Friday, March 14, 2008

London Word Festival Opens Digital Doors

Yesterday we spoke at the London Word Festival at the Bishopsgate Institute. The event was titled The Creative Word: Book Futures: Reading, Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age. It was great to have a room full of consumers all partisipanting in the ensuing debate. Well done London Word!

For those who enjoyed the speeches and healthy debate here are our words:
Today the future of the book is being changed by the digitization of content, network access and globalization. It is a complex issue and is not unlike climate change in that it has doom mongers, prophets, experts and many who want to ignore it and hope it goes away or seek leadership. We all know that it’s happening. We all know the impact is going to be significant. However, no one knows when, by how much and what the result will be.

Today, we focus much debate on the ebook, ebookreaders and the consumer demand. The reality is that we are predicting and discussing consumer demand in a vacuum and what many of us believe is transient technology. The vacuum I refer to is a lack of digital content and consumer offer. The issue today is not the ebook or readers or formats: it’s that there is little if no digital content and publishing is still in the main an analogue process that produces bound books. What is the use of an ebookreader if there is little content and few places to buy it.

I come for the firm belief that Digital Publishing is Publishing.

It is not about ebooks, audio book downloads, online, podcasts, blogs, widgets etc. these are merely the delivery formats. It is about haw and what we create, the rights that are acquired and traded, developed, produced, marketed, sold and read. It is about the changing roles and relationships rights across the life cycle from Author to Reader. It is about rights across its life cycle from creation to public domain. It is also about understanding consumer behavior.

The big problem is that we all love and are comfortable with books. Authors love to write them, editors love to edit them and readers love to read them. We have been educated with them and have grown up with them.

If asked to describe a book many would describe its size, even the number of pages and authors the number of words. All books consist of front matter, content and end matter.

I would suggest that the form has always dictated the content format and its creation. Some would argue that the bound book has been a straightjacket to creativity in that it has dictated what many write even how they write. Have creators adapted to it? Yes. Have some great works been created in it? Yes.

However, digitization now creates the opportunity to explode the spine of what we have known for the last few centuries and present content differently. Will it replace the book? No. Will it replace the book – No? Will it help redefine it and how we develop and sell it – most definitely?

Will the digital book be the same as the physical one. I hope not otherwise we will have fallen into the same trap as we did between the hardback and the paperback and to a lesser degree the audiobook.

In removing the straightjacket we also start to potentially express ourselves differently. Look at some online reference works, at what travel publishers are now starting to do with their content and what authors such as Kate Pullinger are doing with her ‘ Alice’ novel. There are many examples we could quote as reference and some will work and others will not. But the common thread and enabler is digitization.

Is that wrong or right? Who cares? Creativity and expression is not a book nor is it a blog or anything between. Dickens wrote in installments as did Stephen King when he wrote ‘Riding the Bullet’ and some Japanese authors are doing similar today in their writing for mobiles. You can’t squeeze multi media in between the jacket nor do it as an afterthought.

Unlike climate change, it is not time to defend ourselves against the threat but it is time to engage with it and as Gail Rebuck eloquently said in her speech this week, see it as a glass half full and offering all new and exciting opportunities for all.