Archive for March, 2010

BNC TechForum Wrap-up, Part 2

Monday, March 29th, 2010


The afternoon broke into two streams, and I chose Track 2, which featured presentations from various companies doing neat stuff with writing and publishing. First up was Ian Barker from Symtext. I was interested to see this presentation, because WLU Press has signed on already, and it is only a matter of time before profs will be able to make their own electronic course packs using our material. The demo was slick, and showed the ability to drag and drop chosen documents into a course pack. The price is live, so updates as you add and remove. Course packs can be a mixture of free and paid content, text and multimedia, published, self-authored, or student-generated content. It was easy to see the potential for a dynamic course pack that brings together all the content in one document. All documents include space for annotation, so an instructor can highlight text and comment, or bring the students’ attention to specific parts. Symtext also allows an instructor to make available his/her course outlines and notes and monetize them for other uses. Imagine being given a course at the last minute and finding someone else has already done the work needed to teach it effectively. We’re excited about the possibilities of this one.

Another variation on that theme, but more consumer-based and currently a POD model is BookRiff (currently in private beta). Mark Scott walked us through building our own book, selecting any content available. For people not yet convinced of the value of electronic documents, this paperback book can provide all your content in a traditional form. If the database was large enough, I could see using this to build personal books of essays, poetry, short fiction, etc. I’m less inclined to think of it for academic uses, except perhaps in fiction studies. They are playing with social aspects on the site as well, including sharing or Riffit! badges. It should be interesting to see how this evolves.

Next up was Mark Lefebvre of Titles Bookstore at McMaster University. Titles is the proud owner of an Espresso Machine, which pumps out books in the time of an expensive coffee. He is a passionate speaker who loves books and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk. WLU Press has licensed some of our titles for the Espresso and we’re keen to see the possibilities of this technology, especially once there are more machines in more bookstores.

Hugh McGuire talked about Book Oven, a collaborative publishing experience, and touched also on LibriVox, his online repository of open source audio books. I’ll write more about Hugh later, when I talk about his most interesting (to me) project, Bite Size Edits.

Next Mark Coker talked about Smashwords, an online platform for publishing and purchasing e-books. He had some interesting things to say to publishers about the market share of e-books, presenting stats that predict 10% of sales by the end of 2010. He encouraged publishers to hook readers in at the end of the book with links to more content, such as more books by this author, enhanced content, or a link to an eNewsletter. He repeated the oft-heard advice to eliminate all friction for the customer (Terry O’Reilly of CBC’s Age of Persuasion presented an alternate view at last month’s TEDxWaterloo). Read more of Mark’s ideas on the Huffington Post.

The last speaker of the break-out sessions was Len Vlahos from IndieBound, a platform of the American Booksellers Association. He related what their organization is doing to help independent bookstores weather the changes in the industry, including the provision of an indie commerce program that sells books on line and markets bookstores. IndieBound itself has a wealth of material for readers and booksellers alike, and they have an iPhone app for mobile downloading. Your favourite bookseller gets the sale.

So that wraps up the first half of the afternoon. I’m long-winded today. Part 3 will take you from Deanna McFadden’s talk through the Lightning Round Demos and into the wine and cheese.

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BNC TechForum Wrap-up Part 3

Monday, March 29th, 2010


OK, so part 3. After the break-out sessions we all got back together for a presentation from Deanna McFadden of HarperCollins Canada. Deanna’s presentation was passionate and informative. She outlined her Top 10 things that publishers need to do to continue to be successful in our changing business. She advocated collaboration not competition among us. We all compete at the corporate level for some slice of the pie, but at the human level we’re all colleagues. Let’s work together and share ideas. She stressed the importance of building referrals to your website rather than just counting page views, and stressed the importance of fostering and promoting content advocates, such as bloggers, who are great partners for getting the word out about your books. One slide that got a laugh was, “So what if it sucks? Let it!” and pointed to the importance of making mistakes as you learn and also to the idea that not everything has to be perfect to make an impact.

Last of the day was the Lightning Round. I won’t say too much about it, because the presenters were the same ones from Track 2, which I summarized on my earlier post. I do just want to touch on Bite Size Edits, though, because I’ve been having so much fun with it personally. This idea came out of the larger Book Oven project, the idea that proofreading would be simpler if text was presented in tiny samples. Once launched, it took off far more than founder Hugh McGuire ever expected and it has spun off into its own site. Publishers and authors alike upload texts for proofreading, and geeks like me go in and approve them or fix them. It recently came to the attention of the New Yorker, where the columnist wrote, “it’s as close to a video game as this copy-editor is going to get.”

So that was it! After extremely brief closing remarks by Noah Genner, we retired to the wine and cheese. Some of us also went to the pub. Thanks to Julie Wilson and Sean Cranbury for hosting that event, and to Open Book Toronto for the munchies.

Other fine and more succinct wrap-ups of the day can be found here:
Ian Barker, Symtext
Mark Lefebvre, Titles Bookstore
Sarah Labrie, Keepin’ It Real Book Club
Sean Cranbury, Books on the Radio
BookNet Canada blog

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BNC TechForum Wrap-up, Part 1

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Yesterday two of us from WLUP went to the annual tech forum put on by BookNet Canada, the agency responsible for driving technology innovation for the publishing industry in Canada. Although the day was dominated by the interests of trade publishing, there were a couple of presentations with an academic focus, and there are topics that generalize to all publishers (e-books, e-books, and e-books).

The morning featured some visionary thinking from big players in the market. Bob Miller, formerly of HarperStudio and now with Workman, talked about the importance of bundling, the failed experiment with non-returnable books (bookstores stopped ordering), and the co-operative profit-sharing model he implemented with some of his authors.

Richard Nash, founder of Soft Skull Press and his latest company Cursor books, talked about the social aspect of publishing. “Content isn’t king, culture is” is a quote I wrote down yesterday in my little notebook. He talked about Oprah and how everyone thinks publishers need her desperately. He believes that she needs publishers, because books connect people, and by championing a book, she keeps her audience past her hourly TV slot. He emphasized that publishers have to start thinking outside the pricing ranges they have traditionally been used to. He urged us to think in profoundly integrated ways, stop putting our roles into silos. Quote of the day (I saw it tweeted a few times) “The absence of audio/video in long-form narrative is a feature, not a bug.”

Dominique Raccah from SourceBooks identified three megatrends that will change our publishing future:
1. Everyone is always connected
2. Liquid, seamless media (think glass doors as computer screens like the FBI on TV?)
3. Economics – we must play with different business models
She stressed the importance of defining your verticals, using Google search as a reference. No longer do you search “parenting,” but “toilet-training,” “breastfeeding at night,” and countless other narrow topics. She used their popular Baby Name and SAT prep books as examples of what you can do with titles to match them to the right price point and market. Dominique also talked about poetryspeaks.com, a new website that features poetry and spoken word, by both published poets and enthusiasts alike.

Michael Tamblyn gave an interesting and entertaining presentation on the short history of Shortcovers and its new iteration, Kobo. He itemized the lessons they learned over the course of the year or so they’ve been in business and he introduced Kobo’s new e-reader. He emphasized that Kobo is a platform that can be used on any reader so that readers (the human kind) can take their books with them when they change their gadgets.

And that was just the morning. On Monday I’ll post about the afternoon sessions and my take-home from the day.

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Launch of Blazing Figures: A Life of Robert Markle

Friday, March 12th, 2010

What a fantastic night we had on Thursday at Ben McNally Books, launching Blazing Figures: A Life of Robert Markle, by J.A. Wainwright. Thanks to Stephen Centner for providing the refreshments. And thank you to Ben and the staff of Ben McNally Books for providing such a gorgeous location.

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Book Launch: Blazing Figures

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

We’re thrilled that Blazing Figures: A Life of Robert Markle is in print and we’re throwing a party to prove it! On Thursday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. please join us at Ben McNally Books (366 Bay St) in Toronto to celebrate this publication. Author J.A. (Andy) Wainwright is in town and would be happy to sign the many, many copies I’m sure will be sold. This is a gorgeous full-colour book with numerous representations of paintings, drawings, and photographs. All for only $38.00 hardcover.

Robert Markle (1936–1990) was an infamous figure on the Canadian cultural scene for almost three decades. His paintings and drawings celebrating the female nude were deemed obscene by Ontario courts in 1965, and Markle defended them on national television, emphasizing what he considered a crucial distinction between eroticism and pornography. That story and many others are told in this book, based on Markle’s copious personal notes and interviews with family and friends, including Markle’s close friends Patrick Watson and Gordon Lightfoot.

Please join us if you can!

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