Books in Browsers 2013 – Reflections

November 1st, 2013 by Anna von Veh § 3 comments § permalink

Books in Browers 2013 is the highly regarded annual book-meets-tech conference in San Francisco, and I had the privilege of giving a presentation this year. Books in Browers 2013 was one of the best conferences I have attended.

The programming was intelligent and thoughtful. Sessions were grouped, and each presentation within a session complemented the others, so that by the end of the conference both a palimpsest and a narrative structure emerged. Many of the presentations, including my own, referred to earlier histories of storytelling and of the book itself.

The Internet Archive

Photo borrowed from http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/04/preserving-the-internet-and-everything-else.html

Context, subtext, paratext, text

The subtext to many of the presentations was the idea of ‘context first’, i.e. that in a digital networked world, context, all the related information surrounding the main content and the book itself, is not only important but critical.

The idea of ‘context not container’ was first raised at Books in Browsers in 2010 by Brian O’Leary of Magellan Media Partners in his presentation ‘Context First’, and it continues to inform and influence thought about books and publishing. (‘Context not Container’ appears in Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, available to read online).

My presentation on fan fiction (Beyond the Text: Writing Undercover on the Web) extrapolated Brian’s idea. Amongst other things, I talked of how the physical boundaries of the book have become synonymous with the boundaries of the story or content itself. Fan fiction on the internet is the manifestation of a hybrid, more fluid and nuanced understanding of story and storytelling: drawing on oral storytelling traditions, and is both performative and written.

In his entertaining presentation, Corey Pressman used the word “paratext” to describe “context” and drew a direct line from Stone Age tools to the smartphone.

Several speakers explored how to address and incorporate ‘context’ into the networked book.  Anthon Astrom of Astrom/Zimmer provided an aesthetically beautiful and also functional design for tracing the lineage of annotations and conversations. Hypothes.is showed their impressive contribution with two open source projects with huge potential: Epub.js and their own hypothes.is.

Using an API to make context available was a feature of the hackday on the Saturday. Kate Pullinger,  co-author with Chris Joseph of the groundbreaking Inanimate Alice is doing very interesting work online with her novel Flight Paths. In an exciting move, the digital division of her publisher, Random House Canada, developed an API for an excerpt from the follow-up book, Landing Gear, for use at the conference hackday. (For details of the API and related information see the website for the Random House API).

There were wonderful presentations at the intersection of tech, design and art, with one drawing spontaneous mid-presentation applause: Etienne Mineur’s imaginative inventions: playful books and board games integrated with technical wizardry linked to the internet. (See the company’s website: Volumique).

Some conference coverage

The conference was live streamed, and the videos of the presentations are now available. Once on the site, select the session you’re interested in from the sessions list on the right of the screen. The sessions correspond to the order in the BiB program (for example, mine is “Session 3”; the sessions on Day 2, have the day in the name of the video)

Publishing Perspectives had daily reports on the conference. Search using ‘Books in Browsers IV” (here is the review of the first morning’s sessions)

Manuel Schmalstieg of ms-studio handily uploaded his live notes for all the sessions too.

Brian O’Leary wrote a post on Collaborative Creation, addressing the first morning of the conference.

Update: Peter Brantley, Porter Anderson and Lynn Rosen have all written excellent articles on the conference.

Conclusion

The venue, The Internet Archive, was itself a metaphor for the conference: integration of old and new, a reimagining of culture, space and purpose. The building used to be a Christian Science church and now houses one of the largest digital archives in the world, and is staffed by a group of committed people working to keep the internet free and open. The servers blinking away at the back of the ‘auditorium’ hint at the new gods at work and play. And the Psalms at either side of the stage reflected, respected, acknowledged and incorporated the building’s origins.

It was a remarkable conference for the juxtaposition and blend of the old and the new, as well as for the meticulous and wonderful timekeeping. Peter Brantley (@naypinya) of hypothes.is and Kat Meyer (@katmeyer) of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and all the sponsors and speakers should be congratulated on a truly excellent and thought-provoking conference.

Hello, Kindle Worlds and fanfiction; Goodbye, Pearson Education in New Zealand

June 4th, 2013 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Kindle Worlds – a new world of publishing?

Fanfiction is a topic that generally invites disdain from the publishing industry for understandable reasons, although of course there has been attention since the outrageous success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which by now is commonly known to have been based on Twilight fanfiction.  I am hopeful that Amazon’s new venture  Kindle Worlds, which in its current form anyway, seems to be a limited approach to fanfiction (I will cover this more fully in an upcoming article in Publishing Perspectives; update: now published), will nevertheless open up dialogue about fanfiction. The number of fanfiction stories uploaded and read on Wattpad alone is incredible, as shown in this infographic, and online writing is a trend that publishers ignore at their peril.

With the advent of Kindle Worlds, my professional interest in fanfiction as an online model for interactive, dynamic book publishing has garnered some attention. In the past week, courtesy of an article I wrote last year on fanfiction being republished by Publishing Perspectives, I have been contacted by Business Week in the US, been interviewed by the German publishing magazine buchreport.de and wrote the article for Publishing Perspectives.)

Pearson Education in New Zealand – a thing of the past?

In the same week, it was with great sadness that I read that Pearson Education’s New Zealand office was likely to close down. Martin Taylor, long a proponent of digital publishing in New Zealand, wrote an excellent post on what this might mean to New Zealand publishing.

I worked at Pearson for eight years, and was the Editorial and Production Manager, and Content Management representative, until I left to do further postgraduate study in Business Administration and to concentrate on digital publishing and content management. While I haven’t worked at Pearson for some years now, it will always be meaningful to me as I started my publishing career at Pearson Education (Maskew Miller Longman) in Cape Town, and it was Pearson head office’s promotion of technology and content management that first got me thinking about new forms of publishing and sparked my interest in content management.

I wish my ex-colleagues at Pearson, New Zealand, as well as the excellent authors and freelance editors and designers I worked with regularly, the best. I remember well our weekly Editorial and Production morning teas when we each took turns to bake. Some baking could have been contenders for national baking awards, whereas other cakes, for example made by this Anna, were swigged down with a good gulp of tea. Thanks to you all. And I wish you well.

Musings on Digital Publishing (aka Blog in a Book)

October 27th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Digital publishing moves quickly, and a while back, I wanted to see all the posts I’d written over the past year or so to see how they held up [pretty well I think, she says modestly] and it was easy enough to do, but not as easy as it might have been.

And then I thought of Pressbooks and also thought it might be nice to have all my posts available in one easy-to-read place. So I’ve compiled them into a [free] online book here Musings on Digital (thanks Pressbooks).

I’ll update it as I write new blogs.

Anna

Tech and Publishing: From the Outside In

October 2nd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

First of all, let me say I am SO delighted to be going to Frankfurt when New Zealand is the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair!

In finalising things before leaving for the Tools of Change Conference and the Fair, I have been pondering again my dual working life (explored fully in my last post).

I have a foot in both the Tech and the Publishing businesses. Working at a software company keeps me on my toes and reminds me that no matter how much I’ve achieved in the past or how well I’ve done academically, there is always more to learn. I’m not yet fluent in the language of SQL servers, networks, and computer infrastructure, but I can hold a decent conversation. I’ve also learned just how important communication and tacit knowledge is. What people take for granted is often the thing that is the hardest to explain: it’s so ‘known’ that the words are not there. It’s been fascinating to see the theory of Knowledge Management (a postgraduate paper I did last year), borne out. And I am only fully aware of this in this environment because I’ve come from the outside in. I’m no longer the one with all the knowledge.

The proverbial other side of the coin is why it is precisely those from outside an industry who may see the opportunities. We know that the tech startups have much to offer the Publishing industry. However, it’s not just because of their tech skills, but because they are outsiders, with new perspectives. I explore some of this ‘rewriting of narratives’ in an article just published in Publishing Perspectives called ‘Why Fanfics are like Startups‘.

All my new and my own tacit knowledge come together here at Say Books, where I explore my passion for online publishing, and can establish close relationships with authors and readers. I love one on one conversations (Susan Cain, yes!). Of course in the Castle fandom, and with people who share my enthusiasm for publishing, I can be mistaken for an especially outgoing extrovert!

Hello, Frankfurt!

Separation anxiety and the digital divide

July 28th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Or ‘Anna ruminates (endlessly) about who she is in an online world and how to deal with multiple online identities’

I have a relatively complicated, online life, which goes counter to my recommendations for integrated digital strategy! But what I’ve realised, is that this ‘messiness’ is also a reflection of human reality, where subjectivity is neither clear cut nor perfectly integrated.

Bear with me …

Working life

Say Books

For most of last year, I was a Postgraduate student of Business and Administration (Bus Info Systems), and in mid-year co-founded Say Books, our digital publishing consultancy and now also publishing company. This is where my interest in ‘book’ publishing is invested, where I experiment with new business models based on the premise that online is (nearly) everything, and where I blog about digital publishing. It is the account I use to tweet about digital publishing (@saybooks), and the ID I used for posting on LinkedIn in early 2011. It is in this role that I present at publishers’ conferences (Publishers’ Forum, Berlin, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change Conference, Frankfurt in 2011, 2012), and write articles (see Publishing Perspectives here and here).

Author-it Software Corporation

My interest in digital publishing is complemented by my other work, but is separate from it. In September last year, I started working as a Consultant/Project Manager for Author-it Software Corporation, the innovative company in the enterprise content authoring, managing and publishing space. Ever a devotee of content management and technology for publishing, I was immediately attracted to their slogan when someone referred to them in a LinkedIn discussion: One Source. One Solution, and sought them out. It is wonderful working in an environment where innovative thinking, content management and technology is part of the very fibre of the company. (I don’t tweet about Author-it from my @saybooks account because my affiliation with Author-it is not transparent there, and I like to be scrupulous about disclosure.)

Geeking out on Twitter

Another part of my life is devoted to following popular culture and in particular the TV Show, Castle. » Read the rest of this entry «

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