Last week, Digital Book World’s Matt Mullin and Foxpath IND’s Anne Kostick talked with Chris Kenneally at Beyond the Book about technology, ebooks, and the Publishing Innovation Awards. You can hear the whole interview here.
Here’s a brief sample from the transcript:
KENNEALLY: The mission of this Publishing Innovation Awards is to highlight all of the exciting developments in the publishing industry. So I want to turn to Matt first, and ask how the awards fit into the Digital Book World Conference, which will be in its third year this January.
MULLIN: Yes. One of the reasons that we ended up going with the Publishing Innovation Awards and expanding it this year is that the mission of Digital Book World has always been for practical, optimistic book publishing, both in digital and in print. And we like to look at the challenges and really the opportunities that come from breaking out of the page. We are very interested in the new things that are being done to create products that are truly digitally native, but also work for the mission of book publishing in general, which is to spread great ideas, and we think that by highlighting publishing innovation, we’re going to be able to shine a spotlight on the things that are spreading excellent ideas in ways that have not been conceived of before.
KENNEALLY: Well, Matt, let me ask you, you’re something of a digital native yourself. You came to Digital Book World from publishing, where you worked in all aspects of digital media. What is the struggle today in the industry? Is it a cultural challenge that people have? Or is it a technology challenge, or a bit of both?
MULLIN: I would actually say that it’s not really a technology problem. Technology is always just a tool and one of the reasons I love working in book publishing is that we have so many smart, agile minds. I would say that there’s certainly a challenge in the industry today to retooling and reorganizing the way that we’re structured, but ebooks are an excellent example of something like that. Ebook design is something that we care very deeply about, but many ebooks out there today don’t benefit from excellent QA or quality assurance, but that doesn’t mean that publishing doesn’t have within its ranks excellent employees and professionals who are capable of doing that type of work. It’s very close to the same skill sets necessary for an excellent proofreader. It’s just that many publishing companies haven’t necessarily retooled their organization to highlight that internal expertise.
KENNEALLY: Well, Anne, let me turn to you, and ask about your work on the advisory panel for the Publishing Innovation Awards. There are lots of different categories, but at a high level, what are the kinds of things you’re going to be looking for?
KOSTICK: I think that you could almost divide what we look for into a couple of parts and one is inspiring because we are always sort of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to do with books, with literature, and other things in digital environments. A fine example of technology in the service of literature can inspire other publishers to see how far they can go with things and still wow the consumer. So we like to make sure that everybody gets a good look at the best work of the year in that category. Also, a lot of that work comes from small independents. Not necessarily the big houses. Maybe they’re not getting as much visibility as they should.
A second area you might say would be not delivery, but excellence in execution. You know, you have a great idea, but how well do you execute on your idea? And that’s something we like to reward because it’s so important in technology.
KENNEALLY: Well, you know, a question that occurs to me is just how much of this is actually really new because the experience that the reader has sometimes takes place in one’s head, but it also has taken place for many, many years on the page. I’m thinking about Tristram Shandy hundreds of years ago. He played with the format of the printed page so much and so many other terrific publishers have really been very creative on the page. Is it really after all so new, I mean that creativity and design and experience is now in publishing, Matt?
MULLIN: I don’t think that that’s new at all. Actually I was saying earlier, I think that in house, most book publishers have the talent, the innovation, and the wherewithal to experiment in new fashions. One of the things that I had spoken about with Anne Kostick not too long ago was about how technology companies tend to approach things slightly differently, but it’s not to say that publishing companies don’t have that same philosophy. Technology companies tend to innovate and iterate. And by that I mean they try new things and when they try new things, they experiment and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. And they learn from that. And that’s the iteration portion.
I think that book publishers are extraordinarily good at innovating and iterating. We find new types of authors, new genres, new voices, and we get them out there to the widest audience possible and then we look and we see how they perform. And if they don’t, we try to retool and rethink it. And the same thing is true when you were creating new technology products, which is, as Anne was saying, exactly what an ebook and enhanced ebook or the like is. So Brian Murray, CEO of Harper Collins, said in an interview not too long ago that what he was afraid of is not that he may have wasted too much money on an app or that he created an enhanced ebook and it didn’t generate enough revenue. What he worries about is that they’re not innovating enough. Are they not trying enough new things? And I think that that holds true for the entire book publishing industry today.