At the London Book Fair, the Digital Zone and Theatre, a 23-seat area on the edge of the show floor, drew overflowing crowds to hear presentations about e-books and digital publishing—an almost poetic embodiment of the e-book market itself: a few on the inside, but with big numbers milling about. Kicking off the day’s presentations, Michael Smith, Executive Director International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), briefed conference-goers on the growing market, and, most notably, the development of EPUB, the open source e-book publishing standard launched some 18 months ago.

EPUB development “has not been without its challenges,” Smith said, noting that the open source reader software, which reflows text to accommodate virtually any device, needs some tweaking. But with adoption growing in the U.S, the U.K., Germany and with inroads being made in France and elsewhere in Europe, EPUB is poised for significant adoption—and just in time, as e-book sales, Smith noted, are skyrocketing. He cited the Association of American Publishers (AAP) e-book stats for 2008, and said that so far 2009 stats have more than doubled that rate of growth. “The first quarter of 2009 saw an enormous spike,” he said, “on top of a significant spike in 2008.”

He cited a number of other events that also portend continued heavy growth in e-book sales, from the entrance of Google into the market and Amazon’s Kindle 2 in the U.S., to reading apps for the iPhone and Blackberry, and Barnes & Noble’s recent acquisition of FictionWise, which Smith said unofficially heralded B&N’s deeper foray into e-books.

Although he acknowledged the overall numbers were comparatively small, he suggested that the growth trend was what mattered. In other words, if print sales continue their decline, and e-book sales their surge, look for digital publishing to move toward the center of the show floor in coming years—and for next year’s Digital Zone and Theatre to have more than two dozen seats.

For complete coverage of LBF, clickhere.