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.
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.
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.
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.