The UK publishing industry’s first hackathon resulted in a host of fresh ideas in the fields of audio, discoverability and more, with Voices, created by Diamond Braganza (pictured), chosen as the winner of the £5,000 prize.
Voices aimed to connect people with audio by encouraging them to record their own audiobook clips, and be rated for their performance online. It was selected by a judging panel which included representatives from the hack’s founding publishing partners: Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House and Faber & Faber.
A second prize, of £1,000, was awarded to Literograph, thought up by publishing student and Faber intern Philip Connor, Simon & Schuster’s Matteo Cocco and Scribe’s Sarah Braybrooke. Literograph is a widget linking web content to related books.
Of Voices, judge Simon Trewin, head of the UK literary division of William Morris Endeavor, said: “Audio has always been seen as the poor relation in the rights family but with new technology upon us it has potential to wake up and be a serious revenue stream. What Voices did was take this to another level and create a community around spoken word and the execution was startlingly simple, stylish and engaging.”
Sara Lloyd, communications and digital director at Pan Macmillan, said Voices had a “fresh, dynamic and irreverent approach to engaging book lovers through audio”, adding: “Diamond’s presentation woke us all up with its directness and confidence, and really answered one of the challenges: to think about audio not just as a downloadable product but as a way into books and reading, a way to discover, select and share.”
Nielsen’s Andre Breedt said Voices applied a “range of ideas to a publishing application” including “ideas from gamification and from the popular entertainment industry”. He added: “Like a lot of ideas the instant you hear it, you think: ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ It is not new, but it’s new enough—it’s an evolutionary innovation.”
Eleanor Long, Simon & Schuster’s head of commercial finance, agreed. She said the winning pitch “came from a different place to the other pitches: rather than developing existent ideas from tech or publishing spaces, Diamond looked at a popular entertainment model outside the industry and applied the concept to one of our challenges”.
Hattie Foster, digital project manager at Penguin Random House, said Voices “really stood out because it amplified the connective power of audio”. It was a project that “clearly thought about how you can retain the very personal and individual experience of reading stories and poetry, and combine it with social and community”, she added.
Literograph used a widget to sit on relevant news stories, so that readers interested in a story could click through to books on the subject and a means of buying them. Lloyd, who gave Literograph £1,000 on top of their £1,000 runner-up prize, said: “I loved it for its simplicity and because it answers a real need, to embed curation and discovery into the online channels where readers already congregate.” Trewin agreed, saying: “I want Literograph to exist now. I absolutely love it, and would use it 10 or 15 times a day. The name isn’t right but the concept is knockout. I would call it Teacher’s Pet.”
A total of 24 teams pitched ideas at FutureBook Hack, with over 70 developers, entrepreneurs and coders taking part in the two-day event at University College, London. The eventual winners were chosen from five winning category entries, while other projects were highly commended.
Gus Swan, digital technology director at HarperCollins, said he was “highly impressed” with the variety of ideas presented. He said: “As well as the projects, there are other conversations we can potentially take forward. Hacks that are done well have a relaxed team atmosphere, and that was the case here. It was very friendly and it was enjoyable to judge.”
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