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How people can teach publishers how to work with electronic media

How people can teach publishers how to wor
How people can teach publishers how to wor

Introducing people to Booktype is always fun. Working out how is not so easy. Booktype appears relatively simple to use, which is a testament to its good design. However, because of this I find that after demonstrating Booktype people often ask me, "is that it!?" I've developed two approaches:

  1. take participants straight through the interface, then talk about the bigger picture
  2. talk about the bigger picture, then show them the interface

Because of the interface's simplicity, I prefer to open up the discussion with an overview of why Booktype has been built, and how it changes everything about book production. So that is the way I started with Sourcefabric's second ever Booktype workshop. We had 14 willing participants with backgrounds ranging from the arts, to publishing, with a good dosage of developers, consultants, activists, and project managers too.

The first three hours started with a good look at the background of today's current 'publishing crisis'. Publishers don't seem to know how to work with electronic media. The big issues for them boil down to the fact they don't know how to produce digital books or sell them. On the other hand, tools like Booktype enable anyone to produce electronic books and choose from many distribution and sales channels. Explaining that background at the beginning of the workshop laid out where we are now, why Booktype actually exists, and what it does on both the small and big stage.

From this point, in a very informal and discussion based format, we looked at how online book production can open up very interesting new production models for books. Most interesting of course is the ability to collaborate with people from all over the world to produce a book. It seems that the 'public' is ready for this idea and inherently understand the proposition. However it also seems that publishers often don't see the opportunities. It wasn't the case with the workshop participants - we had great conversations about different models which included extremely interesting voices from both inside and outside the publishing industry.

After these bigger picture discussions we ran through the Booktype interface, looked at collaborative production, importing books from and Project Gutenberg, remixing books, cloning books, sharing notes, and finally exporting to different formats. In the last session the participants broke into 3 groups and spent an hour collaborating to produce a book. The most successful group cloned an existing book, added new content, then exported to EPUB. They then tweeted the url and opened up the book from Twitter using an Android tablet. Not bad for 45 minutes work!

Did we solve the publishing crisis? Not in one afternoon, but it's clear that publishers are going to have to start listening to people like our workshop participants if they want to survive.

The workshop was lead by Adam Hyde. Adam will be talking about publishing and books in his re:publica talk on 3rd May, Books Are Actually Webpages.