Frankfurt: The next “big thing” is digital maturity

Tablets, e-readers, self-publishing, eBooks: It seems each year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a particular topic dominates panels, keynotes and salespeople’s pitches.

2014 is unusual in this sense in that, for the first time, there isn’t one particular stand-out seemingly omnipresent issue. Naturally, the politics of book publishing is a huge issue and the Amazon versus Hachette dispute is sure to inspire heated debate across the board, but the politics of bookselling isn’t as paradigm-shifting as the aforementioned game-changers were. Monopolistic practices are nothing new and the industry will learn to live with Amazon as things move forward.

So what’s Frankfurt 2014 about then? I think, in a way, it’s about the growing maturity of these topics that have been for quite some time, considered in both in their infancy and as “disruptive”. More or less everyone accepts that eBooks and the wider issue of digitization of print content is here to stay and that increasingly tactile tablet devices are only going to spur on growth in this area.

As evidence of this growth in maturity. We’ve already seen for example a great deal of commentary on how digital books aren’t anywhere near the extinction event for print some of the more bombastic voices initially led us to believe. In fact, there’s good evidence in many places of a “print renaissance” in book publishing, a far cry from the “death of paper” claims that Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle both heralded.

Alongside this, we’ve seen a readjustment in how we approach the issue of interactivity in books. Whereas, with the advent of tablets as e-reading devices, interactivity was heralded as a kind of easy value add. We now understand that spurious addition of rich-media content into books can often end up detracting and devaluing from the main product (the prose itself).

Running in tandem we’ve seen the rise of purpose-built interactive books, where the interactivity is central to the experience , such as the hugely successful Device 6. These have in turn inspired the likes of Random House to build their own internal development teams for similar projects.

To sum these brief thoughts up. I feel that ultimately, Frankfurt 2014 is about the maturity of the concept of digital books. That maturity means a continued commitment to quality and a rosier picture of co-existence alongside print.

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