Looking Beyond the Book: reflections on the annual SYP conference

In our latest guest blog, Kingston University graduate Frankie Jones talks about her experience at the Society of Young Publishers conference and the importance of new and interactive reading experiences.

The title of this year’s Society of Young Publishers conference, Beyond the Book, had a mystical ring to it. I, as a graduate at the beginning of her publishing career, took this as an order. Look beyond the book: look at new technologies, look at the successes of other industries, look at your market’s needs and, indeed, look outside of your market.

The obvious areas of digital and social media were explored alongside unexpected insights. Although I cannot recap all the interesting discussions that took place in the seminars, debates and around the cafeteria tables I’ll summarise some of the key themes that caught my attention.

The opening debate saw four speakers each talk about an aspect of publishing that they viewed as a ‘game changer’. We’re not only in an industry, but in an era, where game-changing technologies and philosophies are happening every day and we need to keep up with them.

Kingston Masterclass speaker and Chief Executive of World Book Night Julia Kingsford spoke passionately about something that is always topical: illiteracy. The statistics she quoted surrounding the attitude’s of children and young people towards reading (17% of children are embarrassed to be seen reading) struck a chord with me and informed the way I interacted with the rest of the conference. Trevor Klein (Somethin’Else), who closed the first debate, deserves a mention for his obvious yet often overlooked observation that as publishers we need to produce ‘new reading experiences on new hardware’. The upcoming generations know this new hardware and it just won’t cut it to try to force a page-turning, static book onto a device built for interactivity.

That said, books are often objects of art and the seminar Beautiful Books, presented by Johanna Geary of the Folio Society, had me drooling over cloth-bound editions. This seminar reminded me of the skills that we, as publishers, possess: we are creators and pedants. Although book lovers understand the importance of stitched binding I couldn’t help but think about children who are excluded from this circle, about those that don’t engage with books (another statistic from Julia – 1 in 3 homes in the UK do not have a single book) beautiful, or otherwise.

Which takes us back to the buzzword of the day: digital. Publishers are competing against other forms of entertainment and knowledge-delivery and the best way to compete and engage, it seems, is to go digital. In Interactive and Social Reading Jon Ingold from Inkle, the company behind interactive novel Frankenstein, told us that ‘reading is not passive’. It never has been, but through the opportunities of app development Mary Shelley’s classic novel has become a hybrid (see what they did there?) where readers can dictate the way the story is told through their reactions to the narrative. Some people say books are dead, but this content is very much alive.

Screenshot of the first chapter of ‘Frankenstein’.Courtesy: Inkle Studios

The closing debate, entitled Crossing Boundaries, furthered thoughts on book/technology fusion by interrogating our ideas on what is a book and the importance of driving innovation. Discussions were stimulated via Twitter throughout the day and into the next week (I’ve been writing this while twittering about whether Pottermore is a valid reading experience), discussions which will hopefully continue as it is vital that the voices of us young and new publishers make an impact on the industry.

This is just a snapshot of some of the thoughts and ideas presented at the conference. Many thanks to the SYP committee team who organised such an inspiring and smoothly run day.

The SYP committee united after the conference. Courtesy: Society of Young Publishers UK

Frankie Jones is a Kingston University MA Publishing and Creative Writing graduate. She edited RiPPLE 2011 at Kingston and now works as an Editorial Assistant at City and Guilds of London Institute. You can follow her on Twitter @TheFrankieJones.


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