For a fair that was predicted to be quieter than years past, the London Book Fair was busy by many accounts. Talk revolved around the economy, although many American publishers were quick to cite the declining exchange rate of the British pound, which made London somewhat more affordable this year (the pound is down some 27% over last year). And British publishers, whose market is not quite as depressed as the U.S., largely took a “things could be worse” attitude. Fair organizers have not released official attendance figures yet, but anecdotal evidence reveals there were fewer attendees, but that the quality of meetings was excellent. As Frank Daniels, chief commercial officer of Ingram Digital, told PW, “People are very focused,” and those who did show up “came to do business.”

Perhaps the biggest topic of conversation this year was digital publishing; European publishers seem excited but nervous about delving into a market that is just awakening in their world. Numerous publishers mentioned that they were preparing their content to be e-book ready, and Ingram's Daniels said his conversations with European publishers have been less about education and more about execution. An SRO crowd showed up for a panel on finding the money in publishing e-books, where heads of some of Britain's largest and most powerful publishing houses entered into a heated hour-long discussion, all of them of the mind that e-books can't be ignored, but differing in their ways of dealing with the pitfalls, namely piracy and pricing. And a packed panel featuring participants and administrators from Britain's Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) discussed the results of a recently concluded “observatory” project to study e-book usage patterns. Among the most important findings for publishers: having access to the e-texts had “no impact” on print sales.

Sony, which sponsored the Digital Zone and Theatre at the edge of the exhibit floor, has had the dedicated reading device market to itself in the U.K. until now, since the Kindle has yet to be introduced. But Kindle is coming. Wesley Dearing, the product manager in the U.K. for the Sony Reader and part of the team that launched the Reader in September 2008, was confident, though, noting, “competition will help raise awareness.”

At another session on the Google Book Search settlement, European and U.K. publishers and authors voiced their concern directly to one of the deal's architects, Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken. “You can look at this as a big old U.S. sandbox,” Aiken conceded to the audience amid questions about what the settlement might mean in practice. “We're trying this out.”

Other popular events were the Society of Young Publishers' Canon Tales: Chapter 2: Promoting Creativity in Publishing, which drew a mostly under-35 crowd to listen to a star-studded lineup of presenters, including Canongate's Jamie Byng and Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow.

For complete coverage of the fair, see