Category Archives: The Digital Age

#internetofthings 2

The other day I ‘stumbled-upon’, quite literally, an article from Spiceworks, a free IT community, about the Internet of Things (I blogged about it here a couple of months ago) and how it will affect IT in the future. I thought that this would be a nice follow up post from it. For those of you who are still unfamiliar with the term…

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a collective of Internet-connected consumer devices, manufacturing systems, business tools, customer service appliances, medical equipment, agricultural sensors and other things. – Deepak Kumar
According to ‘The Devices are Coming…’ article, 71% of IT professionals believe that IoT will impact consumers and the workplace. Despite this, 59% of IT professionals apparently aren’t preparing this this in the workplace. While the report states that IoT isn’t something which will occur overnight, it does mention the inevitablility of it. The introduction of IoT means that more devices shall be generating more data, and thus, using more bandwidth and IP addresses. This then puts company data at a higher risk of security breach. Because of this, it is thought that 43% of IoT shall be linked to new networks. Morover, 68% of IT professionals will invest in infrastructure and 63% will invest in more security solutions in order to cope with the technology. It is thought that by 2020, IoT will have grown to 26 billion + devices! (Gartner, 2013).
Thinking about publishers and booksellers, it shall be interesting to see how it will impact the sector. Judging from general articles which I have read and also thinking about the work experience placements I have carried out over time, I think that the sector is keeping on top of new techologies which are available, as challenging as it is, however it shall be great to see how IoT will impact this sector which is continuiously adapting.

#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]


Are ‘phablets’ a rival for e-reading devices?

The above video is a shocking yet accurate depiction of the growing smartphone-obsessed culture which is becoming apparent within society. The New York Times posted this intriguing article a couple of weeks ago, ‘More Connected, Yet More Alone‘, and talks of Charlene deGuzman’s reasons behind making the video. Nick Bilton, the person who wrote the article, speculates whether smartphones are having their ‘TV-in-the-kitchen-moment’?

From the video, I can definitely see how it relates to today’s society. Particularly with social media playing a prominent role in people’s day-to-day lives, and the recent developments in mobile phone technology over the years, it is so much more easier to connect virtually than it ever has been; so much so that I believe that people are becoming obsessed with it. The day after the New York Times posted this article, The Guardian published an article stating that phablets are big in Asia-Pacific, equalling tablets and laptops combined.

The Guardian reported that 25.2 million phablets – ‘large-screened phones with screen sizes of between 5in and 7in diagonally’ – are shipped in the Asia-Pacific (excl. Japan), roughly the same amount of devices shipped as tablets (12.6 million) and laptops (12.7 million) combined (figures from research company, IDC). It is believed that it is Samsung’s Galaxy Note, inspired by Dell’s Streak phone in 2010, which has truly sparked the surge in phablet technology.

Looking at the evidence, it made me wonder how it will affect publishing in the future…

I wrote about this earlier in the year with my blog post: ‘Adaptive Web Technology and Publishing‘ and even the figures mentioned there stated that by 2016, 2.1 billion mobile browsers will use HTML5 browsers, therefore adding to the current 17% of the world’s population which has a mobile subscription.

As it can be seen from the articles in the NYT and The Guardian, more phablets than laptops and tablets combined are being shipped in Eastern parts of the world – imagine what the figures would be should Western parts of the world be included, too. For me, it poses the question as to whether e-reading devices such as the Kindle could soon become old news, especially if technology is moving towards a smartphone future…

Publishers are already recognising that ensuring their content is available through smartphones is adamant. For example, academic publisher, Cambridge University Press’s ‘Cambridge Journals Online’ platform has launched a Mobile version. In addition, publishers such as Penguin have launched various Apps to use on mobiles and tablet devices, Kindle has an App which is available to use on devices other than Kindles, and with social media sites such as Twitter, publishers are able to interact with the end-consumer on a regular basis.

What’s to say, that we ourselves, aren’t publishers? For those who use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, every post, tweet, and status is published for the world to see. Phablets make this easy and with the growing obsession of ‘connecting’ with one another, it appears that we are increasingly moving into a world where access to content is constantly in demand.

Personally, I do not believe that phablets are a serious threat to e-reading devices… yet. The article from The Guardian only takes into account the figures for Asia-Pacific, and it is already common knowledge that the technological market is by far greater and more advanced than other parts of the world. E-reading devices such as the Kindle will continue to develop, and while the ‘I Forgot My Phone’ video shows people using their smartphones, not Kindles/iPads etc., I believe that the majority of people may not necessarily make the link of reading books on their smartphones just yet. Saying that, I do feel that the concept of publishing on a wide scale is pretty much there when it comes to smartphone technology.


The Library of the Future: “All about books. All about learning.”

Birmingham has introduced a brand new £189m library in Centenary Square and been deemed ‘a people’s palace’ by its architects. Gone are the days of the old creaking floors and slightly dusty shelves of an old, traditional library, it seems.

Picture by Charlie Bibby

Picture by Charlie Bibby

The new eco-friendly design has been built in a way to depict Birmingham’s industrial revolution of earlier years, whilst also keeping to a futurist and modern theme.

The BBC has posted a video tour of the new building on their website. Brian Gambles, Director of the library, emphasised the fact that the new library is a “fusion of digital and physical is essential to the vision of the library”. The interactive technology, including more than 200 public access computers where the public can interact with the various collections, and 20 large-scale multimedia walls means that the public can “engage with new collections in new and different ways”.

Certainly the theme of interaction is also enhanced with the library’s ‘Discovery Pavillion’, which includes 18 week programmes of ‘creative residencies’ where new library users can experience creative practices such as bookbinding and animation. In addition to this are specific pieces in the library which are part of the Pavillion where certain collections and spaces are highlighted to the public.

Surely, this new library stands at the  forefront of the future for libraries? It will be interesting to see what happens to our libraries following this change. However, there is speculation from The Library Campaign that by 2016, 1000 libraries will be closed. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has stated that 349 libraries have closed down since 2009. With the proposed local government budget cuts in 2015/16, it is therefore thought that an additional 340 libraries will close (Figures taken from The Guardian). While the new opening is great for the public in and around Birmingham, what about the rest of the country? It can be assumed that the majority of major cities and towns across the UK will have access to a good library facility, however, it is the smaller communities across the country which may suffer if their local library is closed.

Although the new library emphasises its connection with digital – encouraging users to discover and interact on a new scale – it is clear that the printed book is still at the heart of its development. 350,000 books are available to the public, 43,000 of which are situated in the Shakespeare Memorial Room. The room, originally built in 1882, was taken apart from the old building and rebuilt piece-by-piece into the new development. I like the thought that physical books are still the focus of developments like this. It shows that even though the book industry is undergoing momentous change, the familiar and the traditional is not forgotten; almost as if the industry is keen to hold on to its origins (something which I highly agree with).

Although, at its core, the library is fundamentally grounded in enhancing the printed book, the building’s modern appearance and facilities has deemed it a ‘super library‘, joining international libraries across the globe, including the Seattle Central Library (USA), Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico), Kanazawa Umimirai (Japan) and, Spijkenisse Book Mountain (Netherlands).

From what I gather, the reaction to Birmingham’s new ‘super library’ has been positive. It bodes well for the future of books across all aspects of the industry. I feel that as long as the industry as a whole continues to grow almost as a hybrid model (embracing digital, yet not forgetting its physical roots), then the industry will continue to flourish.