Monday’s FutureBook Live conference, hosted by The Bookseller, felt deeply grounded in realistic, achievable innovations; actions we can embed in our daily lives to bring about real change.
The focus of the day was less about VR headsets and more about changing the ways we think: questions such as how we interpret our marketing data, who we welcome into our industry and where we go to meet our readers. Maybe the most important innovations we make today are grounded in the way we approach our vocation as publishers. If we want to build a better world, we need to do more than simply introduce a new types of technology: we need to develop an innovative mindset that looks at all aspects of our work. As FutureBook’s Molly Flatt said in her introduction, what we do as publishers matters.
Before we start talking about audiobooks, can you give us a quick intro to Kobo Writing Life?
Launched in 2012, Kobo Writing Life is a global DIY publishing platform that empowers authors to take their publishing career into their own hands. With Kobo Writing Life, you own your rights, set your prices and can distribute your books in any country you choose. We don’t ask for any exclusivity, so you are free to publish wherever else you please. We are a small team of industry experts with a big vision and an enormous passion for books, we are proud of our reputation as the most author-friendly platform out there.
We’re told that publishing should be more innovative. We get it – innovation will help build a robust industry for the future. But where do we start as individuals who already have more than enough to do? We’re too busy commissioning, editing, designing, promoting and selling books to make time for breakthrough thinking.
When the incredible text of Greta and the Giants landed on our desks, we knew that it wasn’t just an opportunity to publish a great book. It was an opportunity to look at how we publish books in general. Was there a way that we could do business (and still, let’s be honest, make money) but also be kinder to the environment?
Influx Press is an independent publisher based in north London. Influx is committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction from across the UK and beyond, and they have just launched a new subscription model for 2020. In this interview, co-founder Kit Caless explains the thinking behind this new project.
Beyond creating a cover and converting an MS Word file, ebooks are
evolving – exponentially. Yet, bridging the gap between traditional print
methods with digital innovation has created huge barriers for authors not being
able to sell one version of their work across all platforms.
Louise Newton is an Audio Assistant at Little, Brown Book Group, and works across all imprints at Little, Brown on fiction and non-fiction titles. Louise is London Chair for the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and assists the Royal Society of Literature at their events.
The Future Today Institute has created a terrific, free report summarizing key technology trends and what they mean for tomorrow. I’ve embedded the report below so you can quickly flip through it.
I read the whole report and highlighted the most noteworthy elements for publishers below. That leads me (once again) to the topic of curation, a very important (current and) future publishing trend. Curation is becoming as important as creation, especially as we’re bombarded with more information than we can possibly consume.
As you read through my curated list below, with slide numbers in parenthesis, be sure to look at each item through the lens of publishing. How will each one of these affect how your content is discovered, acquired and consumed in the future?
(Slide 15) – This type of automation will be combined with other emerging technologies, leading to things like highly customized audio learning platforms where the UI is totally voice-controlled (see SVPAs below).
Natural Language Generation
(Slide 17) – I’ve written before about Narrative Science and I’m confident we’ll see more and more algorithmically-generated content in the future.
Smart Virtual Personal Assistants, or SVPAs
(Slide 22) – Alexa is the one I use every day when interacting with my Amazon Tap device. Expect this one to evolve quickly as today’s functionality will be considered very primitive in a year or so.
(Slide 23) – Beacons haven’t taken off yet but they represent such an interesting opportunity. Think of all the interesting things your local bookstore could do with beacons and promotional content.
(Slide 25) – Despite the lame name, this one will have a significant impact on the ongoing evolution of content presentation, especially when married to beacons and additional knowledge of the user’s current state.
(Slide 36) – Up to now, creators of user-generated content seem more interested in visibility than compensation, but how long will that be the case?
(Slide 39) – Podcasts are dead, right? No, in fact there’s a significant opportunity in smaller, more tightly-focused audiences. This market concentration likely leads to higher subscription prices and/or advertising rates.
Intentional Rabbit Holes
(Slide 42) – Great concept that’s all about deeper engagement. What services can you add to your site or content to encourage readers to take a deeper dive and perhaps expose them to additional monetization opportunities?
(Slide 52) – It’s been around for a while but was only recently legitimized by Pokemon Go. Think of all the ways your content could be augmented via tools like Layar, for example.
Internet of X
(Slide 63) – Let’s say you’re a publisher of architecture books and other short-form content about design and construction. What’s preventing you from creating The Internet of Architecture?
Each of these are on different timelines, of course, and won’t affect content at the same moment. All of them, however, are likely to have a profound impact on just about every type of content in the next few years.
Long considered nothing more than a gimmicky fad, it turns out that augmented reality (AR) is actually alive and well. At least that’s the case when it’s associated with a brand as large as Pokemon.
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard all the Pokemon Go stories and maybe you’ve even dodged a player or two, overly-focused on their phone while embarking on a virtual hunting expedition. On the surface it’s nothing more than another time-wasting game but I believe it offers some very important lessons for publishers.
Let’s start with the hybrid, print-plus-digital opportunity. Recent reports indicate ebook sales have plateaued and growth has shifted back to the print format. There are a number of underlying reasons for these trends including higher ebook prices as well as the adult coloring book phenomenon. But as I’ve said before, publishers need to stop thinking about print and digital as an either/or proposition. Some customers prefer print while others lean towards digital. Many readers are in both camps, switching between print and digital based on genre, pricing, convenience, etc.
Most publishers overlook the fact that digital can be used to complement and enhance print. Skeptical? Have a look at a few of the demos Layar offers on this page.
Stop and think about how something like Layar could be used to bring your static pages to life. Maybe you publish how-to guides, print is your dominant format and you’ve always wondered how you could integrate videos with the text. You’ve tried inserting urls but very few readers bother typing them in. QR codes are an option but they’re clunky and take up precious space on the page. Why not use AR to virtually overlay those videos on the page without having to dump in a bunch of cryptic-looking urls or QR codes?
Are you looking to engage your readers in the book’s/author’s social stream? Here’s your chance to integrate them virtually using a platform like Layar.
Better yet… have you always wanted to know who all those nameless, faceless consumers are who bought your print book from third-party retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Here’s an opportunity as a publisher or author to initiate a conversation directly with your readers. Add an Easter egg to the print edition where readers can receive a reward via an AR-powered offer; you will, of course, ask for each reader’s name and email address before handing out those rewards.
This approach to marrying digital to print is totally unobtrusive. Print readers who don’t want to bother with their phones can continue reading the book without interruption. Those customers interested in learning more, interacting with authors or uncovering special publisher offers will likely see the value of connecting their phones with the printed page.
The possibilities are endless. So the next time you see a Pokemon Go player wandering aimlessly be sure to thank them for helping identify new ways of distributing, promoting and enriching content.
Charlotte Eyre is Children’s Editor at The Bookseller, covering the UK children’s and YA book market. She is also chair of the @YABookPrize, and programmes the annual Bookseller Children’s Conference. Here Norah Myers interviews her.
1) What are the current trends in children’s publishing and how do you see them evolving through the rest of 2016?
Publishers are more and more looking to publish books that will become brands, as they want the film, TV and merchandise opportunities, rather than publish stories for their own sake.
Celebrity and YouTube publishing is also hugely popular, as a YouTuber with a massive following has an instant audience to buy a book.
Also, there’s been a lot of really great middle-grade fiction recently and it seems like many publishers are focusing on fiction for this younger age group rather than YA, although they haven’t forgotten their teen audience.
In terms of these trends going forward, the bigger publishers will focus more and more on licensing and brands, leaving room for the smaller independents to focus on author-led publishing. I can’t see the trend for celebrity and YouTube publishing going away until one of these books massively fails, in which case publishers will start to tread more carefully, but it’s hard to say when and if that will happen. Finally, publishers will continue to look for fantastic middle-grade fiction although I know they are also keeping their eye out for the next YA hit. The industry is definitely hungry for the next Hunger Games or Divergent.
2) How have the recent sales of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child affected the children’s and YA market?
The success of J K Rowling several years ago helped create one of the biggest growth surges children’s publishing has ever seen, which is partly why the industry is booming at the moment. However, ‘J K Rowling’s Wizarding World’ is now such a well-oiled media machine I think most people think of Harry Potter as being a category of its own. If you’re a publisher with a Harry Potter licensing deal, the success of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is great for you. If not, it’s probably not going to affect you either way.
3) What are the strongest diversity-based themes you see in children’s literature, and what do you hope to see more of?
The lack of diversity in children’s publishing is still an issue and no-one has seemingly solved the problem yet. There have been a few YA novels where the authors have determinedly included a range of diverse characters but these kinds of books sometimes feel like the writer is just ticking off a checklist.
I’d like to read books from a more diverse range of authors because then the stories would be more authentic, in my opinion. I’d also really like to read an adventure story where a BAME character is the lead rather than a side-kick.
I’d also like to see more northern stories.
4) How has digital publishing affected the children’s and YA market?
The ebook revolution has had little or no effect on the children’s and YA market. Children don’t read ebooks, as their parents generally want them to stick to print, and teens don’t seem that bothered either. The big change in publishing is social media and the impact of Facebook, twitter and instagram. Kids are constantly using these platforms and publishers have to think about how to market to children there, as well as how to lure readers off their devices. It’s both an opportunity and a challenge.
5) What advice do you have for anyone who aspires to work in children’s publishing?
First, network. Introduce yourself to local event or festival organisers and ask if you can volunteer. If you can, get yourself to a city and attend some of the big events like YALC in London or DeptCon in Dublin, where you can get to know book people.
Secondly, engage with children’s book chats on social media. If you talk about books you love on twitter you will soon find hundreds of people who want to do the same. It’s a great way to meet like-minded book fans and hear about opportunities in the publishing world.
Thirdly, if you can get a Saturday job at a local bookshop, do. You may decide to start a career in bookselling or it will give you a launchpad to work in other areas of the business.
I remember the first time I heard the phrase “info snacking” back in 2007. It was when the Kindle launched and Jeff Bezos said his newfangled device would slow the info snacking trend and enable deeper engagement with content.
The Kindle platform certainly launched the ebook revolution but it’s interesting that it didn’t halt short-form content momentum. In fact, I’d argue that info snacking is more popular than ever before and, ironically, that popularity is largely driven by Bezos’ own company, Amazon.
Remember the late 1990’s when it seemed like publishers could generate digital income by selling individual book chapters? Once upon a time I too thought that might be a viable model but in hindsight it’s clear books and chapters can’t be treated like albums and songs. Most books are written so that the individual chapters are too reliant on each other, thereby making them far less valuable individually.
We need to think about taking things in the opposite direction. Rather than tearing apart a book and trying to sell individual chapters, content needs to be developed in short, granular formats so that each piece can be sold on its own and can be remixed with other granular pieces. And while this is mostly true for non-fiction I can see where it also has potential for some fiction works as well.
Short-form content success is all around us. Amazon launched Kindle Singles several years ago and the program has grown to more than 2,000 titles today. A few days ago they announced a program called Singles Classics where they’re breathing new life into older short-form evergreen content from the pre-digital era. And earlier this month they launched a short-form initiative within one of their audio subsidiaries called Audible Channels.
All of this simply reflects the fact that we’re all pressed for time but we still want to consume content. Sure, there’s nothing quite like fully immersing yourself in a long book written by a wonderful storyteller. But these short form services are simply addressing our craving to be hyper-efficient, aware of the latest trends in our jobs/careers and always up-to-the-date on worldly news.
Attending an event on ‘new trends’ seems apt at this time, just as everyone is ramping up on their Frankfurt preparation. We took away much more than 10 lessons from this jam-packed morning – but thought 10 might just whet your appetite for now.
Ruth Jones (Publisher Business Development, Ingram Content Group):
Amazon chose to go to market first with books, because books are well-ordered and categorized. Publishers understand their IP and know how to sell under ‘normal’ conditions – which helps to ride any waves of uncertainty and makes experimentation easier to manage.
It is thought that young people who spend time online have small attention spans as they constantly engage with bite-size content. This is just not true – they have huge attention spans, but only for content that is relevant, engaging and personalized to them.
Richard Orme (Chief Executive, DAISY Consortium):
Captain Ian Fraser lost his sight during Battle of Somme. Because of this, he worked with RNIB to find a reading machine for other blind soldiers. RNIB and DAISY now work with publishers to make sure as many books as possible are published in accessible formats so they can be enjoyed at the same time by anyone, regardless of their reading requirements or preferences.
The Marrakesh Treaty facilitates access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled. It was the fastest UN treaty to ever be signed, and it comes into force on 30th September 2016. The Treaty lays out specific rules for accessible formats.
Natalie Smith (Associate, Harbottle & Lewis):
The data protection act was made in 1998, so needs updating in line with changes to the way businesses operate. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into direct effect in the EU from 25 May 2018. It will result in big changes, and higher penalties for misuse of data.
Even if the UK leaves the EU, we will still need to comply and adjust to the GDPR standards, because they will have a new extra-territorial scope for those, from outside, who do business with the EU.
Andre Breedt (Director Book Research International, Nielsen Book):
New research from Nielsen shows that the most important element of successful book sales is uploading a cover image with your book data. 83.2% of books sold had a ‘full-set’ of metadata assigned to them.
Timing is also important for a successful book launch. It is advised by BIC that metadata is provided 16 weeks prior to a publication date.
Florin Craciun (Head of Sales, Ingenta):
Your backlist, is another publishers frontlist. In other words – a good place to look, when trying to increase revenues is monetization of the backlist.
Revenue from rights departments flows to the bottom line. Historically there has been minimal investment in the infrastructure of rights departments; and this too, can be an ideal place to focus for increased revenues.
Thanks to BIC for hosting such an interesting event!
Digital formats provide a wealth of opportunity to experiment with, and push the boundaries of, the traditional book. With much focus on what this can do to engage children in reading, here Jana Sukenikova takes a look at the origins of the interactive children’s book and why she used monsters as the topic of her most recent design project.
Monsters became very popular in this century, from Vampires to Werewolves to Dragons, Skeletons and many, many different kinds. When I was conducting research for my recent project, I was disappointed by the selection of books on the topic of monsters in the town library. Badly chosen fonts were fighting with weak and inappropriate illustrations, with everything looking ‘glued’ together rather than being well-designed. I passionately wanted to change this situation – by making a special monster book!
How monsters were born
This project was born from a coincidence when I was babysitting my little cousin. While we were drawing together I asked her “How do you imagine Monsters?“ I realised that her imagination of monsters is completely different to mine when I was her age. So I decided to put together a book, which will show adults and all children a completely new approach to a world of spooks.
I asked children in the local nursery school for help and the results were awesome! They produced around 100 illustrations to get started with and a third of these were bedsheet ghosts.
Make a toy from your book
Backgrounds, monsters and stories become a living, breathing thing by adding interactive elements. Interactive elements are the inspiration behind many of the books I found while researching. My Book is filled with pop-up monsters, stickers, monsters based on dress-up dolls, foils, mechanical parts, embossed illustrations, monsters base on coloring books etc.
Two dimensional objects are changed to 3D objects by folding paper mechanisms. These plastic models were used for the first time in the mid-19th century, when London publishing companies Dean & Son and Darton & Co added 3D parts into well known 2D scenes. Success came almost immediately. Pioneer of the best Pop Up books was the German illustrator and writer Lothar Meggendörfer (1847–1925) Some of his most famous books include Dolls House and Grand Cirque International.
Pieces of cardboard with interchangeable fashion costumes were popular in the rich classes for both men and women in Europe and America in the late 18th century.
The first manufactured paper doll was Little Fanny, produced by S & J Fuller in London 1810. Before Barbie doll was introduced to the world, paper dolls had a significant role in the lives of children.
In mid-1700 in France “Pantins” dolls were developed to rise against french upper class and royal courts. „Jumping Jacks“ figures were something between a marionette and Paper Doll and they were made to taunt society. Jack developed into a paper element in the books for children, where the base is an illustration and the body parts and head are movable with the help of rivets.
There are many ways to make a book more attractive and engaging for children or adults (both in print and digital). Just go to the library and have a look, you will find plenty of inspiration for your next print or digital project.
Jana Sukenikova aka Fanah Shapeless is a multi-disciplined graphic designer specialising in Book Design, Layout, Brand identity, Print and Digital Design, Boardgames, Illustrations. Check out more of her work here.