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SYP Conference 2012 – Beyond The Book, Closing Debate

Closing Debate

‘Crossing Boundaries’, the SYP 2012 Conference closing debate, surmised many of the questions and discussions that had gone on during the day. The blurred boundaries of traditional publishing and online content, books and art, the classroom and the virtual space and the illiterate accessing literature were just some of the topics covered on Saturday between the walls of the London College of Communication.

William Higham

Will Higham, MD of strategic insight consultancy The Next Big Thing, loves printed books and his parents are librarians, as he reminded us on several occasions. He is not willing digital to take over the printed world but he has some very interesting thoughts on this potential change. “What is a book?”, he asked. A brave move to a room full of publishers but a good move nonetheless. Using the various forms of Dickens’ Great Expectations, Higham’s powerful rhetoric forced us in the audience to question this Its original format was of course the serialised magazine, evolving through the hardback into the paperback. Our current anxieties around the emergence of the ebook are nothing new; they are reminiscent of Victorian concerns around the shocking appearance of Dickensian literature in the format of the masses, the book. We are in a time of change as publishers but this is nothing to be feared as we will always have, as we always have had, books – stories, intellectual property, text communicated effectively to the public.

Erica Wolfe-Murray

You can have your cake and eat it, according to Erica Wolfe-Murray, MD of Lola Media. In fact, not only can you eat it but you can use its ingredients to make something yummier and more profitable. Using cake ingredients as a simile for intellectual assets, she explained how an individual, team or company can increase its revenue streams and its market by identifying how its assets, i.e. skills, personnel, resources, can be used to create new things to a wider audience. You can take some of the ingredients of a humble Victoria Sponge and make meringue, a luxury food that cannot only be eaten at ‘tea time’ but as dessert for any meal or used for turned into a Pavlova, a whole new food in itself.  In this time of economic unrest, we publishers need to think about this, just as other industries do: ‘how can we use what we already have to make more money?’ How can we reach a wider audience? How can we add value to our products? How can we go above and beyond what is expected of us? How publishing houses will actually address these questions will be interesting to watch… the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Bobby Nayyar

While we must bear our bottom lines in mind, a sentiment encouraged by Wolfe-Murray, we must also remember the importance of social enterprise. This was brought to our attention by the final speaker, Bobby Nayyar, founder of Limehouse Books and manager of Equality in Publishing. We must remember that we are in a community and as publishers, i.e. ‘making content public’, we have a social duty to produce a high quality of work. Nayyar argues that design standards are dropping as budgets tighten and ebooks become more prominent. We have a duty to ensure that books are still made to a high standard and with care. While ‘going digital’ may be a cheaper way of producing text and lend itself to exciting, interactive opportunities, we need to ask whether digital formats are accessible to the whole public. As Julia Kingsford said in the opening debate, there is a significant proportion of the public who don’t have access to these formats. Although publishing is a business and must be profitable, it is also a service. And we must make sure that we are servicing the public with high quality, accessible content.

SYP Conference 2012 – Seminar 3: Interactive and Social Reading

Seminar 3: Interactive and Social Reading

Andrew Rhomberg – Founder & Managing Director of JellyBooks.

The interactivity gap between the author, publisher and reader is narrowing. The digital revolution has given readers the opportunity to decide how and when they wish to consume such content. JellyBooks & Inkle are two of many companies providing users with a vehicle for that consumption.

Andrew Rhomberg, founder and Managing Director of Jellybook opened the discussion by introducing his company JellyBooks. Andrew likes to think of his company like a sweet shop, a place where the consumer can sample 10% of a book for free and if they like them share their great finds with a wide audience.

 “JellyBooks encourages you to sample and not buy the book”

Andrew reminded me of a scientist, JellyBooks is very much a working project for him and he likes to think of each stage of development as a series of experiments to create a virtual bookshop experience where the consumer is in control.  The reader is free to browse and discover books, so much so that the more recommendations a title receives the bigger the discounts, something which is usually controlled by the retailer.

discounts for sharing books – get the reader to do the marketing”

Book Clubs and award ceremonies naturally play a part in bestseller lists but with added reviews and recommendations come the power for the consumer to play a part in a title becoming a big hitter which is something that everyone in the publishing process should consider.

Jon Ingold – Creative Director at Inkle

Jon joined the discussion by focusing on how we perceive ‘the book’ to be and then questioning that perception. Inkle’s latest project was the well reviewed and raved about the

Frankenstein App, in collaboration with Profile Books.

“In Frankenstein you take some of the author’s decisions

about language based on approach to a story”

Jon’s key point during the discussion was the need for innovation and how we should continue to ask ourselves – what comes next? We are taught to read a book from page 1 to the final page through to completion but is that really how best to enjoy content? He argued that this was a cultural approach to reading and what the app and other digital content did was to reinvent this.

“No moral concept when not listening to an album all the way through, #

why isn’t it the same with books?”

Text in Jon’s opinion is a boundary between the writer and reader. Jon declared ‘the book’ as we know it dead and that it was time to revive our reading experiences. If you didn’t enjoy a chapter in a book wouldn’t it be great to be able to tell the author and consumer an ‘abridged’ version of their work. Of course this sparked debate; one delegate argued that this would destroy structure, meaning and thus effect the way we interpreted books. Jon advised that this wouldn’t be destruction, merely an alternative and that user interface was important in how we digest content.

Both Jon & Andrew inspired the audience to question our reading experiences both currently and in the future, understanding our reading habits and how this can be enhances in the digital age.

SYP Conference 2012 – Seminar 2: Beyond the Textbook

Andrea Carr – Managing Director, Rising Stars

Andrea left university as a linguist, started off as a publishing assistant at Octopus and stayed there for 15 years working across editorial, sales, and rights and ended up in marketing. Ten years ago she took the opportunity to set up Rising Stars and moved from the *glamorous* trade publishing arena into the dynamic, challenging and creative area of educational publishing – she says she’s never looked back. Andrea’s sheer passion for educational publishing is infectious; she is involved in injecting technology into schools in the form of iPads, computers and Interactive Whiteboards and surrounds herself with forward thinking educators so she can market her products to deliver. Marketing to children is also a huge part of what Andrea does in order to achieve and be successful; she describes them as a demanding but hugely rewarding market.

By immersing herself in being at the forefront of educational publishing, Andrea has learnt how to create eBooks, interactive software and wider content; she has seen the textbook become increasingly irrelevant where digital content is the present. An inspiring talk showing us all how rewarding a role in educational publishing can be…

Pedro Moura, International Sales Manager for Macmillan

Next up was Pedro to give us an insight into the ELT publishing market, he explained the huge importance of the English Language for things like travel, study, jobs, business and international relations – in fact Pedro had to complete an IELTs qualification before coming to the UK.  He gave us some interesting stats on English speakers:

–          There are 1 billion people learning English worldwide

–          400 million people speak English as their first language

–          800 million people speak English as a foreign language

The ELT market is mainly dominated by CUP, OUP, Pearson and Macmillan and they are seeing a distinct shift into course books becoming much more interactive and they have to come up with unique ideas for marketing new online based platforms. Pedro’s approach to digital was positive; there is a great deal of investment in digital and it is a huge growing market:

–          By 2015 3 billion people will have internet access

–          Governments are encouraging digital – particularly with reforms for Italy and Spain

–          E-readers and tablets are becoming mainstream – and are being used increasingly for educational purposes

–          Distance learning is growing – using online resources

–          Teachers prefer interactive course books

Pedro is passionate about the ELT market and is already seeing a rise in print/digital sales – he thinks the textbook will continue to exist but it will take on a much more interactive and digital format.


SYP Conference 2012 – Seminar 1: Beautiful Books

In her seminar, ‘Beautiful Books’, Johanna Greary explored the discussion which underlined much of the SYP 2012 Conference : will ‘digital’ lead to the demise of the traditionally printed book? As Senior Editor of the Folio Society, publisher of fine, illustrated books, she is well placed to comment on the position of physical books in our modern lives.

Some of us are scared of it and some of us are excited by it, but it’s something that we’re all talking about and, working within the publishing industry, it’s something that’s got to be on our minds. As technology continues to develop, is there going to be a need, or demand, for the traditionally printed book going forwards? Johanna Greary argues, ‘yes, absolutely, more than ever’ and while that might seem nostalgic, optimistic or naive, she has an incredibly good point…. How many of you have been into a grocery store in the last month? A high street shop?  The bank? Listened to the radio? Posted some mail? Probably most of you. But if you think about it, you might have done these things for a slightly different purpose than you would have done five, ten or fifteen years ago. You might do most of your grocery shopping online, but pop into Waitrose for that beautiful bottle of bubbly. You might order the outfit online but go into the store to try on beautiful clothes , for the beautiful experience of the shop. And while you might download a new bestseller onto your Kindle, you’d buy a beautiful coffee table hardback , you would spend money on beautiful books. The shift towards digital has created an opportunity for fine, beautiful books to come into their own – books as gifts, as art and as items of luxury.

But what makes a book beautiful? In the seminar, Greary took us through the factors which contribute to the book’s aesthetics and how the factors must work in conjunction with each other. She started, and finished, with the text. The text must be close to the author’s intentions, pure to the original story. The text will then dictate how the other factors are addressed. The typography must be clear and easy to read, with the font being in line with the content. You wouldn’t want to read The Handmaid’s Tale in Comic Sans! The illustrations must reflect and enhance the style and the tone of the text. She explained how a fictitious book which was based on a true story benefited from photographic illustrations as the photo form adds an element of reality to the content. The binding design must then be consistent with these illustrations, giving the reader a good first impression of the beautiful experience inside. Finally, the printing and binding must allow the content stay true to its form. She gave the example of the long-lined poetry of Gerard Manley-Hopkins which the Folio Society chose to print in a square shaped book so that the lines were printed unbroken. And here we end back at the text, were we started.

So there seem to be two ways of defining Beautiful Books. First, and most obviously, a finely, illustrated book that would sit well on display in our homes.  And secondly, a book which is pure and true to its text in every aspect of its production. Having heard speakers in the opening and closing debates, I don’t see any reason why that can’t be a digital book. Digital content can surely capture the sentiment of the words, giving authors the options of music and interaction? This, however, will not lead to the demise of the printed book. It will just increase the pressure on the printing industry to produce beautiful items that motivate us to purchase. By judging the products I saw from the Folio Society, bound in silk and glitter and containing stunning images reflecting the content of the text, I am confident that there are publishers out there who will excel under this pressure, continuing to provide truly beautiful books to the public.