Publish! New players, new innovations

Alex Peake-Tomkinson, Reporter

A full house collected at St Bride’s to hear how experts from different industries are realising the potential of digital innovations. The evening began with 5 Show and Tell presentations, using a quick-fire format.

First up was Dave Addey of Agant, which had created the impressive-looking Timeline World War 2 app with storyteller Alyson Fielding. Addey stressed the importance of the collaboration between a range of partners, explaining that Ballista commissioned the app, and licensed content from both British Pathe and Windmill Books. It could be played with either a UK commentary or a US commentary. Fielding was keen to emphasise that her work is platform-agnostic but that different products must be developed for different platforms.

Next up was Alexis Kennedy, Chief Narrative Officer of Failbetter Games which is developing StoryNexus, a platform for playing and building ‘storygames’.  Kennedy conveyed obvious enthusiasm for the literate transmedia project he produced for Random House’s ‘The Night Circus’ and winningly outed himself as geek, explaining how seductive these invented worlds are for fellow geeks.  He defined transmedia narratives as stories which can only be told using multi-platforms.

He ended his presentation by issuing an invitation to collaborate, saying ‘Coders who really want to be writers: here is where you start.

Business-minded Trevor Klein, Head of Development at Somethin’ Else, surprised the audience by opting not to demonstrate his app, The Magic of Reality for iPad, made in collaboration with Richard Dawkins and publishers Transworld.  He reasoned that it can be bought for £9.99 by anyone who’s interested.

Klein emphasised the necessity of designing for one’s platform and argued persuasively that a stack of paper in no way resembles a digital screen.  He also underlined the importance of designing for one’s users but stressed that when making a digital book, the most important thing is still the actual book and everything must be done not to disrupt the reading experience.

Although this app has made a profit, Klein said that only 19% of all apps make money.  His top tips were for being part of the 19% were:

1.      Design an awesome product

2.      Have (or get) a flagship brand/author

3.      Price and market it properly

Lastly, he cautioned against the efficacy of price drops, arguing that this might provide a temporary spike for sales but won’t help long-term sales.

A gear-change from that rare beast, a profitable app, to Antonio Gould, a digital producer who worked with the charity the Usborne Foundation on the development of the Teach Your Monster to Read learning game. Gould explained that the game was developed for use in schools on the principles of ‘synthetic phonics’ which are how children now learn to read.

Gould had collaborated on this project with experts in literacy from Roehampton University and with UK games experts, hoping to harness games’ addictiveness.  He explained that children often find educational games off-putting because their production quality is low.  It was difficult to see how the game would work without playing it, but Gould explained how popular it has been with teachers, not least because it is free.

Last on the podium was Eric Huang Publishing Director, Media and Entertainment at Penguin.  He explained that the Moshi Monsters app Buster’s Lost Moshlings (created in collaboration with Mind Candy) had so far been Penguin’s most internationally successful app.  Penguin are about to start launching picture book brands digitally first.  When developing digital books, he preferred the metaphor of a stage rather than that of a page.  He also previewed Puffin’s first picture book app, ‘Edmund and Cecilie’.

The evening ended with a panel discussion between Peter Usborne, founder of Usborne Publishing; Kate Pullinger, author and transmedia expert; Chris Book, Chief Executive of Bardowl, and Eric Huang.

The quote of the evening came from Peter Usborne, who said he wasn’t worried as a publisher by digital innovation ‘but if I was a bookshop, I’d be jumping off a cliff.’

Kate Pullinger argued pithily for ‘spreadable’ rather than ‘viral’ media, saying she preferred something that was like jam rather than the pox!  Refreshingly, she said it is a ‘fantastic’ time to be a writer, as new technology makes it ever more possible for readers to connect to writing.

Chris Book of Bardowl explained how much of a revenue risk he was taking with Bardowl’s recently launched subscription audio book service, as the usage is an ‘all you can eat buffet.’  He also said that ‘technology for technology’s sake is boring’ and encouraged the audience to harness innovations from smaller companies by using them in big business.

Lastly, Eric Huang offered an ‘open door’ to anyone wanting to collaborate and said that innovation would complement traditional modes of publishing: ‘physical books are not going to go away.’

Further Reading on The Literary Platform:

Agant Malcolm Tucker iPhone App

Failbetter Games: The Night Circus

Somethin’ Else: The Magic of Reality

Kate Pullinger: The Future of Publishing – A Writer’s View

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