Bookcamp Toronto 2009

On Saturday June 6th of this year Bookcamp Toronto was held at the University of Toronto. It was the first time it was held and I believe the event surpassed the organizer’s expectations. They put on a wonderful event, brought in great speakers and were even able to provide everyone with a great free lunch, which was donated by Booknet Canada.

There were approximately 26 lectures that one could attend during the day, each of which lasted for a little less than an hour. Of course, for some, it could be difficult to choose between the different lectures going on at the same time. Fortunately for me, my choices were easy and without scheduling conflicts. I chose the following lectures:

The lectures
XML Production Workflows

Speaker: John Maxwell
Topics discussed: Tagging, developmental preparation, granularity including the ‘text encoding initiative’ and editorial copy as a database. John discussed using the web as a basis for XML first, building the code base for the book then eventually publishing within the Adobe InDesign IDML format.
Of interest: He mentioned several times that the more work and granularity one was willing to do upfront, the easier it became for subsequent published titles or editions. Interestingly, John was the only speaker I listened to this day that wasn’t constantly interrupted. Because of his topic, one had to listen to his process from start to finish to understand the whole of his argument. You can find this work at “thinkubator“.

Kindle, Shmindle: future directions for ebooks

Speaker: Evan Leibovitch
Topics discussed: Different electronic formats such as ePub and PDF, varying eBook readers that are proprietary and non-proprietary, organizations such as IDPF, Adobe, Amazon, Google and others that are either working with the consumer or for their own interests (I will let you decide who is who). Also technologies such as embedded linux, webkit, PDF and ePub standards used for ebook readers.
Of Interest: There was an outcry from the audience concerning DRM, a topic another speaker was actually covering in a different session. Evan declined to comment on this except from the point of view that there are alternatives to DRM that are used within the programming realm that do not annoy consumers. The audience agreed to disagree in the heated debate that followed, primarily to protect their own interests. If it is any indication of the trouble the industry may be in, I do not remember one person who voiced a concern about their intended audience.

When Every Book is Connected to Everyone

Speaker: Peter Brantley
Topics discussed: Publishers’ and authors’ responsibilities and changing roles in the future, DRM, innovation and perception of what the market believes a book is worth, the simple idea that a book is a place where data aggregates, the misunderstanding that publishers only warehouse and distribute books, the death of the traditional book as we know it, the future printed book will be a gift item but people will engage literature by reading eBooks as the norm and many other threads of discussion.
Of Interest: This talk had one of the more lively discussions that followed. The audience really took sides; trying to explain what they did well but at the same time worrying about their future roles. None more so than the publishers who seemed completely confused by the present audience market and were upset at the larger brands such as Amazon pricing them out of business. My take on all this was that everyone needs to sit down in their respective fields and determine their best opportunity for future viability and come up with sustainable, growth-oriented business plans, instead of being blind followers who split their people and money resources, all the while lowering their quality.

The Evolving Ecology of the Book

Speaker: Carlos A. Scolari, Steph Troeth
Topics discussed: This one started out with a discussion of the book interface, its evolution, past, future, and fusion of combinations of form. The image below sums up the talk.

Ecology blackboard brainstorming
Ecology blackboard brainstorming

Of Interest: We learned that the original columns used in publishing date back to early clay tablets, a major evolution took place when papyrus scrolls developed into book pages as we understand them today. Also discussed was that in the future we will no longer be using page numbers in eBooks because of a ubiquitous search functionality and the problems with pagination as related in different electronic resolutions and formats. A technologist, Liza Daly, also gave a short demo of her new project ‘Zen Garden’ that aims to help publishers create more varied and flexible eBook formats that are visually appealing.

Toward the sBook: simple, searchable, smart, social, sustainable, scalable

Speaker: Greg Van Alstyne et al (Disclosure: I am also a part of this initiative)
Topics discussed: The lecture was quite simply the future of the book format and the way in which people will interact with it. The extension of the printed book to an electronic form, different initial markets that would benefit from the public format, the relationship created between the reader and writer, and the transition of an eBook into a sBook.

sBook blackboard brainstorming
sBook blackboard brainstorming

Of Interest: Interestingly enough the audience seemed confused about the sBook initiative. I think that may have had to do with visuals that were shown to explain the path of information and the connection between the traditional paper copy and electronic copy. However the people who did understand the community involvement angle quickly pointed out that the academic field would be ripe for such a book. Ironically and perhaps tellingly, this is the first target area we had already thought of. This group also was concerned about the persistence of information in the digital age (format death) and deep linking and how both can be taken advantage of.

Open Source Publishing

Speaker: Evan Leibovitvh
Topics discussed: Open Source software, Free Open Source Software (FOSS), FOSS software alternatives for publishing, business models for making money from FOSS and alternatives to DRM.
Of Interest: Evan took some time to explain the different levels of how “free”’ open source software was to distribute, (public domain -> public domain with product name posted -> scenarios that mandate programmers give back all enhancements to code -> GPL: which forces all programmers to make all additions they write to remain free). Watermarking alternatives that are more flexible than DRM, but still have similar protection assurance that one can use the law if their rights are abused.

The wrap up

The aforementioned list was only a small representation of the lectures for the day. And within the lectures, people from the casual participant to the ‘expert’ met and talked about the ideas or problems that most interested them. But the topic of books, especially as related to publishing, is changing or evolving so rapidly, even the experts would have to admit that, at best, their “facts” are merely opinions of what may happen.

Unfortunately big business was not in any of the rooms that I participated in, and although there were many intellectuals and entrepreneurs, I got no sense of a true direction. The publishers were generally in upheaval and confused with the new markets, the writers/authors were worried about their product, the designers were worried about the direction of book readability and visual quality, the technologists as usual said they had all the answers (but were only helpful in their area of expertise) and the readers were most interested in getting the least expensive copy of a piece of literature in the best, most readable format.

I admittedly came away exhausted after a full day of information overload and listening to opposing opinions. And I know many people sounded disparaged but the bottom line is that the industry is changing, and everyone is going to have to play catch up each time the publication direction changes. However, there were many of us in these lectures that thought there is opportunity to be had and lots of it to share. I think the very fact that this event was such a success is proof that excitement is again building in the industry — along with fear — and that, as a whole, this change is good for the industry.

Who knows if your next book will be in electronic format and sell for five dollars, or will be on paper for twenty? Either way, you as the reader will get this choice for the foreseeable future, and you will dictate the direction.





3 responses to “Bookcamp Toronto 2009”

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