#FutureBookHack

As promised, a blog post about The Bookseller‘s FutureBook Hackathon which took place last weekend (14th and 15th June) at University City London, an event of which I had the amazing opportunity in volunteering at. IMG_20140614_155510

The Hackathon was the first to take place in all of the publishing sector’s long history. In retrospect, I would probably say it was long overdue; however, considering the vast surge in digital content and ebook technology in recent years, one could say that the Hackathon took place at about the right time. Issues have now been around long enough for people to start thinking more about the solutions. Certainly, it has given publishers a lot of food for thought in terms of how they will continue to deliver content in formats and models to satisfy consumer demand, and it has also given them time to contemplate what it is that they wish to focus on themselves.

The event was organised by Blake Brooks, Alice Ryan and Matthew Cashmore and what a fantastic event it was. Cashmore has commented that he  has never sat and heard such consistently good ideas in the whole ten years in which he’s been running hacks.

Alice Ryan and Matthew Cashmore get the Hackathon underway

Alice Ryan and Matthew Cashmore get the Hackathon underway

The weekend started with publishers posing challenges to the hackers and encouraging ways in which they can enhance the industry by creating solutions to the issues. One topic’s presence which surprised me was the topic of audiobooks. In my time completing my MA in publishing, alongside the internships I undertook, I can honestly say that I rarely heard the term ‘audiobook’ used. Not that it was an alien concept to me or anything, it just appeared as though with the massive demand for content and ebook technology, it seemed as though the audiobook was left behind. Other challenges talked of by speakers included the discoverability of books, the best use of data, automated content curation (because there are more exciting and interesting ways to suggest new books other than ‘other readers bought this’), and the best digital reimagination of print assets (with a focus on children’s). An hour and a half later with the publishers’ motivational speeches still ringing in hackers’ ears, the game to win £5k and create something amazing, is on…

In and amongst helping out, I had the chance to wander around and take a peek at some of the team’s ideas and various demos. Something which I found incredibly intriguing, was the use of conductive paint in a children’s book. With the aid of an electric board, some wires, a chip, an SD card and a human touch, said book produced sound from a mini speaker, thus sparking the idea that paper books can be interactive. A savvy piece on work aimed at children’s books, and if you ask me, a nod in the right direction of those parents who despise the idea of their children using an iPad in order to encounter an interactive book.

The afternoon entailed publisher workshops which, again included some interesting debates and were to encourage and help hackers to complete their projects.

Saturday workshops which took place

Saturday workshops which took place

The event ran throughout the night, with the submission deadline for projects being 1pm Sunday afternoon. Read here for all of the winners over each category. Possibly one of my favourite winners was: Book Monster, who created a search engine which enabled people to find a book purely on an advertisement they’d heard, when they couldn’t remember the title or author. Definitely a useful way in which to discover books. I do actually remember getting the tube back across London that evening and seeing a poster advertising a book a couple of times, but was unable to catch the title or the author. Certainly the projects showcased would definitely be highly useful in the publishing world.

The overall winner of the £5,000 prize, Voices, was announced on Thursday 19th June.

Voices aimed to connect people with audio by encouraging them to record their own audiobook clips, and be rated for their performance online.

With audio always being seen as the inferior within the rights family, new technology means that it can now be seen as a serious contender against other forms of publishing. Literograph, were the runners-up in the Hack, being awarded £1,000. The group created a widget to “sit on relevant news stories, so that readers interested in a story could click through to books on the subject and a means of buying them.” Sara Lloyd, communications and digital director at Pan Macmillan, stated: “I loved it for its simplicity and because it answers a real need, to embed curation and discovery into the online channels where readers already congregate.”

Overall, the event has proved to be a great success with many publishing professionals singing the praises of the 75 or so hackers which took part in the event. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes an annual occurrence. It certainly shows just how exciting the publishing industry is and the endless possibilities which are available in enhancing the sector for the future.

All information regarding the FutureBook Hack (some of which was used to help write this post) can be found on The Bookseller.


Internet of Things

The Internet of Things: (neologism) “refers to an expanding network of interconnected internet-enabled devices [...] also known as M2M or machine to machine”. – The Guardian, Luke Dormehl

Over the years as technology has developed, devices are now able to connect with one another in a multitude of different ways. The Guardian‘s article states that while Internet of Things is still in its early stages of development, by 2020 it is thought that there will be 50billion devices with the ability to link M2M.

Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings, a home automation company, says in the article that technology can now be used to solve daily problems and can be used for security, peace of mind and saving money. Examples he gives are people being notified if doors are left open or heating left on when no-one is home, meaning that the possibility to save money on things like utility bills is possible.

Apple is said to have jumped on the bandwagon by introducing Homekit, an Internet of Things “platform” which will enable consumers to unlock doors and control lighting using an iPhone.

Google is also one of the big players investing into the idea as it is though they paid £1.9billion to Nest Labs, a home automation company wich is already looking into other domestic related operations, including health and security systems.

The article furthers by saying that people can get “hung up” on the “things” themselves, and the main point to think about is the value of the data which these devices will extract in order to function, i.e. an example given is a toothbrush with Internet of Things technology (Kolibree, the world’s first connected electric toothbrush) – data will be given on how a user brushes their teeth and where they need to improve. The idea is to get “real-time feedback” as opposed to waiting for an annual dental check, for example. Renee Blodgett, Vice President of Kolibree states that:

“Data empowers us”.

On the flip side, the article  also discusses the risks and dangers of the Internet of Things. With the extraction of data, the question of privacy and how data is monitored is raised. Evgeny Morozov calls the issue “solutionism” which is the idea that serious issues such as global warming and obesity can be solved with the aid of interconnected devices. He discusses in his latest book that “self-tracking [is] the epitome of the modern narcissistic quest for uniqueness and exceptionalism” and openly wonders why people would want to turn their lives into “temples of surveillance”.

I guess if I was to think of the Internet of Things as a very simplified version, the extraction of data is already a present occurrence in a day-to-day environment. For example, many retail outlets now take customer’s details to enhance their shopping experience and recommend clothes for customers according to recent purchases. The same can be said for bookstores and internet retailers such as Amazon. I regularly receive emails informing me of new books or recommended reads I should purchase. I guess one only has to consider Amazon’s whispernet technology; when a customer buys an ebook off Amazon, the file will immediately be wirelessly transmitted to a Kindle device.

Perhaps the next stage in technology for devices such as Kindles could be that they help enhance literacy levels, particularly in primary schools, for example. Or even in institutions for children with learning disabilities. Perhaps if a student has an exam coming up, their device can automatically extract data from recent online searches and purchases to suggest tips and reading material for them. These are just the tip of a massive iceberg of possibilities and ideas which I cannot even imagine.

With The Bookseller‘s FutureBook Hackathon taking place in London this coming weekend (14th and 15th June) – of which I shall be volunteering at – it shall be interesting to see what  the technology companies and teams in attendance shall suggest in terms of the future of publishing…


The battle of the future begins: FutureBook Hack

I think it’s quite safe to say that I’ve been out of the blogging-sphere for a while. While I’ve finally landed a full-time, salaried job (hurrah!!), admittedly not in publishing, I have definitely drifted away from the publishing world, and have since realised that it’s time to get firmly back into it again…

One of the most intriguing articles I’ve come across is that The Bookseller‘s The FutureBook will be hosting a ‘Hackathon‘ next month in which many of the industry’s major players: Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House and Faber & Faber, all of which are founders of the event, shall be attending. The initiative behind it comes from Simon Trewin (William Morris Endeavor). It is thought that such events have occurred in many different sectors in the past in which companies and businesses can come together and brainstorm solutions to issues concerning the industry. It is said that nothing like this has been taken on by the publishing industry in the past.

According to The Bookseller‘s article,  Trewin has stated that introducing new people and ideas to the industry will create a fresh perspective for the sector. He feels that the industry needs to take greater risks in order to continue to develop. If we are to look back to The Bookseller‘s FutureBook conference last November, Jamie Byng, Director at Canongate, stated that fewer books needed to be published each year, but a greater focus needed to be placed on those published.  He affirmed that by doing this it would mean that “greater care” would be put into those published.

If I were to think about it from my personal perspective: a Graduate who studied a Masters in Publishing, a self-confessed lover of books and reading, and as a young twenty-something looking to break into the industry; I feel that publishers may be right to reduce the number of books they publish. Certainly, it may be worth a trial. My only reasoning for this, is that with how fast the industry is currently moving, and how fast industries surrounding it (ie. technology and IT) are moving, surely it may be worth taking a little breather and focusing on change and development, one piece at a time? I know what you’re thinking… Bad idea, you’ll get left behind?

While I totally admit, I am no expert in the field – I mean, I don’t even currently work in the sector – I can only comment as an observer and as someone who intensively studied the industry for twelve months, publishers should take the risk to get it right. What I’ve learnt over the past two years of undertaking internships and completing the MA, is that the industry is continuously playing catch-up. Although, from what I have seen, they’re doing a great job! And if I look at this from a consumer’s point of view, I myself, have trouble keeping up with what’s out there. I mean, it took me a couple of years after Kindles were produced, to actually purchase one! (And giving in to one was tough enough). But I think I certainly realised that I needed to be open-minded, particularly when wanting to pursue a career in the field.

Stephen Page, the CEO of Faber, stated in last November’s FB conference, that the transition to digital was “comfortable”, however “more innovation was needed”. Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director of Profile Books, reaffirmed this by saying “publishers had to define themselves better [...] It is about filtering and amplifying content to add value. If you’re doing that you’re a publisher”. I must agree with this, publishers do need to define themselves better. What’s more is that they need to brand themselves more and become more recognised.

I remember attending the London Book Fair in 2013 and thinking about how exciting and intriguing it would be to tailor the Fair to consumers, the people who, at the end of the day bought the books and products in which they [the publishers] were trying to sell amongst themselves. I felt that if consumers knew more about the industry and publishers branded themselves more, surely this would encourage even more people to buy books and integrate with the sector?

Obviously, I am no expert, but the whole idea of the FutureBook Hack and the focus on taking the industry forward is certainly an interesting and exciting one, and it definitely gives me food for thought. I’ll be keeping tabs on this one!

 

 

William Morris Endeavor (WME) with support from the Centre for Publishing at the Department of Information Studies, University College London, Blackwell’s and Midas PR. The initiative for the hackathon came from WME’s Simon Trewin


The rise of digital publishing and the death of the author

On seeing The Guardian‘s article on digital publishing and the death of the author, I was immediately reminded of my English BA days when I wrote about Roland  Barthes’ essay on ‘The death of the author’. Despite the differences in context, it appears that appealing to readers is more important to authors than writing titles that make a lot of money.

Digital Book World (DBW) surveyed 1,600 self-published authors and only 20% of those claimed it was “extremely important” to “make money writing books”. On the other hand, 56% said that publishing a “book that people will buy” was more important. Of course, in this day and age, social media/online platforms make it far more easier for authors to distribute their works. What’s more is that this also allows them to find audiences for their work. While digital publishing has indeed proved an advantage to authors in some instances, the DBW survey also stated that 54% of traditionally published and 80% of self-published authors earn less than £600 each year.

While the surge of self publishing combined with digital means that discoverabilty of literature is easier online in particular, it also means that the definition of an author is almost being devalued as a result. This is emphasised by Hugh Howey’s statement (Howey actually sold thousands of copies of his book, Wool, on Amazon prior to finding a publisher):

the self-publishing revolution has allowed “hundreds of thousands of voracious readers with a dream of writing a novel” to write books “out of love and passion, just like a kid goes out and dribbles a basketball for hours every day or kicks a soccer ball against a garage wall”. But over the past few decades we wouldn’t have called these people “writers” any more than we would call that kid in the back yard a footballer. If all it takes to be a writer is to stick your work online then we’re all writers now.

Howey further states that self-publishing is currently going through a “renaissance”. Today’s new authors do not have the same amount of experience  and “market maturity” to go up against the 1% of authors who have had numerous years of experience.

I guess if I was to link in some criticism here, I would use that of Michel Foucault’s What Is An Author? (1969):

The idea of the author is not a timeless figure: the figure and significance of the author varies across time, and from one culture to another, from one discourse to another and so on.

Drawing from what Howey states, and Foucault many years prior to this article, is the death of the author an actual occurrence? Or is it simply going through yet another change?

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Image comes from: http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/tag/death-of-the-author/ [Accessed: 27.01.14]


Book Prizes: more than just a celebration of fantastic literature

I read such a sad, yet inspiring Feature article in the London Evening Standard today. James Ashton told of how he had lost his three-year-old son due to an undetected heart condition a year ago and how he had set up a book prize, entitled Oscar’s First Book Prize, in his son’s memory.

Ashton describes in the article how Oscar had such a unique and vivid imagination and how this inspired him to set up the Book Prize. Ashton states:

Our sim it to find the best pre-school book of the year that celebrates a child’s love for magical stories, something that would have satisfied Oscar’s vivid imagination.

The Prize has been set up by the Evening Standard and Waitrose. The winner shall be the “best first book for children aged five or under published in 2013″ and shall be awarded £5,000. It is thought that Oscar’s mother; Viveka Alvestrand; the chief executive of Waitrose, Mark Price; former CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino and the deputy editor for the Evening Standard, Charlotte Ross shall judge the entries with the winner being announced in May 2014.

Evidently, this shows that Book Prizes are not just about celebrating outstanding works of Literature, but people themselves. It can celebrate culture, history, memories, and as Ashton states: imagination. When you look deeply into things, to me it’s almost as if the Prize has been launched to portray the fact that Oscar will live on through the imagination within the winning book. Ashton states in the article how he imagines what Oscar would be like were he alive, therefore portraying that Book Prizes are also incredibly important.


Publishing houses: closed for business

Over the past few months there have  been many articles written about the closure of bookshops across the country. What hasn’t been reported as much is the closure of publishers. The Guardian recently reported, that 98 UK-based publishers have gone out of business over the past year, which is 42% more than the year previous. And it is not just book publishers which have been closing, but newspaper, journals, periodical and directory publishers have also closed down over the past year.

It is thought that with pressure from the internet and online retailers such as Amazon, independent publishers in particular are struggling to make profits as margins are made smaller to compete with discounting on books. Digital piracy is also a problem for publishers, as well as being able to locate secondhand books at the click of a button. It is this latter issue which has threatened niche academic and educational publishers. Sites such as Amazon Marketplace has made it much easier for people to get their hands on textbooks, for example, and whilst this may be good news for students, it is not so great for the publishers who do not receive anything.

These statistics outline one of the main causes of publishing house closures:

Growth in sales of ebooks, whose average price is £3 or less, compared with £5.50 for a paperback, has also undermined publishers’ margins. UK consumer ebook sales rose by 134% to £216m in 2012, while print sales fell by 1% to £2.9bn, meaning that consumer ebook sales now represent 7.4% of book publishers’ total sales, according to the UK Publishers Association.

From these figures, it clearly shows that ebooks are only accounting for around 7% of book publishers’ sales. When you compare £216 million ebook sales to £2.9 billion print book sales, I think it’s safe to say that print is still the alpha male in this industry.

Although it still doesn’t stop the fact that many businesses are closing, including the Evans Brothers (the publisher who published Enid Blyton’s works 1930-1960). It is also suggested that one of the other reasons for publishing houses closing is due to the end of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 (an arrangement first established in 1899 which allowed publishers to set a fixed retail price for their books and thereby refused to sell stock to retailers who discounted their products). A couple of years ago, The Guardian wrote that it was time to bring back the Net Book Agreement.  While this is a point to consider, it is difficult to suggest what is best for the industry, as bringing it back would mean consequences to booksellers, for example. These vicious circles of possibilities and events revolve around the fact that change is sadly inevitable. We are still in a time where change is continuous and where it can also be a good thing. It’s just knowing how to adapt to change that businesses must bear in mind in this day and age.


Back to blogging

After almost a month of no blogging, I am back. After finishing my Masters degree and handing in my dissertation, I decided to reward myself with some job hunting and a trip to Barcelona – anyone who hasn’t visited the city before, I HIGHLY recommend it; it is so beautiful.

The view from Parc Güell

The view from Parc Güell


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