In its 49th year the forever-young fair has launched a standalone digital prize – with companies such as the UK's Nosy Crow going up against the bigger boys
For almost 50 years, the Bologna children's book fair has been the showcase for the world's best picture books. Watching publishers, agents, media moguls and toy manufacturers selling a book internationally for big bucks is fascinating and strangely moving. There's no technology involved; there's just a simple story and how well you tell it.
This year, while the traditional business continues, the ebooks business is also making a strong showing, reflecting its exponential growth in the last 12 months. And to celebrate and promote this feverish feast of creativity, the fair - now in its its 49th year - has launched the first BolognaRagazzi digital award. Standing alongside the long-established BolognaRagazzi award, which has been instrumental in establishing illustrators worldwide, it's a statement: digital is here to stay.
The digital marketplace is now crowded. The 20 titles on the award's shortlist have been selected from over 250 entries from more than 25 countries across the world. Coming from the biggest players, including Disney, as well as startup companies such as the UK's own Nosy Crow – which has just picked up three awards at the prestigious IPG awards, including Children's publisher of the year – they reflect the exponential growth of innovative storytelling using smarter, brighter, faster tools.
Whether digital will long term give printed books a run for their money is still in the balance: they're expensive to produce and command a low price, making it hard to turn a profit. But profitability is not the only challenge to digital publishing. The whole cycle that has developed around books – from creator through critic to consumer – is only creakily adapting to fit.
Having struggled to get the same easy access to digital content I've always enjoyed with the printed book, I'm an eager contributor to the Tools of Change conference, which pre-launches this year's fair on Sunday. We can no longer afford to ignore ebooks. Maybe they'll make us a nation of readers.