FutureBook Innovation Awards – The Winners

A very belated post this one but life has been manic since my last entry.

Here is a brief round-up of the winners at last week’s digital conference. News of these prizes didn’t appear in the national papers (or the London ones at least) – proof, I would say, of the conference’s inability to reach out to the mainstream.

It won’t be long before we see a digital publishing awards big as, say, the Booker or the Orange prize. FutureBook have stolen a march on everyone else so why not start promoting it as an inclusive, relevant and open event. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but charging £350+ is not the way to go.

Anyway, here are/were the winners…

Best Adult App
The Waste Land (Faber & Touch Press)

This app explores, dissects and amplifies T.S. Eliot’s revolutionary poem. A worthy winner and the perfect example of how well something can be done if it is done right. The perfect combination of Faber’s literary excellence and Touch Press’s digital expertise.

Best Children’s App
Cinderella (Nosy Crow)

A colourful and interactive version of the popular fairytale. Apps of children’s books will no doubt be huge but not necessarily those which have been adapted from bestselling children’s books. Thanks to 1 million+ Ipads Apple hope to sell at Christmas, this time next year there will be a children’s app which is as popular as the The Gruffalo. Mark my words.

Best Reference App
The Human Body (Dorling Kindersley)

A bright and exhaustive offering from THE reference publishers – DK. Personally though, having swiped/flicked through this app myself I was left a bit disappointed. Despite the promising start, the images are mostly in 2D which was a bit of a let down.

Best start-up
Unbound

I’m a big fan of this ‘publisher’ and so was delighted to see that they came out on top in this group. The basic premise behind Unbound is they help authors present their book ideas which readers can then sponsor. By pledging different amounts of cash and thus helping get it printed you can guarantee yourself anything from a simple signed copy to all kinds of extras including invites to the launch party. A simple idea, done brilliantly well.

Best Technology Innovation
Bardowl

I hadn’t heard of Bardowl before they picked up what equates as the Best Newcomer Award. Put simply they are a Bath-based company who specialise in streaming business audiobooks. Quite niche but a great idea. I hope they do well.

Best Digital Marketing Campaign
The Night Circus (Harvill Secker)

A very clever website which as well as a very immersive game uses Twitter and Facebook to get readers to share snippets of the story.

Best Website
Lonely Planet

Who else?

And so, until next year when hopefully Futurebook will have the foresight to open their doors to everyone. Either that, or at least give me a free £350+ ticket!

Futurebook – A Twitter review

Today was the first day of the Futurebook conference, a London gathering of the book industry’s finest tech thinkers.

I had intended to go along myself (not as one of the industry’s finest tech thinkers but as an inquisitive digital publishing devotee) but the laughable price of £359 for a ticket put me off.

£359! For a ticket!

And so instead of spending a small fortune I decided to follow the conference unfold on Twitter and the Futurebook blog – a much more dynamic and interesting way of hearing what the speakers had to say and reading the real-time feedback from the audience.

Below is a summarised update of the keynote speakers on the first day with my thoughts in italics…

The first speaker of the day was Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks.

According to Raccah, 2011 was the year e-book sales exploded. He says that the majority of e-book buyers are females from high-earning households.

He claims that buyers are displaying e-book loyalty. People tend to wait for the e-book rather than buy the hardback. I’d argue that hardbook sales were in decline anyway and that people are simply switching to digital due to price and ease rather than displaying a ‘loyalty’ to e-books.

He goes on to say that what people like about e-readers is the immediate access readers have to their books and the number of titles they can carry around with them. Well, yes… Why on earth else would they be popular!?

Raccah sums up by saying 2012 will be the most important year in publishing in his lifetime.

Next up was Evan Schnittman, Managing Director group sales and marketing, print and digital at Bloomsbury…

Evan starts by disclosing that publishers only make 1 per cent profit from the books they sell. From what I can remember, that figure was slightly larger at Gallic Books but then again the list there was much more niche. Still, it gives you an indication of the amount of books that publishers have to sell in order to put food on the table.

He says that it isn’t just a question of putting prices up. If they do, they’ll lose their market share. Trying to raise e-book prices is ‘swimming against the tide’.

One big problem for publishers is the better e-books do, the worse cash flow gets. With e-books, publishers are paid later than they are with print. But do consumers care? I’d argue that they don’t.

Schnittman’s best quote (or at leat the quote you’ll see in the papers tomorrow) is ‘Print must thrive, for publishing to survive.’

He then touches on something which I’ve been a strong believer in for a while. Publishers should bundle print and e-book titles together as an ‘enhanced hardcover’. This could work for classics and/or special editions.

Schnittman makes way for the last keynote speaker, Stephen Page of Faber & Faber. It was interesting to note that the Twittersphere went crazy while Page presented his material. There seems to be a lot of love for Faber and their digital strategy.

He starts by declaring Faber aren’t a publisher but a ‘business about reading and writing’. This reminded me of another big publisher I recently met who described themselves as ‘content deliverers’.

Page goes on to give probably the most eyebrow-raising quote of the day. He says that decreasing costs of distribution has lowered barriers to publishers and created a ‘riot of cross-dressing’. Riiiiight.

However, he gets back on track by saying, correctly in my opinion, that publishers struggle to communicate well because they have so many different products. Social media is fantastic, but physical communities are just as important.

And contradicting Raccah’s earliest statement that 2012 was going to be a year where the publishing house of cards could fall down, Page claims that the publishing industry is a thrilling place to be at the moment.

Thanks to the brilliant @futurebook twitter feed which kept me interested, and busy(!), all day.

I’ll wrap up the Futurebook awards tomorrow once I’ve had time to look properly at the winners.

The 39 Postcards

Some clever designer has mocked up book covers using seminal albums as inspiration.

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They’re great aren’t they?

You can view the full set here and even buy postcard versions online at Rockpot.

I’d love to see the reverse (classic books as albums). My design skills aren’t up to it although I may have a crack. If anybody out there fancies the challenge then I’ll happily publish them on the blog.

Waterstone’s in Wonderland

I popped into Waterstone’s the other day for a birthday present for a cycling friend and what struck me straight away was the absence of those imposing ’3-for-2′ islands.

Since James Daunt took over as MD earlier this year he has brought in a raft of changes. One of which was the abolition of the unfair, if profitable, discount promotion.

In my local Walthamstow Waterstone’s, the ’3-for-2′ islands have been replaced with sections devoted to local literature, staff favourites (making a welcome return to front of store) and a collection of striking leather-bound classics.

At first I thought they might be poor imitations and so was surprised to see what good quality they actually were.

These editions are from produced by Barnes and Noble, the American bookseller. They are priced at £20 each which is excellent value considering the care and precision which has gone into the production. They would make the perfect Christmas gift.

And naturally I was pleased to see a Sherlock Holmes collection included – even more so when I flicked though the opening pages and saw that a certain ‘Sven’ had designed the cover illustrations! Ok, so he was missing an ‘I’ but close enough for me to feel an added attraction to them!

IQ100/100!

This blog is but a few months old but already I’m thinking of closing it down. The reason? This version of Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 is quite simply the most wondrous thing I’ve seen and anything that appears after it would look like a proof copy of a Dan Brown book.

Feast your eyes on this:

Produced by creative agency Curved House for Harvill Secker, this limited edition of Murakami’s latest book (three volumes) is a sight to behold.

Look closely and you’ll see that the front and back covers have been printed using a letterpress machine.

I love the exposed stiching and the hand-coloured edges.

Only 111 were printed with each edition signed by author and numbered. The volumes were sealed in a cardboard box with a gold sticker and packaged in a perspex case which itself was wrapped in a net. Want to have a copy? Then join the queue. And have at least £7,500 (and £3.35 for shipping) ready.

I doff my cap to all at The Curved House and Harvill Secker for coming up with such a concept and having the ambition, patience and skill to pull it off.

The House (of Silk) that Orion built

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and so it was with excitable interest that I travelled down to the London Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s earlier this week to pick up a limited edition copy of ‘The House of Silk’ – Anthony Horowitz’s new re-imagining of the famous detective.

I won’t go into why Horowitz was chosen to write the first authorised non-Conan-Doyle Sherlock Holmes story – you can read that here. Instead, I’d like to focus on the book’s production values and whether it warrants its ‘special edition’ tag.

Unusually, Orion, the book’s publishers, struck a deal with Waterstone’s that saw them print 12,000 editions of ‘The House of Silk’ for exclusive use by the bookseller. 212 (no prizes for knowing the reason they arrived at that particular figure) of these were numbered, stamped with the book’s publication date, and signed by Horowitz. After paying £18.99(!), I got number 31.

The publishers also decided to include an original Conan Doyle story along with a letter from Horowitz at the rear of the book. More bang for your buck!

Firstly, I think it is a cracking design. The typography works really well with the cover and the red embossed button stating the book’s approval by the Conan Doyle estate is a clever touch. The dimpled dust jacket is satisfyingly thick and contrasts well against the blood red inlay.

If I had one complaint it is that for £18.99 I would have liked a small design, if only the book’s title on the front cover of the hardback itself, and gold instead of silver text down the spine. That’s a small gripe though for what is, overall, a very solid and worthwhile limited edition.

Some unscrupulous readers are even taking advantage of that fact with a few already appearing on eBay (here and here). I won’t be selling mine though as I asked Horowitz to write a particular message in my copy. Something to wind Mrs P. up about…

Waterstone’s intend to sell a 222nd limited edition copy (the 221b version) for charity. What is also interesting is that Orion are publishing a further 200 leather-bound special editions later this year which will retail at £221 each. I don’t know just how yet, but I plan to get my hands on one!

The book itself is wonderfully written. Horowitz has managed to match Conan Doyle’s gift of prose, tone and pace perfectly. The story-telling is brisk and makes perfect reading for a fan of the original stories and I’ve no doubt that young newcomers, seduced by Horowitz’s Alex Rider creation, will find much to like in the characters of Holmes and Watson. Indeed, the clever inclusion of ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, one of Conan Doyle’s best Sherlock Holmes stories, and Horowitz’s note on his love of the canon are a stroke of genius. Not only do they add weight, in both senses, to the book but they also introduce the adventures of Holmes and Watson, something which I’m sure will see new legions of fans flock to discover the originals.

Hits. The. Nail. On. The. Head.

From Julian Barnes’ speech on receiving the 2011 Man Booker prize last night for The Sense of an Ending

“If the physical book… is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.”

He also made a point of thanking his book’s designer, Suzanne Dean. He said, “Those of you who’ve seen my book – whatever you may think of its contents – will probably agree that it is a beautiful object.”

And you know, he’s right. The e-book isn’t going to kill off the physical book. It is a challenge which print has to rise to by evolving, innovating and proving more attractive to the buyer.

The curious incident of the book with sound

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While e-books continue to fly off the digital shelves, people often don’t realise that audio books are also enjoying a rise in popularity.

Now Booktrack, a New Zealand startup, have successfully managed to combine the two.

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Their e-books come packaged with a musical score, background ambient noise and sound effects which all play as you read the story. I must admit, I was rather sceptical as to whether this would work. I can only read in space station silence (or East Coast train hubbub at a push) and so couldn’t imagine being accompanied by someone else’s idea of a sound effect.

Indeed, the first time I sat down to read Booktrack’s version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” I was put off almost immediately by the musical score as well as the speed of reading I was restricted to. However, after fiddling with settings I soon found myself immersed.

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As a fan of Holmes and Watson, the story itself held no surprises for me but the aural enhancements transformed the story – especially the denouement.

The story opens with Holmes and Watson sitting by the fire and as you read Conan Doyle’s descriptions of the detective’s room the satisfying crackle of a fire floats through the air, a strange addition at first but one you soon get used to.

As the story reaches its climax the musical score reflects the dramatic tension as Holmes and Watson try to solve the riddle before another murder is committed.

It is a brilliant and innovative attempt at changing the way we read books. I can see this being especially popular with younger readers.

You can download the Booktrack version of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” for free from Apple’s App Store. Other Booktrack editions of classic stories cost between £0.69 and £1.49.

The Booktrack way is well suited to short chillers and period crime novellas. The Conan Doyle story was excellently done but I can’t see the same effect being produced for more modern, longer stories. Booktrack have a version of a Salmon Rushde story planned and I just don’t see how that could work. I’d love to be proved wrong though.

See the video below for a brief, first-hand, view of Booktrack’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” in action. No peraliaporci expense spared!

Or, if you prefer, a more professional effort from Booktrack themselves…

Les Étrangers

For my birthday this summer my French grandmother bought me four books from her local brocante. One of them is an 1869 fourth edition translation of Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Another, a history of France for schoolchildren, gives a glimpse of another, completely different, world.

They are quite battered but flicking gently through the pages is a really strange sensation. It is quite amazing to think that despite their wear and tear they are still readable to this day – 140 years after publication.

I love their size. They are only slightly bigger than an iPhone 4 and just as portable. And while the text inside is small they are by no means difficult to read.

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They’re currently sitting on my bookshelf causing the neighbouring Kindle to come out in cold sweats…

The Elegance of the Hardback

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Thanks to my former work colleagues at Gallic Books I’ve managed to get my hands on a special edition of ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’.

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It’s a wonderful version of the Muriel Barbery bestseller as it borrows brilliantly from Penguin Classics reimaginings released in 2009 and 2010.

The updated hardcovers are a great way of introducing people to the classics and, without wanting to sound too much like Gok Wan, look fabulous on any bookshelf. My favourite, without a doubt is the Hound of the Baskervilles. I like how the designer resisted the temptation to stick a large, snarling dog on the cover and instead went for a much more subtle look.

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If you were one of the lucky first 30 visitors to Belgravia Books, London’s newest independent bookstore, on Monday, September 26 then you would have received a signed copy of the Hedgehog special edition for FREE! Less than 1,000 were printed and so while it won’t pay for your pension, buying one of these would certainly be a sharp investment. Definitely more so than a £1,000 car-covered James Bond title!

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