November 1st, 2013 by Anna von Veh § § 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.
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.
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.
July 18th, 2013 by Anna von Veh § § 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
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?
October 27th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § 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.
October 2nd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § 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!
July 28th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § 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 …
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 «