Tech Forum 2016: a roundup

Tech Forum 2016: a roundup

The annual Tech Forum conference, held in Canada, focuses on digital developments in the book publishing industry. If you missed this year's conference, which took place on 1st April, we’ve got you covered. Jordyn Martinez of BookNet Canada, which organises Tech Forum, captured some of the most exciting points, interesting speakers, and the major conversations that you definitely want to hear about.

The hot topic of Tech Forum 2016 was Millennials and digital natives – the generation of 18-34 year olds. Mary Beth Barbour’s talk on Keeping Up with Digital Natives, and how they consume media, got people thinking first thing in the morning.  

While the Millennial generation is often seen as entitled, unprepared, and distracted they also tend to be highly educated, optimistic, and value ethics and morals in their media choices. Barbour’s suggestion to the publishing industry is to include this generation and listen to them, as their experience with technology is unprecedented in any other generation. She also suggested that companies stand for something, as this generation is community oriented and environmentally conscious. When marketing to Millennials – simplify. This generation has a multitude of choices of entertainment and media consumption and they don’t need more options. Within companies – hire Millennials and give them space to be heard. Use their optimism and familiarity with the digital world to inform choices, and consider their opinions as a way to reach their age group. Consider the fact that this generation is poised to take over as the group with the biggest spending power in less than 30 years.

Mary Beth Barbour on Keeping Up with Digital Natives.

Continuing the conversation on this generation, BookNet Canada’s Noah Genner also discussed Millennials and their behaviour specifically around books. Research has shown that in the past year, Millennials are reading more books than all the other generations. Not only are they reading more, but Millennials also seem to be buying more than the other generations. Based on last year’s data, Millennials are buying 2.8 books per month while other generations combined bought 2.6 per month. Interestingly, Millennials seem to do more research before buying their products but are more willing to buy online than the older generations. And while they do more research, and tend to compare prices between print and digital books, research shows that they will still pay more for digital books if they consider it a quality product.

Another speaker at Tech Forum, who is also a prime example of a wildly talented and creative Millennial, Kaya Thomas spoke about her experience as a reader as well as a coder in her journey to creating the app We Read Too. Her app is a database for books with authors or characters that identify as a person of colour, which she created after she looked for books with characters that she could identify with and found the choices and availability lacking. To that end, Thomas also advocated for more robust metadata indicating the ethnicity of the author as well as potentially for the book characters. This would allow for educators, parents, librarians, and general readers to search more easily for books by and featuring people of colour. Thomas also called out the absence of people of colour in publishing roles, and suggested that publishers diversify their hiring practices by reaching out to colleges with under-represented groups. Diversity in publishing proved to be a very hot topic, and the response from the professionals in the room was hugely positive. Check out #TechForum to see what people were saying about this talk.

Kaya Thomas speaks at Tech Forum.

Other Tech Forum highlights:

•    The panel discussion “Encouraging Grassroots Innovation at a Legacy Publisher”, where representatives from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, House of Anansi, HarperCollins Canada, Brady Type, and Penguin Random House Canada discussed innovation, recommended making space for open discussion and sharing in order to innovate and experiment with old processes. The panel also recommended listening to new and younger employees, who may have new ideas and may be overlooked.

•    BookNet Canada’s new tools and updates on SalesData, CataList, Biblioshare, Publisher-Library Partnerships, and updates to the Leisure Time Study, and the State of Digital 2015.

•    The “Case Studies in Content Marketing” panel, with representatives from House of Anansi and Dundurn Press, used case studies to show why and when content marketing works. Slides from House of Anansi’s portion are available here, and Dundurn Press’ slides are here.

•    The “New Book Tech Show & Tell” panel with representatives from Kobo, BitLit/Shelfie, and Out of Print/Litsy with interesting innovations and particularly a new app that book lovers will find intriguing.

•    Dan Gardner (co-author of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction) discussing how superforecasting works and what’s involved.

Prior to the Tech Forum conference, a two-day conference called ebookcraft was held. It focused on e-books, production, and the grittier coding side of publishing. The speakers ranged from typographers to hard-coders, and from indexers to animators. Highlights included:

•    The inaugural So You Think You Can Code competition was a huge success. The judges were looking for a wholly rich and beautifully created product. This year’s winner, Rebecca Springer, got $2,500 cash (donated by Rakuten Kobo), a year’s subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, and a three-month 25-titles-per-month subscription to FlightDeck.

•    A totally dynamic presentation about the use of storyboarding in building e-books from Iris Amelia Febres, complete with original sketches.

•    Laura Brady’s talk on e-book accessibility, and how important it is for e-books to be fully accessible and using all the functions that are available. Fifteen per cent of the world’s population uses assistive technology because of a disability. Eighty-five per cent of the non-disabled market has a situational disability that changes the way they read, such as using an AI to read out a text while driving, or increasing the font size.

•    Some interesting hacks on e-readers and features of the product Sass from Derrick Schultz.

•    A particularly intense debate between India Amos and Nick Barreto (moderated by Derrick Schultz) on whether or not ebook design matters. Amos argued for the negative, citing clean code and functionality as a higher priority than design, while Barreto argued the affirmative, suggesting that readers will pay for quality and that beautiful design adds value.

All of the slides from both Tech Forum and ebookcraft presentations are available here.

Jordyn Martinez is the current research intern at BookNet Canada, a non-profit organisation that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry. Jordyn graduated from Western University with a major in English Language and Literature, and a minor in Creative Writing. She also completed Humber College's Creative Book Publishing Program, with a specialization in Advanced Technology, Editorial, and Marketing.