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BookMachine Everywhere [REVIEW]

This is a guest post from Charlotte Whitbread, Business Manager, at Book Industry Communications Ltd.

On 25 September 2013 BookMachine (@BookMachine) held simultaneous events across the globe, covering 6 cities, 4 countries and 2 continents. With book trade professionals gathering in Barcelona, Brighton, London, New York, Oxford and Toronto, the international nature of the book market has never been felt so keenly as it was for me then, in the depths of a pub near Great Portland Street! Books may be evolving faster and travelling further than ever, but the pub was certainly not: no card payments under £5 – it’s 2013, not 1302 my good barman. However, thanks to generous sponsor PLS (A loyal BIC Member! @BIC1UK), there was wine a plenty.

Anna Faherty (@mafunyane) – writer, editor, and lecturer at the School of Journalism and Publishing, Kingston University – was our cheerful introducer. It was with great energy that Anna paved the way for our primary speaker of the evening (Eric Huang, Development Director at Made In Me, @dinoboy89) with a few words on the importance of building strong creative relationships, and working collaboratively to sustain the industry long term – a theme that would continue throughout the evening. Following a quick announcement on BookMachine’s new online network for publishing professionals, Bookmachine.me, Eric took the floor to great applause.

Following this event, what I now do not know about Eric’s career could fit on a stamp. Eric has had a very interesting career, and the personal journey he has taken says a lot about the direction that the book trade has taken, and the road it continues to follow. Back in the day when books were only printed on paper (a lone tear falls down my cheek…), Eric was a young self-professed geek, avid reader, and dinosaur-lover living and learning to navigate life in sunny Los Angeles. After studying palaeontology at Berkeley, Eric moved around a bit before settling at Disney Animation. Eric worked on transmedia for Toystory, and the expansion of other brands through both traditional books and new media. Oh so that’s how Disney make all their money! Publishers take note.

Leaving the bright lights and free-refills of the USA behind, Eric travelled across the globe to Penguin Australia where he managed license publishing to great success. Listening to Eric, and having heard Tom Chalmers (@Tom_Chalmers) of IPR License (Another fabulous BIC Member) deliver advice on the issue before, I’m convinced that those publishers not licensing their content to the 100th degree are missing out.

At Funtastic Eric secured global rights behind global brands, to such success that they grew to be the number 2 Australian children’s publisher. So impressed by their success, Paragon Publishing proceeded to buy Funtastic. Shortly afterwards Eric left Australia, and in his move to the UK he joined a thriving children’s division at Penguin, opening doors to Fish and Chips, Jonathan Ross, and other things that are said to be bad for our health but seem to be mandatory parts of British life and culture.

Now, a few million years later in publishing years, you’ll find Eric at Made In Me, a digital agency that creates apps, designs products, develops brands and identities, and of course exploits IP to its furthest potential for their clients. Rather than starting at zero with the book, Eric described how they work with a brand or identity first, and then think about the various formats that suit that brand afterwards. Brand trumps format, and as such the creatives in this trade are liberated: the possibilities are, almost, endless.

Toys, clothes, pencil cases, games – the book is still the primary format but as agencies like Made In Me suggest, it’s no longer the be all and end all (I’m stating the obvious). It was interesting to hear from Eric that Made In Me is investing in TV, and even co-producing a few of their projects with other media companies, retaining that creative control. This was positive news to those who may be worrying about the future of traditional publishing roles in the digital age – there is clearly still space for creatives and editors, but they must be adaptable and innovative. Eric’s positive message on being flexible with format and content was ever the more powerful when supported by a previous commercial failure of his own – The Land of Me – that is now getting a new lease of life in a different format. To hear of the differing approaches that games writers are taking to story writing, it would seem that collaboration and the celebration of difference are taking Eric, and books, to exciting and challenging new heights.

As a member of the audience I thoroughly appreciated the demonstrations given of some of Made In Me’s most unbearably cute creations – the Busters Lost Moshlings App (I wish I had my own Moshi Monster!), Me Books (piggys are only cute in apps, not in real life), and a less cute, rather scary dystopian earth of the future called Planet Botz involving robots and not much colour.

Listening to Eric it struck me how nobody really talks about books any more (so old–fash), they talk about content. The point is the book trade cannot operate in isolation – it has to engage with the film, tv, retail and other as yet unnamed sectors if it wants to stay relevant. I have a foreboding that even the word content may eventually become arcane. Perhaps we need a new word that incorporates everything…what about… “books-and-all-book-related-products” – Nah, too limiting. Ok, got it – “any-item-that-can-be-sold-and-relates-to-or-invokes-a-narrative-or-character-of-any-kind-and-that-narrative-or-character-is-licenseable”. Still needs work.

This was my first time at a BookMachine event and I met some good people; some just starting out in publishing, others with years of experience garnered at multiple points in the supply chain. Nevertheless, in spite of the differences between our origins, we’d all got together in the same basement of the same pub on September 25th 2013 because we all like books, and aren’t afraid to collaborate and build new relationships in the name of that passion. So after an enjoyable and informative evening, I’m now looking forward to the next session that Bookmachine has to offer, and wish them every success with their new venture, Bookmachine.me.

Charlotte is Business Manager at BIC. Find out more about BIC here www.bic.org.uk and follow us on Twitter @BIC1UK.

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