You see conferences -- conferencing -- in many ways now. In many places. Or in no places.
Such is digital publishing. Such is digital everything. Everywhere and nowhere. At all times and at no times. World without schedule but hardly without agenda.
And here we are, at The FutureBook, holding what is, in fact, a kind of conference, an ongoing conference, one in which new players are arriving, new voices can be heard. Yours could be among them, we hope it is.
I'm writing to you from a writers' conference called PubSense Summit in Charleston, South Carolina. Some of the cobblestones of this city came to us from England in the pre-Revolutionary War era. And some of the issues of writing being dealt with are, surely, just as old.
But there are new issues, of course. You see them most quickly in the sponsorship. Independent authors -- for the most part, that's who attends this confab -- are courted now by "author services" start-ups. They offer fee-based book-review services, editing, cover design, self-publishing platforms, advertising, crowd-funding. Here are names as familiar as Amazon CreateSpace, Kobo, Nook, IngramSpark, ACX, and Library Journal, and names as new -- and sometimes as cute as so many start-up monikers seem to be -- FreeBooksy, BookFrenzy, AdBiblio, WiseInk, and more.
Publishers Weekly, a publication undergoing change, is here to meet these authors. In a keynote address, publisher and vice-president Cevin Bryerman (pictured) mentioned that he and the recently hired Kat Meyer (also with us here in Charleston) are working on "intimate conference events of 100 or so people," tightly focused on a single issue.
IfBookThen, coming up Friday in Milano, is a gathering of roughly that size, headed by Marco Ferrario and his team at BookRepublic. Its agenda is particularly innovative in terms of bringing us voices from outside the immediate publishing mix. I'm glad to be speaking there, myself -- about (wait for it) conferences.
And like so much in Milano, the topic couldn't be more in vogue. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, design curator and R&D director Paola Antonelli (who has at times called Milano home) is holding one of her salons this week on "Conferences, Conferences, Conferences."
My question in Milano will be about the first two syllables: Confer. As much as we love our conferences in publishing, it's awfully easy to do a lot of "-encing" without "conferring," isn't it? That's what pageant wagons are for, right? Maybe there are options.
Here at The FutureBook, you may notice several voices appearing repeatedly. I'm pleased to tell you that's no accident.
We have invited a small cohort of players in and around the industry to come to us on what I like to characterize as a "hidden calendar" -- hidden because these are busy people and Porter's waiting for my next column may not be their happiest thought.
So we're working on a structure that promises them a bit of flexibility. We may slip and slide, gracefully if we're lucky, on exact scheduling, but in a generally monthly rotation, we want to get the benefit of these folks' ongoing observations and insights -- mixed in at times with commentary from others. Do drop me a line when you'd like to explore writing a piece: Porter.Anderson@TheBookseller.com
The FutureBook is not only the name of an annual conference, itself, of course, but is also The Bookseller's digital-publishing community site. Eyes wide open, knuckles white on the joysticks, we're dialing for diodes here, and we think that getting into a big room to talk about it just once a year is not enough. Think of us as a kind of hovering confab — get that drone out of your mind — the sweet murmur of digital somethings in your ear, always here when your Campari is fresh.
Perhaps you noted game designer, television producer, and author Dave Morris' piece over the weekend for us about Fay Weldon's comments and those of Anthony Trollope. "We could all do with better writing," Morris wrote at one point. Yes, we could. "War and Peace goes down a lot smoother than a Dan Brown novel, let me tell you." I'm only too happy to let him tell you. And then I duck as you respond.
There's more about his experiences in a 14-month march to his new television drama series, too, in Not so much cockpit as pulpit. in that one, Morris quotes Michael Bhaskar, the head of publishing at the new digital-first Canelo, writing:
When you look at the content that works best today – Game of Thrones and a subscription to the Premier League included – what stands out are the stories that transcend medium.
And speaking of Michael Bhaskar, he's with us, too.
In Imprints, formats, and people, Bhaskar -- who is working on a new book for Little, Brown to follow to his The Content Machine about curation in the digital world -- helped us with some perspective after a weekly FutureBook #FutureChat sessions on the question of what imprints mean in today's business.
To learn more about his new venture with Iain Millar and Nick Barreto, see Bhaskar's Canelo: a new hope from The Bookseller editor, my colleague Philip Jones.
And you'll hear again soon here at The FutureBook from Bhaskar, his turn on that "hidden calendar" is coming up again relatively soon.
I'm delighted that Molly Barton is joining us from New York. The former global digital director with Penguin, Barton built the $1.5 million community-curated publishing platform Book Country — quite controversial at the time — and revived the old brand, Penguin Specials, in order to create a new line of digital-first short fiction and nonfiction.
She now is principal with The Proper Company, acting as digital media strategist to a select group of start-ups.
You should be reading Barton's first piece for us here quite soon.
Sara O'Connor, now up to her elbows in learning to code, is taking us along on her journey out -- out of publishing, that is, from more than a dozen years in editing children's books. In her first piece for us, Why I'm leaving publishing for tech, she explained what was happening;
Ideally, I’d be able to channel all my years of trying to make books happen into projects that actually make books happen. And I want to help break down the walls of resistance to digital still inside publishing.
And she already has come back to us with an update from the buzzing, blinking, edgy edge of maker-ism and code-competence, The comforts of coding, or not:
Confession: I cannot get a single thing to validate in session 2 of Ruby Kickstarter, nor on CodeWars.
Tuesday was the first day of the full-time course and, in a series of big-picture lectures, the education team at Makers assured me that in a week or two’s time, I’ll look back and laugh breezily about the things I can’t do now.
But right now I feel so uncomfortable!
Years before O'Connor donned the 'chute and jumped, Emma Barnes went over the side on much the same mission. Barnes has created not only Snowbooks in 2003, but has gone on to win The FutureBook Innovation Award for her Bibliocloud system for publishing.
She could out-code most of us with one frontal lobe tied behind her back:
And she has written about this fore us in 'It's us in the industry who need to be able to code.' And she has followed up with a piece that struck a chord, a very loud one, with many of us who have known large-corporation structure from the inside: Responsibility, Authority, Capability.
We expect to have Barnes with us again later this week.
And here's Nosy Crow's digital development and marketing director, Tom Bonnick, who already has given us Boys, left to their own devices -- about issues in boys and reading and digital answers, or maybe not:
Boys don’t read as much as girls. Tempting as it might be to dismiss that statement as a gross generalisation, it is objectively, statistically the case. Recent research by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) found that more parents of girls said that their child read daily than parents of boys (75 percent vs 68 percent). Parents of girls were also more likely than parents of boys to report that their child enjoyed stories “a lot” (83 percent vs 74 percent). And girls are almost twice as likely as boys (18 percent vs 10 percent) to read stories more without than with an adult.
Perhaps that’s where digital and on-screen reading experiences has a role to play. The same NLT research found that twice as many boys as girl (24 percent vs 12 percent) look at or read stories on a touch screen for longer than they look at or read printed stories.
And more recently, Bonnick took us into the serious thought at Nosy Crow about what some may not think of as a serious issue: fairytales. In Bending old fairytales into new apps for children — pegged to the release of the award-winning new company's fifth fairytale release, its Snow White — Bonnick is wonderfully straightforward:
There are some fairytales that I find incredibly problematic, particularly in their treatment of women. It’s something that we’ve thought about a lot and addressed, ourselves, over the years.
And there are more of our new "regulars" coming aboard. Watch for them in coming weeks. As part of my agreement to try to protect their schedules with minimal demands, I don't want to shoot up flares until they're ready to write, but you'll be pleased, I'm sure, to hear from them.
And we want you along as "regulars," as well. Our comments system works well now, and your input is part of the plan and the purpose here. Please don't hesitate to respond to our writers and to us, your input is welcome and wanted.
And although we must take a week off from #FutureChat this week (27th March) because of some rare schedule conflicts, we are largely in place each week on Fridays at 4 p.m. GMT, with The FutureBook digital community for a weekly discussion of a given issue. Our live chats are robust and respectful, it's always a pleasure and you are always welcome.
The conference, you see, is rolling on, even in the virtual auditorium that never sleeps. Confer with us. We'll be glad you came along.
Image of Publishers Weekly's Cevin Bryerman by Matthew Suchodolski, provided by PubSense Summit.
Main image: Porter Anderson, Metropolitan Museum of Art