Publishing Now: The Golden Age of Innovation. My second foray into the shiny new world of publishing conferences. I can now consider myself a dab hand, taking notes from my flip down chair. I am surrounded by swathes of people tweeting away, the slightly misleading #pubnow hashtag propelling individuals’ tweets onto the wall above as Twitter is projected for all to see. It’s a rare event when you can sit tapping away at your phone in front of a lecturer without appearing to be rude.
The Twitter universe, so wide and expansive when sitting at home with an open laptop, suddenly shrinks to the size of City University’s Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre. Classmates and publishing experts unite to ponder the fate of a once print-based industry in these times of digital uncertainty.
This image of civilised professionals lies in stark contrast with the night before, when we descended upon The Boadicea in our droves. The nearby pub was packed with publishers – social butterflies that we are – hoping to weigh in on the discussion bouncing back and forth amongst the debate team, who assembled themselves below another Twitter screen to ‘hash’ things out.
Saturday morning brought us safely back to reality with a varied group of speakers on the agenda and a welcome address from Bloomsbury Publishing Esecutive Director Richard Charkin, who was keen to applaud the world of trade publishing for finally embracing its imminent digital future. He described their former attitude as being “terribly afraid of everything”, but said that e-phobia has gradually turned into e-phoria.
With Charkin providing us with ample food for thought, my fellow students and I knew we were in for a dizzying day, punctuated with coffee after coffee and some delightful sandwiches. Eleven speakers took to the floor; here’s a whistle-stop tour of what some of them covered:
Joanna Rahim and Dr Richard Barnett introduced an iPhone app on the medical history of London, creatively named Blood, Guts, Brains and Babies. Using trans-media storytelling it allows the user to take a short walk through London, seeing the sites without having to carry a cumbersome map or heavy book. The free download actively exploits the invaluable information contained within the Wellcome Collection, a free-access archive I’m now itching to go and see. Given the application’s location-based function, it has sold unexpectedly well in the US; proving the power of word of mouth via blogs, social networking and the app store.
When Anna Lewis came on to tell us about innovative use of text, she caused quite a stir through unintentionally focusing on her current project, Valobox. A paid-for service that allows text to be embedded on social networking and blogging sites, interested friends can then view a sample before paying to view more. The buzz grew louder when it was revealed that the original sharer receives a 25% chunk of the profits. This daring idea, which places marketing in the hands of the buyer, prompted many questions. Lewis argued that they were “putting the text in the places where it makes sense” – where it’s freely shared and purchased without the need to send somebody off down a long hyperlink road. Some members of the audience proposed an option to give the 25% to charity and share that you were doing so. Others placed greater value on ‘free’ promotion, saying that what happened to the money was no one else’s business.
We also heard from Dean Johnson, who explained that we had as much chance of coming up with the new Angry Birds as any game creator and that we mustn’t look at an e-reader and wonder what it can do for us but what we would like it to do. He announced that television will soon become relevant again, and apps related to programming will be instantly downloadable; imagine watching an adaptation when the novel version is available to purchase instantly.
Oliver Brooks, also backing Valobox, revealed that soon we will have access to “scarily good analytics”, since we’ll be able to see exactly which pages of a reference book people are reading (if they’re available to ‘pay as you go’).
Recent Kingston Publishing Masterclass speaker Bobby Nayaar broke down the inevitably fear-inducing production costs of a book in today’s shaky market, managing to sell four or five of his own in the process. His cheeky routine teetered on the brink of stand-up comedy, complete with audience interviews and brazen heckling. Nayyar is certain to officially become the speaker who made the most sales at the conference.
It is clear to me now that I may have come into the industry at exactly the right time. Publishing Now was very much about the Now. My classmates and I were left wondering, ‘But what about real books?’ We know they aren’t dead and aren’t likely to conk out any time soon, but we have become uncomfortably aware that we know more about e-books and tablet software than the basics of print publishing. Perhaps we need to go and read a few of the objects in question to find out more about them? For now, our taste for knowledge has been satisfied.
Many thanks to the students of City University and BookMachine for organising the weekend’s events, including Elin Butler, who recently blogged for us. As you can see, the team of speakers raised a plethora of relevant issues. I look forward to returning next year.
Philippa Sitters is an MA Publishing student at Kingston University, and a fledgling writer. She discusses her take on the publishing industry and much more besides at www.philippacity.com, where you can read more about her experiences at Publishing Now.