenues. "Mobile phones offere the best one-to-one marketing opportunity ever seen on the planet," Maureen Scott said. "People are trained to read content on their mobiles." What may be more crucial, as several speakers pointed out, was that people were used to paying for that content.
Producing such content compelled publishers and other content providers to focus on what customers wanted, rather than to push out content and hope they would buy it. But pricing was of course the conundrum. Several speakers suggested that increased volumes would compensate for lower prices. But, in his keynote address, Bloomsbury's Richard Charkin warned: "Don't be tempted to underprice in order to gain volume." And the agents in the room were worried about authors' income, with Ed Victor asking why publishers had to be dragged "kicking and screaming" into an acceptance of a royalty rate of 25% of receipts. Stephanie Duncan of Bloomsbury had a strong answer to that, pointing out that the costs of digital publishing might be just as high or higher than those of print publishing; nevertheless, it was clear that new models would involve a painful transition for many publishers, booksellers, agents, and authors.
Nicholas Clee, reporting for BookBrunch, filed this report from London.