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.

The PANZ Book Design Awards, digital absence, and lessons to be learned from Educational Publishing

July 18th, 2013 by Anna von Veh § 2 comments § permalink

Digital publishing didn’t make an appearance at the PANZ Book Design Awards that were held tonight (18 July 2013) at the beautiful Gus Fisher Gallery at the University of Auckland.

It was a lovely evening, with luminaries from the New Zealand Publishing industry and others in attendance. Of course, one couldn’t ignore that many people are feeling unsettled by the merger between Penguin and Random and the seemingly inevitable job losses to come, the closure of Pearson’s education branch in New Zealand, the cutbacks at Pearson Australia, and the news of Lonely Planet’s demise in Australia.

The speeches were entertaining and enjoyable. Alan Deare won four awards, including the Gerard Reid Award for Best Book (sponsored by Nielsen Book Services) for On Song, published by Penguin, and gave weary, droll, thank-you speeches which were a mixture of appreciation and the seen-it-all cynicism of someone who has worked in the publishing industry for many years.

The shortlisted books were beautiful. There was creative use of typography, and some striking covers, including a maths book, published by Pearson, which surprised everyone but the Educational publishers.

Essential Maths and Stats by David Barton and David Cox, cover design by Cameron Gibb

Essential Maths and Stats by David Barton and David Cox; cover design by Cameron Gibb

Educational books tend to be patronized by trade publishing, and that was evident in comments tonight too, but they are true tests of a designer’s skill. Designers are constrained by budget, the curriculum, the requirement for consistency, unforgiving deadlines, and sometimes challenging content (Essential Maths and Stats. Hmm).  The user experience is vital, not just a ‘nice to have’.

Textbooks are what I call ‘tipping point’ books. They sit at that edge between the old ‘aesthetics’ of handcrafted book design (yes, including in Adobe InDesign) and the structure required of content management and true digital workflows. Trade publishing could learn a lot from educational publishing.

But I digress.  The absence of any digital presence, even in the speeches, was both surprising and it seems, to be expected.

I long for the day when local Book Design Awards include true digital books, not just ebooks, or ‘enhanced’ ebooks, or god forbid, fixed layout ebooks, but books that start with flow and ebb, that use the liquidity that digital provides.

Light, space, movement. What could skillful designers do with that?

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.

Kia ora, Frankfurt Book Fair

November 21st, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair this year was special of course because New Zealand was Guest of Honour. I  loved the quiet spaces at the New Zealand Pavilion where dreams of water, myths, stories, and history swirled in sounds of dark and light. (For once, the word ‘twilight’ in a publishing context didn’t conjure up visions of vampires.)

Inside the New Zealand Pavilion

Inside the New Zealand pavilion

My week started with my participation in a panel on The Evolving Role of Readers at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. I am interested in online publishing for books, with a particular interest in using fanfiction as a business model. My fellow panelists were Allen Lau and Amy Martin of the online writing platform, Wattpad, and the moderator was Ami Greko of Kobo. Wattpad is a phenomenal success, with numbers of readers and writers in the millions, and viewing minutes in the billions per month. This is the future of reading (and possibly publishing), most of it on mobile. Even Margaret Atwood is a fan.

That evening, I attended the Official Opening Ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair and I wore my silver fern brooch with such pride. Bill Manhire’s speech was quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ and his easy going, intelligent and kind and generous words resonated with everyone. Bill English and Joy Cowley also gave good speeches, and it really was a good night to be a New Zealander.

I spent one day enjoying the sites of Frankfurt and had the bizarre experience of reading Fifty Shades of Grey (it really was research for our panel) at a café on the river and then visiting the nearby 12th century Cathedral called the Dom. #wordsfailme #definitionofirony

The Fair itself is larger than one can even begin to imagine, and even though I’d been there last year, I was still amazed.

Just one of the many Halls. Shuttles ferry tired visitors between the Halls

Digital played a much larger role this year, with several stages devoted to discussions of digital publishing of one sort or another, and the StoryDrive Conference was a magnet for many.  I also attended an excellent presentation on Networked Publishing arranged by Helmut von Berg of Klopotek, moderated by David Worlock, with a distinguished panel of speakers (Brian O’Leary, Fionnuala Duggan, Ingrid Goldstein and Christian Dirschl) which looked beyond digital product.

The actual footprint of digital products was still small in comparison to the still almost overwhelming focus on print. In the ebook survey conducted by Bowker (discussed in a keynote at the Tools of Change Conference), New Zealand had one of the lowest uptakes of ebooks, but I imagine our presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the resulting demand for New Zealand titles might well drive quicker exploration of digital in New Zealand too.

The New Zealand stand bustled with activity every time I stopped by. It seemed everyone at the fair was interested in New Zealand as a whole, not just in its publishing. We are so far away from nearly anywhere else, that it seems almost a mystical place to many people.

It was truly a memorable  experience to be at the Fair this year. And congratulations to all who were involved in creating the wonderfully creative and wide-ranging representation of New Zealand culture.

Home sweet home

 

 

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

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