Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Futurebook 2010

Whilst beginning to wrap up my fellowship (more in another post), I took time out to attend the FutureBook conference yesterday. Organised by the Bookseller, this conference brought together a number of industry leaders to highlight their successes and to raise awareness of issues they have faced in digital publishing. It was a fascinating day. For publishers and booksellers alike, it seems the digital revolution has finally arrived. Some highlights:

  • The Bookseller has conducted a wide survey of the sector to gauge opinion and attitude, with over 2,600 responses. This will be published soon.
  • One statistic was worth noting, when asked who will gain most from a rise in digital sales, respondents suggested readers, authors, publishers as the most, with booksellers and libraries rated last.
  • Publishers and booksellers had differing ideas regarding how quickly the change would occur. By the end of 2015, 2/3rds of publishers believed digital sales would account for anywhere between 8-50% of the market. Only just over half of the booksellers polled believed the same thing
  • Google will enter the online book retail market soon with Google Editions. Rather than tie themselves to a device, they are aiming for a platform agnostic browser and app based model, with all content remaining in the cloud rather than on-devices (although HTML 5 based local storage will be used) It will allow various online retailers and booksellers to build platforms around Google editions.
  • Tech-startups were suddenly seen as competition by publishers, at least in the app business. In response, much value was placed on publishers' knowledge of markets, talent and trends, as well as the curatorial process of commissioning and editing
  • Richard Mollet of the Publishers Association talked up the Digital Economy Bill. Formerly in the music industry, he noted that 'rights and copyright make the digital world go round', and argued that the bill was vital in explaining the damage illegal copying had on the creative sectors
  • Nick Harkaway, an industry commentator agreed in principle, but noted that enforcement so far had failed to deter illegal filesharing and DRM was no serious barrier to rights infringement. He urged publishers to keep people paying by offering serious innovation rather than simple digital recyling of print content
  • The academic book sector was well represented, with Wiley, CUP, OUP , Ingenta Connect and Blackwells Academic presenting. OUP gave an excellent talk on the changes required across an institution
  • We also had displays from Scholastic regarding the cross-media Horrible Histories series and looks at the editorial and creative processes behind booksellers' first steps into the world of mobile app development. Max Whitby from Touchpress showed off the Elements app, the next stage in the evolution of the coffee-table book
  • YouGov have a tablet track scheme looking at customer experiences of iPads and Kindle readers, which produced some interesting facts.
One over-arching trend that libraries can learn from relates to changes in the production and publishing processes. The phrase 'reflow-able text' was heard throughout the day, with publishers being urged to ditch PDF and print centric work flows in favour of granular xml-based marked up text that could be easily re-purposed for the next device of platform.

It seems to me that mainstream publishing is jumping over academic publishing on this one. Given the amount of on-line journal vendors that still insist on forcing PDF files down our throats, XML based delivery of more academic content could be of real use now to the consumer as well as the publisher.

One application of this approach was demonstrated, the Blackwells Academics custom textbooks service. This allows course-leaders to assemble all the material relating to a course into one bound volume which could then be sold on. Taking care of rights clearance, it also quite handily passed on the cost of printing course-packs to students!

Its still a great concept. Such a leap is only possibly by storing content in a normalised XML form, allowing it to be quickly pulled together to create new outputs.

Of course, we've been doing this in libraries with TEI and other transcription initiatives for some time now, but publishing at least is really taking the concept to heart, especially when faced with multiple devices and platforms to support. Post iPad, library digitisation projects will need to bear this delivery model in mind rather than relying upon image based delivery.

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