'One size does not fit all', Bologna TOC hears

Discoverability, a new "format war", pricing, the growing importance of the education market and the closing gap between apps and e-books were some of the overriding themes at yesterday's second annual Tools of Change Bologna conference, the kick-off event of the Bologna Children's Book Fair. Over 350 delegates attended TOC Bologna this year, up from 200 in its inaugural year.

Russell Hampton, c.e.o. of Disney Consumer Products, the media giant's books division and the world's largest children's publisher, kicked off the conference with a keynote that reflected on the vast number of formats customers want books on. He revealed Disney would make its first foray into developing content for the Nokia and Windows 8 platforms this year, adding upon its development for the Apple, Android and Kindle formats.

He said: "One size does not fit all anymore. Customers want content on books, smartphones, tablets, e-books; customers simply will not accept static content anymore. We need to constantly update, edit and extend content."

Disney, he said, was thinking more and more globally, as part of an "aggressive content plan combined with localised publishing".  Hampton said half of Disney's over 8 million digital downloads last year came from outside of the US.

Bringing customers to digital books was another key for Hampton: "Perhaps the major question for us is: how do we deal with a world of almost limitless content with very limited curation?"

The answer, Hampton said, was for publishers to build recognisable brands and experiment with new models including subscriptions, bundling and freemium, and new technologies such as 3D "pop-up" book apps. 

In the second keynote, Dominique Raccah, founder, president and publisher of Sourcebooks, told delegates about the opportunities in digital children's publishing. She noted that the education market was being particularly driven by digital changes and publishers needed to respond.

She said: "Digital is really leading a revolution in the way that we think about learning. The classroom we will have in 20 years time will not resemble the classroom we attended."

In a later panel discussion, Andrew Sharp, Hachette UK Children's digital director, suggested that the industry was in a new format war. He added: "There are too many tools, particularly in children's books and picture books. You can't possibly replicate the same experience across all the platforms available to us. The costs alone make it prohibitive."

Woody Sears, the founder of Zukka, speaking in an afternoon session on digital trends, said that the distinction between apps and e-books was closing. He added: "Particularly with [new e-book standard] ePub3 you are getting close to the core functionality that people expect of apps with e-books."

Mike Tamblyn, vice president, content, sales and merchandising at Kobo, agreed: "There is almost an arms race going on with e-book retailers as we bring more and more functionality into e-books. But it's still always going to be a less rich experience than what can be done on an app."