Considering the ‘Open Portal’ effect on publishing

May 20th’s New Space of Publishing panel, masterfully chaired by Justine Solomons of Byte the Book, saw some energetic discussion and a really engaged audience. We were encouraged to hear all the panelists urging potential and practicing writers to continue writing; to keep at it, to hone their work and to find their audience. Steve Carsey, Director of Original Programming for Audible, Katrina Hopewell,  marketing consultant in broadcast and digital publishing, and Jeremy  Thompson, MD of independent publisher, Troubadour and its self publishing arm, Matador,  made a clear case for discovering and creating work for your audience. On the other hand Kate Pullinger, award winning novelist and digital storyteller and members of the audience made an equally strong case for letting your audience find you rather than writing for a perceived audience, acknowledging experimental poetry’s online success.

This notion of the author as solely in charge of what they choose to write with the freedom to hope that it resonates with some members of the public is key. Before the panel we asked if the traditional roles of writer, agent, publisher and publicist  have changed  and what was clear is that with advent of the internet, blogging and eplatforms the writer has many more options. Eszter Hargittai noted as far back as 2000 in ‘Open portals or closed gates? Channeling content on the World Wide Web’ that we no longer have to get past ‘gatekeepers’ to a potential audience, that a lack of big budgets and influence needn’t stop creators any more. The panel spoke about the plethera of ways to get content out there,  Katrina espoused the Wattpad model highlighting how that has earned some authors great deals with established publishing houses while creating an audience in the process,  such as Macmillan signing UK writer Nikkei Kelly’s Stylcar Saga trilogy.

But here we have the dichotomy of the modern publishing phenomena. Jeremy brought up, to the amusement of the whole audience, the notion that some books are better left inside their author. While he made the point light-heartedly he exposed the other side of this new found freedom. We are now bombarded with content and trying to find meaningful content is hard. The author is competing for people’s time, not just their click through attention. In 2009 Hat Trick Associates cited technorati estimates of over 200 million blogs worldwide, and blogging is only one form of sharing written content.

So now we have another set of questions, with so much content out there how can we find those newly written gems? Will we rely on crowd sourced reviews to usher us to new finds? Will the older authors potential lack of technical skill prevent them from effectively engaging in the digital revolution? We think that this has opened up the market place for all yet Hargittai and Walejko establish in their 2008 study ‘The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age’ that there is still inequality in this perceived freedom according to socio-economic class and gender, does this just mean we are getting much more of the same?

view from the back of the gallery

Steve and Katrina

Justine chairing

Kate and Jeremy

the 3 of us
Three of the Creative Conversations team. From left: Miriam Sorrentino, Gauti Sigthorsson, Rosamund Davies wielding the microphone.

Photos: Panagiotis Balalas

10 things to know about self publishing

One of our panel members for ‘The New Space of Publishing’, novelist and digital storyteller Kate Pullinger, has written a brilliant blog post with The Writing Platform on her own experience of self publishing, which really takes you through everything you need to know from preparing copy to distribution. We really recommend it to anyone considering publishing their work independently.


Book Design and Illustration in the Digital Age

Next week on the 18th May, Byte the Book devotes an evening to the question What Place do Book Design and Illustration have in the Digital Age? There are likely to be many answers.

As e-books become more and more common as a reading experience, we have also noticed the complementary phenomenon of the physical book as beautiful artefact. There is a line of argument that suggests that this is the future of the printed book. E-books are convenient and lightweight. They are highly consumable,  but also disposable, compared to the beautifully designed hardback that the reader will keep and treasure as a lifetime possession. However ‘born digital’ book design and illustration for e-books also offer great potential, still to be fully exploited. There is the potential for interactive experience, for kinetic and audiovisual elements, for transmedia approaches. I will be joining the conversation next week to find out more.


Greenwich Book Festival

Next week will be an exciting week for us in Greenwich. On Wednesday 20th May, Creative Conversations is looking forward to hosting a panel on the ‘New Space of Publishing’.  Steve Carsey, Kate Pullinger, Katrina Hopewell and Jeremy Thompson will be joining us to discuss the opportunities and challenges for writers, publishers and other industry players in the rapidly shifting landscape, which is contemporary publishing. Find out more and register for your free place here

Then  from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 May, the University of Greenwich is hosting the Greenwich Book Festival. Three days of talks and events, including Jon Ronson, Zoe Williams, Jessie Burton, Penned in the Margins, Michael Rosen and much much more. Find out more and buy tickets here

Beautiful Books

Angus MacWilliam in his 2013 Paper ‘The Engaged Reader’ draws our attention to a small moment in history when postgraduate Alan Kay posited the notion of the ‘Dynabook,’

‘a portable interactive personal computer, as accessible as a book.’

This 1968  notion was to eventually evolve into ebooks which are now consumed on a variety of different devices and are integrated into our everyday lives. A four-year research project conducted by the Book Industry Study Group ‘Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading’ suggests they have become a ‘normal means of consuming content.’ The public appears to have accepted them, notwithstanding generational variations. The ease and convenience of a lightweight and relatively small gadget holding a number of books has enticed us. The Publishers Association‘s Statistics Yearbook 2013 shows that Ebooks now make up 33% of fiction sales and 7% of non-fiction/reference sales. UK consumer e-book sales altogether rose 18% to £263m, overall  it is a relatively buoyant sector.

There was much hand wringing by publishers when they thought that this easy and convenient digital revolution would kill traditional publishing. However this doomsday prophesizing isn’t new, Albert Abramson in ‘The History of Television, 1942 to 2000’ notes that with the advent of the TV and the collapse of academic jobs anxiety over the loss of traditional publishing increased between the 1960s and the year 2000.  And publishing still managed to survive, we still read physical books.  In the UK with publishers selling 685.5 million physical books in 2012 (PA Statistics Yearbook 2012, The Publishers Association), print books must still be doing something right. Are publishers, writers and artists doing something new?

One clear area is perhaps not so much new as very, very old…back to the days of limited print runs rather than mass media, artist’s books and self-publishing. While print books can’t offer digital interactivity they can readily offer an entirely different, more visceral interactive experience through the printed book as artefact. Limited print runs for the artist/author are achievable as are limited edition covers for Traditional Publishers. Arifa Akbar notes (The Independent 27 November 2014) that he sees more and more beautifully designed books  in the postbags he receives each week.

A great example of this is Brazilian designer Gustavo Piqueira’s  book project, ‘Mateus, Marcos, Lucas e João’ which is a darkly humerous 21st-century spin on the Bible. Masterfully referencing the classic design elements of Medieval illuminated manuscripts and manuscript grid he revisions the world of the Old Testament, set now in a world of traffic jams and fast food. The book was launched alongside an exhibition, Inanis—iluminuras para o século 21; at the Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin library, at Cidade Universitária, in São Paulo. An excerpt is available for download from the exhibition website.

Another great example is Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Strange Library.’ Its enigmatic cover with attached library ticket holder draws you in to a beautifully designed experience in which a young schoolboy stops at the library on his way home to returns some books. Yet another beautiful example is Riverhead Books’ limited edition cover for Chang-rae Lee’s novel ‘On Such A Full Sea’ which was the first ever 3D printed slipcover. Set in a future America we follow the story of Fan, immersing ourselves in tales of hope, betrayal and the human condition.

So what is there that we can learn from the ‘new’ experimental design ethic in books and our appetite for them? We might ask if digital interactivity has had the effect of making us keener on interactivity in every experience, or indeed if the digital world has made is weary of interactive everything and we are looking for something that feels better crafted and more real? Naturally these aren’t the only questions, every question raises others; How else can art and design experience be integrated with texts and print? What new freedoms does this give to auteurs and  how should we price such artefacts?