"Software is eating the world," said Marc Andreessen, in 2011. So why don’t you and your team learn to make it, for free?
Every day of the week, there are free learn-to-code events across the country put on by various players in the tech world, and there are endless online resources for those who prefer learning on their own. But if you work in the book business, it’s hard to know what sort of coding might be applicable to you—or whether you’re cut out for coding, at all.
If only there were a group of publishers who know how to code that would put together a free coding workshop designed specifically for the book business…
Marc Andreessen wrote his 2011 article from a global perspective, but the book trade still got a mention: "Perhaps the single most dramatic example of [software eating the world is when] Borders agreed to hand over its online business to Amazon under the theory that online book sales were non-strategic and unimportant." The shameful reality is that we’ve not moved on enough in the years since that article was published. As an industry, we are not bringing enough scrutiny to our existing technology, and we are not building the skills to future-proof ourselves.
Paying too much
The publishing industry doesn’t prioritise technical literacy as a standard requirement across all its departments. But without practical knowledge of how software is built—at a marketing, editorial, production and sales team level—it is harder to brief websites, understand the complexity of digital tools, predict the scheduling of a digital project, and communicate effectively with developers.
As a result, from bookstores to publishing houses, teams often pay too much for software. We run the risk of selecting the wrong technology partners because we don’t know what to ask. And we have far, far too low an expectation of technology—all of which costs us, in time, reputation damage, and cold, hard cash.
Not paying enough
At the same time, we are not paying enough for software—the websites, web apps and in-house tools that help us to publish better. We are not paying to train knowledgeable staff, not spending the time to build our own solutions. The time we spend struggling with industry websites and web tools multiplies exponentially—outsiders marvel at how terrible our software can be.
There isn’t enough investment in process automation, or workflow software, or data analysis.
Software that meets needs, saves time, and makes the sale has huge value. It’s worth building, and it should at least be possible for it to be built by publishers themselves.
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The great news is that it is so much more cost-effective to train book people about software than it is to train software people about books. Publishing is complicated and filled with edge cases and exceptions to the rules. Software is easier! (It’s exactly this sort of valuable insight, by the way, that you get from having coding experience.)
And so, to kick-start a coding revolution in the book industry, my colleagues and I at the company behind publishing management system Consonance (the sister company of indie publisher Snowbooks and schools publisher Make Our Book) are putting on FutureBook’s Day of Code on 22 November. Day of Code will empower the next generation of booksellers and publishers to make better decisions, save millions of pounds and demand more of the software they use every day.
Modelled on the global initiative Rails Girls, where the Consonance team volunteers to coach every year, delegates will build a live book-catalogue website, with a list page and a dedicated page per book, using free technology and book data provided by Nielsen. You will publish your website to the web and can continue to develop it after the workshop. You will see that coding isn’t the impossible mystery it’s made out to be, but is instead a practice incredibly well-suited to people who love words, grammar, language, story, process, the narrative arc, and poetry. Book people, in other words.
This exclusive course, created especially by us as publishers who code, is included in the price of a FutureBook 2019 ticket, but you must apply separately after buying your FutureBook ticket: space is strictly limited to 40 delegates. Supported by about 15 coaches, the Day of Code will allow you to learn from the people already at the intersection of publishing and technology, push the limits of your work productivity, and gain new ideas on how to incorporate technology within your own business.
Everyone we approached to help pull this off have been immediately supportive, and I’m thrilled that my old employer Hachette needed no convincing to be the host of the event.
George Walkley, Hachette UK Group Digital and Development Director, says “Hachette is the UK’s leading digital publisher and we’ve come a long way in our digital transformation. But as the world around us changes we’re also aware of how much more there is to do, so we are delighted to be hosting the FutureBook Day of Code. From managing the universe of data available to us to producing new digital products and services, coding skills allow publishers to work more effectively and innovatively. We hope that both our colleagues and our guests on the day will come away enthused and empowered.”
Chris Howell, Hachette's UK Chief Information Officer, agrees: “Language has the ability to inspire, engage and bring people together. I am really excited to see how coding languages can bring even more creativity into publishing and enhance the relationships between publishers and their technology partners.”
This event is the pinnacle of a very personal journey for me and a number of the other coaches. In 2014, as a children’s book editor, I participated in the Bookseller’s FutureBook Hack. It was one of the pivotal moments that led me to becoming a software developer. I’ve had such a lot of free, supportive help along the way and the idea for Day of Code is to extend that support in a publishing-specific way to the industry that I love.
Many of the other coaches have similar stories and are keen to proselytise the message that coding and publishing are a match made in heaven.
Free places available
We have written some words for you to use to convince your boss that going to FutureBook is enormously valuable to the future of your company: download them from the Day of Code website. But if there is no way you can get the money to attend FutureBook, we are very pleased that The Bookseller has kindly offered 5 places on this course—with a free FutureBook ticket included—for under-represented groups in the book industry. Details for how to apply will be released nearer the time; register your interest on the Day of Code website.
If you have some coding experience and want to help us encourage book industry people who think that coding might be inaccessible to them and shatter the illusion that coding is impossible, or 'not for people like me’, we need you! We are looking for coaches who are comfortable on the command line, able to read documentation and field questions from delegates to join our coaching team. Already we have some of the most prominent and enthusiastic publisher-programmers in the book trade signed up to coach, and we'd really like you to join us, particularly if you come from the tech world and have an interest in books.
Visit https://2019.dayofcode.co.uk for all the details and to register your interest. Or for more on FutureBook, visit, https://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook-conference.