Beyond the Book: An SYP Conference PT1

I can only apologise (again) at the length of time it’s taken me to sit down and write this up properly.

This year, the Society of Young Publishers annual conference was aptly named “Beyond the Book” – a series of seminars around the future of publishing, from books and digital and everything in between; publishers are increasingly having to create new and unique forms of getting the written word to their audiences, and it is drastically changing the face of publishing. This conference, from its opening debate to its closing presentation, aimed to reveal these innovative new forms of print and publishing and demystify the world of digital publishing.

Having decided to go in with absolutely no expectations whatsoever, I didn’t even Google the speakers! I have to thank Laura for convincing me to go (me and networking situations don’t generally get along due to a crippling nervousness of saying something stupid), and for meeting me at Waterloo before I wandered off by myself (ref. my last excursion into London). Considering I worked in London for a while and I have been there several times, I have a fantastic ability to lose my direction.

Anyway. The conference was held at the London College of Communication in Elephant & Castle, and filled a full day of complete immersion in to publishing. Although seminar selections were on a first-come-first-served basis according to your list of preferences, I definitely feel I lucked out with my picks (read about my seminar choices in PT2)

Opening Debate: Game Changers

This was very much a broad overview which, as SYP explained, introduced “individuals, companies and trends which have significantly altered the present day landscape of publishing”. Speakers were Trevor Klein of Somethin’ Else, Laura Austin of YUDU, Sarah Taylor of Troubador Publishing, and Julia Kingsford, one of the brains behind World Book Night.

Julia Kingsford, first to speak, immediately touched on one of the biggest issues facing the publishing world – and it’s not new technologies, but the lack of interest in reading full stop. When one in three homes in the UK don’t have a single book, Kingsford argues that it is important to physically hand them the written word. World Book Night is not only centred around literacy, but a passion for language and a passion to share it. Approximately a quarter of the population don’t have sufficient access to the internet or digital equipment, and 40% of people only have Level One literacy (grade D or below in GCSE English), which means that aside from all our exciting technologies and innovations (of which there are many), we also have to address the pressing issue of getting people to read in the first place.

This impassioned opening, which got me feeling enthusiastic for World Book Night and reading all over again (not hard, I know), moved on to the new technologies being brought to the table by publishers. As someone who doesn’t own a tablet, e-reader or know much (if anything) about digital publishing, it was the following three speakers who opened my eyes to the possibilities.

Laura Austin – founder of BookMachine – talked about her role as eBook Product Manager at YUDU, demonstrated what could be done with digital, and in particular Apple’s iBooks Author. Using this tool, as opposed to bespoke apps, Austin explained that interactive content (referencing the YUDU-HarperCollins collaboration on a series of interactive titles based on The Hobbit) could be created and published much more cheaply and quickly as eBooks.

Sarah Taylor talked about the continued importance and influence of traditional publishers in the market, yet with a twist. As Marketing Assistant at Matador (the self-publishing imprint of Troubador), Taylor explained they work with 300 authors a year – on more than 400 titles – offering expertise built from the traditional publishing industry and a strong route to market, without obstructing self-publishing. There is ultimately a fear with self-publishing and eBooks, that the industry will become flooded with lower quality works, that “anyone can be an author”, whereas it’s imprints like Matador proving that this is no way the case. They recognise the power and importance of self-publishing for an author, and rather than close the doors on this, open them wide, with plenty of directions.

To close the opening debate, Trevor Klein opened my eyes to what digital publishing looks like and will look like (my extent of knowledge is a first generation Kindle that my mother owns and working in Waterstones during the first phase of e-readers about 3 years ago).

It’s nothing like I imagined. Klein explained that what publishers had to realise is that the future lies in “new reading experiences on new hardware”. It’s not a matter of providing an e-reader that simulates the turning of a page, but an e-reader that creates a new reading experience totally, with page layouts that not only take advantage of tablet technologies, but evolve the reading experience into something much more. Klein used his company’s Night Jar app, a BAFTA-nominated “audio-adventure” which is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch and designed specifically for smartphones, as an example of the way in which leaps forward in technology are allowing the publishing industry to create a whole new reading experience.

The opening debate gave me a taste of what to expect, but also an enthusiasm for digital publishing. I previously felt that I was a “traditionalist” when it came to books and reading – nothing but the Real Thing would do. I love the smell of books, the satisfaction of holding one in your lap and losing yourself in the pages. To me, Digital Publishing (note the capitals, as it’s Big and Scary) was a threat to my happy state of reading affairs. It was this opening debate that smoothed my ruffled feathers, so to speak, to reassure me that the people behind digital publishing are just the same enthusiastic readers as me, and that they are not looking to kill off the book, but to enhance it and bring it to a new audience.

Read PT2 – all about the seminars – here.

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