Story of Books has been publishing “5 Minutes With…” interviews since July 2011, a series of short conversations on the evolution of books, as a follow up to “Whatever is to become of books?” event at London Design Festival 2011. It is a collection of thoughts by those who are involved in books production and content creations; from academics, editors, technology innovators and authors, to designers, photographers and illustrators.
This month, Story of Books spoke to accomplished carpenter and web editor of Medicins Sans Frontierés, Pete Masters, about bookshelves. Follow other “5 Minutes With…” conversations here.
REPORT: “Whatever is to become of books?” at London Design Festival 2011. Ebook generates 15% of the revenues for some publishers, with the romance genre having a huge slice in the market share, says Angus Phillips, Director, Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University.
Although digitality has turned the publishing world upside down, Phillips stressed that it is “an exciting time for everyone” as the ebook offer so many opportunities in terms of innovations. The talk, delivered at the London Design Festival event, “Whatever is to become of books?”, at University College London on 17 September 2011, also introduced us to the new classifications in books: ebook, pbook, vanilla book, mook, byook and so on.
In this video, Phillips presented the byook – a format of ebook which is deployed on the smartphone – to the audience.
The event was supported by UCL Anthropology and co-organised by MSc Digital Anthropology students of UCL.
To find out more about the event and to get involved with the 2012 book project by Sojournposse Purpose, visit the Story of Books, the official website, at www.storyofbooks.com.
REPORT: “Whatever is to become of books?” at London Design Festival 2011. “We are not seeing the world as flat anymore. We are seeing it virtually. The hypertext makes a big difference.” Dr Aquiles Alencar Brayner, Digital Curator of The British Library presents fresh findings on our fast-evolving book reading habit at Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, University College London.
While researching for “Whatever is to become of books?”, Sojournposse asked a collective of editors from design, anthropology, journalism and photography to examine the latest sociotechnical development affecting of the artefact.
The library was the best starting point to observe the current evolution of books and how we consume them today. We discover that librarians of today play a crucial role not only in preserving archives, but also to keep on top of the latest e-book formats.
On top of that, the librarians have to consider the mode of consumption of both digital natives and digital migrants who have different preferences in their digital formats.
“Content with curation is key,” said Dr Aquiles Alencar Brayner, Digital Curator of The British Library, who opened the event, “Whatever is to become of books?”, held University College London during the London Design Festival in September 2011.
“The electronic media is changing our reading habits. Some people think that it’s bad. Some people think that it’s good. We are becoming more democratic. There are no hierarchies anymore. There are only links.”
The sales of ebooks has increased by 318% in 2010, indicating that the ebook users spend more time reading, although in a more erratic manner. A poll conducted among 1200 ebook readers shows that 40% of respondents are reading more now than before.
The trend is pointing towards hybrid books. According to The British Library, by 2020, 20% of titles will be published only in paper format, 40% of titles will be published only in electronic format and 40% of publications in the UK will appear in both formats.
Publishers’ Digital Rights Management (DRM) poses a challenge for The British Library in archiving its collection.
DRMs are choking libraries
“We are chained to the shelves. We are chained by the publishers via DRMs,” says Dr Alencar Brayner. (See video Part 2 below).
Service for accessing ebooks is still tied to print publishing model while options to access digital content are still very tight and do not take into consideration the different user groups.
To remedy this, the market must offer new access models and greater flexibility in DRM.
The British Library is currently working with with Google in the digitisation of 250,000 titles published between 1700 to 1870 (40 million pages), a project which is due to start in 2012.
The videos of the British Library presentation at The London Design Festival 2011 are published in two parts. (See videos above). We hope you will find them resourceful and that they will give a clue as to where the journey of books is taking us next.
REPORT: “Whatever is to become of books?” at London Design Festival 2011. The video presentation by Dr Ernesto Priego of the Comics Grid at our event, “Whatever is to become of books?”, last week was certainly unconventional. It took a while for us to realise that many of the effects used in this video took their references from cartoons. But behind this unconventional presentation lies an even more non-conformist concept of an open access journal based on, you guessed it, comic books.
It is a very clever idea. Those who follow the development of open source platforms for scholarly journals would have been familiar about the gripes by academics and researchers on expensive subscription fees and the one-sided relationship that academics have with journal publishers that necessitate them to publish their works for free for journals which their institutions then have to subscribe (The New York Times. “Internet ruffles pricey scholarly journals”. 18 September 2011).
The Comics Grid operates on a model that serves as a unique point of reference for an online, open access peer-reviewed journal. Comic books might seem like a very popular art form, but this concept is very much rooted in academia. The journal examines the comic books in a rigorous manner, with the contribution “reviewed and edited by those who are signed in the project”.
Dr Priego, who did his PhD in Information Studies at University College London, focusing on the media-specificity of comic books, webcomics, mobile comics apps and comic book culture, says that the Comics Grid initially started out as an invitation-only initiative. Later, the founders decided to release calls for ongoing submission from graduate students, scholars, artists, teachers, curators, librarians or any others involved in the study and practice of comics or other related forms of visual storytelling.
Submissions, original and media-specific, written for online reading with an educational or academic purpose, must be between 750 and 1200 words in length.
Articles are released every Monday. To date, The Comics Grid has 4,550 visitors and 1,015 Twitter followers. Dr Priego is considering an online open access academic model where people can work together to review comic books no matter where they are, where they do not necessarily have to be at a university where they have to pay expensive subscription fees for journals.
REPORT: “Whatever is to become of books?” at London Design Festival 2011. At the Inspiration Room event held at University College London last week, Creative Director of Bonnier Technology Group, Sam Syed, presented a storytelling platform for tablets that challenges the traditional notion of a page as the placeholder for linear storytelling. “The page is a cage,” he proclaimed, a statement that was met with both enthusiasm and criticism by story producers and image-makers. Mag+ has demonstrated at the event that a page is no longer flat surface it once was.
“Popular Science is not a magazine,” Sam Syed said of the magazine he works on. “I don’t know what it is. It’s a synthesis of different things.”
The award-winning Popular Science iPad magazine, produced on the Mag+ platform, is a convergence of text, graphic design layout, typography, video and tactile interactivity. It is a 360º experience in 2D storytelling for those who are ready to allow stories to be presented this way.
Mag+ is clearly a game-changing publishing application. It has been successfully built as an extension to Adobe InDesign, the print industry’s main application. It also offers a lifeline to print-based designers wanting to make the crossover to tablet content publishing, without them having to abandon the elegant print grammar.
Furthermore, it makes economic sense to have the same designer producing the magazine medium in both print and digital formats.
The page is no longer flat
What Mag+ has successfully done is adding layers on top of images or videos, and adding interactivity element on annotations to make the page more engaging for tablet readers. It also retains the familiar page-flicking hand motion with page swiping.
Given the space economy on tablets and mobile readers, layering is an obvious solution for rich content storytelling. Syed disagrees that the space economy factor on tablets should result in “aesthetic austerity” and rigid storytelling.
Translating a print magazine or newspaper content into online medium can be a frustrating task for designers and editors. Up until now, an ordinary content management system (CMS) of a website cannot properly convey the beauty of typography and page layout as well as on books or magazines.
A conventional web page is effectively a static column starting from top to bottom. Mag+ is created to challenge this concept by introducing linear as well as sequential storytelling. As a result, Syed said: “You have to de-construct your parallel structures, and re-construct them as linear storytelling.”
The return of the Art Director
Syed explained further that he uses the storyboard to design his story with the magazine editor. Storyboard? It sounds a lot like a film making process. On Mag+, video is an important storytelling element that is being integrated as part of the interactive layout, instead of an isolated rectangle surrounded by text.
So, imagine a piece of magazine editorial being discussed and directed beforehand like a movie.
In recent years, photography and design have been reduced to being add-on elements in an editorial process, not as a vital part of the storytelling itself.
Both disciplines are often treated as after-thoughts and are placed in the “production” phase of publishing, which is towards the end before printing.
This creates a degenerative storytelling culture generally known as “Mac monkeying”, where the creatives’ roles are reduced to operating the Mac and filling the layouts with images and text. Within this limited space, designers are unable to push the boundaries of storytelling and meet the demands of an increasingly interactive audience.
This apparent “death of storytelling” has been discussed in my article “It’s all digital now” (July 2010) featuring an interview with former Observer photojournalist Sally Soames.
She pointed out the disappearing culture of editorial discussion between the editors and photojournalists today, as more news images are supplied remotely by external photo agencies.
With Mag+ platform, the art direction discussion will be brought in much earlier into the editorial process, which will improve the narrative and enhance user experience of a particular story.
Photographers must think outside the box – and beyond rectangles
Looking at the tablet publishing platforms today, it is obvious to see where storytelling and photography are going.
Rich contents such as video, audio and graphic elements are becoming an integral part of the editorial. Soon it is no longer enough to simply call ourselves a photographer or wordsmith.
“It would be nice to think of a positive world where you could create a magic book, [like] Harry Potter’s book,” Syed concluded while showing the animated front cover of the Popular Science iPad magazine to the London Design Festival audience at the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre.
He also urged photographers to challenge their roles as storytellers who merely frame and crop scenes into rectangles.
A few responses on Twitter to Sam Syed
His opinion echoed the late Tim Hetherington’s controversial statement in 2010 on living in the “post-photographic” era:
“If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.”
Critics panned Hetherington’s view, but he soon went on to win the Oscar for his war documentary, “Restrepo”.
As for the future of books, it is no longer enough to define them as print or electronic.
Mag+ is the first of many exciting tablet storytelling platforms to come.
It is too early to predict where this new form of storytelling is heading. The good thing is, we are now liberated from static storytelling.
Sam Syed’s iPad presentation at “Whatever is to become of books?” at the London Design Festival 2011 will be available on iTunes soon for download. More on Bonnier’s R&D updates at www.bonnier.com/betalab
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