BookMachine Unplugged

Alex Peake-Tomkinson

Alex Peake-Tomkinson found a number of publishers embracing change in the industry at the first BookMachine event in London this week – collaboration is key.

The first BookMachine Unplugged event occurred on November 7th in the downstairs room of a Marylebone pub. Laura Austin, co-founder of BookMachine has said ‘As the nature of publishing is changing so rapidly and people are being thrown into unfamiliar territories to work on digital projects such as new websites, app building and ebook conversions, there’s an increasing need for collaboration. We really wanted to create an event (part of a series …) which would focus on collaboration and the best way to do it.’

Alistair Horne, Social Media Manager at Cambridge University Press set the tone for the evening by donning tight white racing driver overalls for his talk. His outfit was a reference to the Race to Learn project, an award-winning educational CD-ROM he helped develop. It used the model of Grand Prix racing to teach primary school children about teamwork and was developed in collaboration with the Williams Formula 1 team. It was found that primary schoolchildren do not have positive role models for teamwork so the pit crew became the model for how children could work together.

Charles Catton, Publishing Manager at Amber Books was up next. He described the purpose of ‘Military Books’, an ebookstore IOs app he had helped develop, as eliminating the blockage between publisher and reader. He brought the house down with his listing of ‘doing something, rather than just talking about it’ as one of the successes of the project. Catton also talked persuasively about the virtues of collaboration, which can save time and money but also identify the skills a publisher should have in house, but may be lacking.

Dean Johnson, Vice President at Brandwith Innovation Lab said he rarely got invited to publishing events anymore, as he so often finds himself telling publishers where they are going wrong. As we were congregating on the day the US Election result was announced, he kicked off by mentioning that the American President’s app would be launched in Jan 2013.

He was really there, however, to talk about ‘The Numinous Place’ a multidimensional work of fiction proposed to Brandwith by Mark Staufer, a successful Hollywood screenwriter. Johnson drew some distinction between enhanced books (which he said were like dvds with extras) and a genuinely enhanced reading experience created on a new platform. The sample he showed of ‘The Numinous Place’ was certainly engaging, as he showed how a reader could take the same psychiatric test as the character. He ended by saying that if you have five hundred pages of amazing content in a text, you need to be recessive and not excessive when you then develop this so that the consumer is not overwhelmed.

The talks were rounded off by Eric Huang, New Businness/IP Acquisitions Director at Penguin. Huang discussed working with games writers, saying that a games writer perceives story as something that the consumer takes an active role in. He also discussed ‘Ollie The Boy Who Became What He Ate’, Storycake’s pre-school brand which Penguin Children’s Group have recently acquired. Discussions with a toy partner about this project revealed how gender segregated the toy market is. The toy partner wanted to inject more masculine traits into the brand, as the character of Ollie is a boy. The partner was unhappy that the story focused on food and cooking. There was some discussion about injecting male play patterns into the story but it was felt ultimately that it had to work for the story and it didn’t. Huang rounded off by saying ‘I’ve never known less than I do now.’

The formal (or more formal) part of the evening ended with Gavin Summers, Co-founder of BookMachine, introducing BookMachine.me, the exciting new discovery platform for publishing from BookMachine and Bibkosh Labs, supported by the British Council.

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