After the opening debate and a brief break, Laura and I went to our separate seminars. And this is the bit where I feel I lucked out! The seminars opened my eyes to the diversity and astounding nature of publishing. My three seminars were each unique and carried their own weight. In fact, from the amazing speakers to how well-organised the whole conference was, I have to thank the organisers at the Society of Young Publishers – in particular Julie and Lucia, who were not only fabulous coordinators but gracious and entertaining.
Seminar 1: Beyond the Textbook
Here was my opportunity to understand the world of academic publishing a little better. Speakers, Andrea Carr of Rising Stars UK, and Pedro Moura of Macmillan English Campus, brought two very clear ideas to the seminar. Carr, so passionate about educational publishing, she lit up the room and had me inspired for the future of education, emphasised the importance of bringing literacy and the written word to the children – in whatever form it may take. She described her youthful target market as “demanding but hugely rewarding”.
Moura, eloquent and humorous, talked about the global side of publishing, and how important the evolving nature of it is around the world; in particular the development of online platforms, such as Macmillan English Campus. He gave us some eye-opening statistics: there are 1 billion people learning English worldwide; 400 million people speak English as their first language and 800 million people speak English as a foreign language. When it’s expected that 3 billion people will have access to the internet by 2015, it’s essential for publishers to acknowledge that online platforms are vital for reaching them. To prove his point, he even pulled out a cassette to show how far textbooks and supplements have already come, and how far it may even have to go.
Seminar 2: Beautiful Books
This was my excuse to indulge my inner bibliophile. Johanna Geary of the Folio Society led us through the editorial process of one of their astounding books. In this case – In Cold Blood.
Once exclusive to members, Folio Society is now branching out to let us mere mortals get our hands on the special editions they produce. From Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (described by the author herself as the “definitive edition”) to Elizabeth David’s Christmas (a copy of which I was lucky enough to win for bombarding people with tweets), each book is lovingly created with the story in mind. From the jacket and stitched binding, to the typography, to the page layout (even to the point of changing the shape of the book to allow for longer lines in poetry), each tiny detail is carefully considered to create a book that is beautiful, collectible and inspiring.
In the middle of a conference that seemed to be extolling the virtues of digital publishing and technological advancements, could a place really be found for the traditional book? Geary argued (and convincingly) that absolutely – there will always be a place for the traditional print. But it is companies like Folio Society creating these special editions that will become increasingly important, as books aren’t just for reading any more, but for treasuring.
Seminar 3: Interactive and Social Reading
I had been inspired about educational publishing, immersed in clothbound magic, and now I was about to be blown away by Andrew Rhomberg of Jellybooks and Jon Ingold of inkle. I had no idea what I was walking in to, and I admit that I was glad. Remember that I came to the conference nervous of digital publishing.
Rhomberg – aside from making me hungry with all his jelly bean references – began by explaining the thinking behind Jellybooks. What if you don’t know if you want that eBook or not? In a bookshop, you can read the first few pages and pick it up or put it down according to those. Well, Jellybooks gives you the chance to download the first 10% of an eBook – to see if you like it. Rhomberg – half-quoting Winston Churchill (“This is not the end, not even the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning of the digital revolution”) and reassuring latecomers to digital that there was still time to catch up – also explained that it was not simply trying before you buy. It’s about discoverability. Amazon – as dominant as it is – is not up to scratch when it comes to this. Jellybooks not only makes searching and scrolling through books much easier, but also encourages you to share, share, share. How does 50% off your eBook sound? Well, share it. There are only four buttons on Jellybooks: sample, share, buy, or deal. For a consumer market that is so immediate as we are, that’s all you need.
Ingold began with an excuse that it was the last seminar of the day and as he had done it twice before, he was not going to be that funny, was instantly entertaining and passionate about his story. “Reading is not passive,” he told us – pointing us to inkle’s interactive Frankenstein. inkle specialises in building interactive and narrative driven apps for web and mobile platforms, and Ingold’s presentation seemed to loop back to that opening debate, and the idea of new reading on new hardware. It is not page-turning – it is hearing, seeing, and experiencing a story exactly how you imagine it. Of course, there is a fear that having the reader dictate the plot will dilute the story the author has written. But Ingold points out that Shelley actually wrote three versions of Frankenstein, and who can say which one is the right one? And for that matter, who has ever gone back to a book and had exactly the same experience the second time around as they did the first time they read it? Digital publishing is simply opening the doors to the imagination driving the story in a much more directive way than print ever allowed. The idea of such interactivity demonstrated by the Frankenstein app (which Ingold prefers to call “responsiveness”) is not in any way undermining the author, but evolving into a reading experience much closer to that we have in our heads.
It was very much this last seminar that had me buzzing about digital publishing. A big nod of respect to Andrew Rhomberg and Jon Ingold respectively for holding their own, and for delivering such convincing arguments to a traditionalist. (I now REALLY need a tablet so I can spoil myself indulging in eBooks).