Monthly Archives: October 2016

Business, Numbers, Money, People – Back from Frankfurt

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Huge, busy, non-stop and a little bit manic were my impressions of my first visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair! As a Librarian I have attended quite a few conferences/trade fairs throughout my career, but none on the scale of Frankfurt. I had taken some good pointers and advice from experienced Frankfurt visitors, but even so I was unprepared for how many halls, exhibitors and visitors there were and how Frankfurt itself was taken over as a city by the event.

A colleague from the publishing sector imparted some sound advice to me before leaving for Frankfurt: pack a good pair of shoes; this was very sound advice indeed.   If I had been measuring distances I am sure I would have covered 10k over the two days.

The purpose of our visit was three-fold.  Firstly to hold a range of meetings with current partners and suppliers we are working with on the supply of e-textbooks to our students.  Secondly to meet potential new partners and build relationships with them. Thirdly, through attending various networking events, talks and through informal conversations with exhibitors, to widen our understanding and knowledge of the environment publishers work and do business in.

This third aspect was particularly interesting because what was evident at essentially a trade conference, where few librarian customers attend, was how debates and discussions are framed.  Perhaps understandably the major focus being the bottom line i.e. income and profit streams.

Hence discussions of “hot topics” such as Open Access, MOOC’s, Open Educational Resources often focused more on the threats these posed to publishers, as they can offer free or cheaper access to some of the very product lines they themselves are pushing.  At library conferences there is often a more nuanced conversation on these topics, but at this B2B trade fair, there was less of this and indeed less need for this.  How can we maintain and increase our sales is the bottom line!

This is not necessarily a criticism, but does shed light on why new products are often developed, especially new editions of textbooks or new journal titles, when feedback from many of our academics is that there are too many titles already!  Librarians whose major motivation is often what they perceive as the public good (or that of their students) can be slow to comprehend this publisher perspective.

The other thing that struck me was how large the academic publishing and scholarly communications sectors actually are and really how so many of the companies and institutions exhibiting and speaking rely on researchers and academics.   A whole publishing infrastructure is reliant on the outputs of these researchers either through dissemination or analysis of their work in a myriad of ways.  I suspect many of the academics themselves are oblivious of all this activity emanating from their own work and how many jobs and livelihoods emanate from this.  Without the researchers nothing else would exist!

We left Frankfurt much the wiser and much fatigued reflecting on what a different experience it was to a usual library related conference and with a far greater insight into how publishers operate.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester

photo credit: Takahiro Kyono via flickr (license)

Frankfurt bound

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Traditionally librarians (especially those from the UK) have not tended to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair as other, more library focused events and conferences, have taken precedence.   This may still be the case (and we will know more next week) but for those of us working on the Books Right Here Right Now programme over the last couple of years, a visit to the FBF was recommended  by a number of our contacts in the sector.

In addition, one of the main issues that struck us early on in the project was how distinct the textbook market and library e-book market were – even though our students wanted their libraries to provide them with textbooks. In essence they were (and often still are) two distinct markets with different product offerings and pricing models.  More often than not these markets are represented and sold by different departments in the same publishers.

One of the big goals of the project has been to better understand the environment that both publishers in general and textbook publishers in particular operate in.  Only with this understanding would we be equipped with the knowledge to negotiate deals and forge new library centred textbook acquisition and supply models.

To address these two issues a visit to the FBF was on our agenda for moving ahead with the project this year; hoping both to learn and share knowledge, insight and expertise with other visitors, speakers and exhibitors.

In addition some of the highlights we are looking forward to in Frankfurt include attendance at these talks:

  • The e-Textbook is dead – or is it?
  •  Evolution and revolution of the eBook standards: EPUB 3.1 and Portable Web Publications
  •  The PA and ALPSP hosted debate: Brexit, and the potential impact on Academic Publishing
  •  How to Use Behavioural Data to Understand Readers
  •  E-Books: Numbers, subscription models, analyses and more

These talks (plus other events), allied to a series of meetings and conversations will enable us to get the best out of visit and what we learn (and how we fare) will appear in future posts on this blog.  In the meantime do get in touch if you wish to meet up and have a chat next week.  I and my colleague Des Coyle will be in Frankfurt from Wednesday 19th – Thursday 20th October.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester

Contribute to the Books Right Here Right Now blog!

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With our first semester now in full swing we thought it would be a good time to ask readers of this blog:  what are you up to?

As ever, we are actively seeking contributions from publishers, librarians, academics, students and all those involved or with an interest in teaching and learning.  In the past we have heard from colleagues in the United States, students, academic staff, publishers, and even the campus bookshop.

So if you, or someone you know, have an opinion to put forward on issues related to e-book provision for students, wider student reading, provision of core texts, publisher business models for e-books or future trends in this rapidly changing environment, please let us know.

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester