BookNet Tech Forum 2013: From Digital Literacy to Digital Fluency

Hurrah! Today was the BookNet Canada Tech Forum at the MaRS Centre in downtown Toronto. The Canadian book publishing industry came together to talk about the future of publishing and some great new ideas were brought forward. This annual event is definitely a highlight of the year for me, offering a chance to step back and look at where my industry is heading.

The morning started out with some heavyweight food for thought from Robert Levine (How Publishing Can Avoid the Fate of the Music Industry) and Brian O’Leary (Content as a Service). Both gentlemen offered their own view on how publishing is changing in light of the digital shift.

Robert Levine compared the fate of the music and newspaper industries to book publishing and argued that when readers have an affinity to writing and see value in books, they are willing to pay. People would rather buy books because of their perceived value over renting a movie or music.

Likewise, Brian O’Leary had a lot to say about the value of a book, but he is convinced that digital books break apart the “container-driven” business models, and we have to find new business models that are driven by the publisher as a service provider. It’s a thought I’ve heard before, but O’Leary expresses this thought quite well. It means that publishers are community organizers.

Which segues quite well into a project by another speaker, Brett Sandusky, whose startup-in-progress Holocene offers DIY readers projects in a step-by-step and value-added environment for smartphones and tablets. Holocene as publisher becomes a community organizer for DIY readers. How can current publishers adopt this kind of model to their existing content and business?

I couldn’t help but be happy for a truly geeky presentation by Graham Bell of Editeur who talked about linked data as it applies to the future of metadata. New to me, and many in the room, was the ISNI (International Standard Name Indentifier). At isni.org contributors are tagged with a unique number applicable worldwide that can both disambiguate for authors of same name and create cross-media linkages for contributors such as Russell Brand (musician and author). Brand’s works are now linked to provide greater accuracy and depth for systems.

Phew! And that was one packed morning with lots of ideas!

In the afternoon, I got to hear about how apps can provide publishers with greater discoverability on mobile platforms from Brenda Walker. Just having a basic app in the appstore could offer ways to get potential book buyers from those who may not be searching for book necessarily. Walker’s EndTap is a service to insert a sophisticated, yet cost-effective, merchandising solution into ebooks. Basically a page at the end of the ebook offering links to more books on a similar subject.

Then I was inundated with numbers and trends about the Canadian book buyer — a survey conducted by BookNet Canada. You can find out all about that in their publications.

Ending off the day on an optimistic note were two excellent, experienced presenters: Michael Tamblyn of Kobo and Robert Wheaton of Random House.

Tamblyn is a favourite speaker of mine for his energy and enthusiasm for data about book buying. But this year instead of analysis of trends in the marketplace, he looked at the collateral good from the ebook market. Kobo is partnering with indie retailers in the States to put devices and ebook sales into the stores of the indies, which is leading to many positive stories. As well, Tamblyn pointed out that ebooks are being read in developing countries and being read by an older generation with barriers to access print books. This democratization of knowledge is definitely a positive spin to put on the ebook industry.

Robert Wheaton expanded on some ideas I’ve heard him express before about lightweight technologies to watch for that will affect publishing and how experimentation is key to success in opening digital spaces within traditional publishing.

And there’s my brief summary of what a great day I had hearing about and discussing the new digital fluency we need to have in publishing to keep up with these a changing times.