Libraries, the universe and everything

Book^2 Camp 2013
February 12, 2013, 16:19
Filed under: Events | Tags:

On Sunday 10th February I attended my first American book camp. An unconference event, the theme for the day centered around digital publishing and the future of books.

Sessions at book^2 camp

Taken fairly early in the day – a few more sessions were added as the afternoon progressed.

Many of the other attendees were connected with the publishing industry in some way, though there were a few librarians and other interested parties there too, and the event was held in the lovely offices of Workman Publishing.

Attending in my current situation I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to contribute, so I played my choice of sessions fairly safe. I’m also becoming increasingly convinced that I make a poor participant at this sort of event – I’m much better at contributing to discussions when I’ve had time to think about things first, so whilst I enjoy the¬†off-the-cuff nature of an unconference I find it hard to come up with anything to say.

All the discussions covered a wide range of ideas, and whilst I tried to take good notes I’m not planning to reproduce them here – what follows are the things which still stand out to me a couple of days later.

If I had to sum up my main impression from the day it would have to be that publishers really need to get their library e-book lending models sorted out. That way, readers would have a simple way of discovering new content, and access would be instant and easy (& surely getting more people into reading is the simplest way to increase book sales?). These issues seem to be a big deal for the publishing industry right now, so it seems to me to be a huge shame that they can’t see/accept a solution which would benefit everyone concerned.

Session 1 – Online book discovery: problems and solutions
The main thing that I took away from this session is that actually readers don’t really have a problem discovering new things to read – this is more an issue for publishers trying to promote their products. Suggestions were put forward about developing new platforms for discovery/reviews/recommendations, but the general feeling was that using the strengths of existing platforms is a better way to do this – one idea which I thought was really sensible was that every book should have its own Wikipedia page.

Session 2 – Are libraries the future bookstores
This was a really interesting session, based around the idea that maybe libraries should consider partnering with book retailers so that patrons are given a link to purchase books from the library catalogue. Benefits to this would be reducing waiting time for popular items, raising money for the library and increasing a sense of community around the library. Problems include the fact that libraries are currently stretched to do the things they’re supposed to be doing without taking on extra activities, many libraries already serve their communities in excellent ways, bookstores are in crisis and shifting the problem to libraries won’t benefit anyone, and that some libraries already offer links to purchase items from the catalogue anyway (a quick search for an ebook on the NYPL catalogue earlier gave me links to 4 different online retailers, and I believe the library recieves a small percentage of each sale).

Session 3 – Middle core: what problems to average readers have
There were some issues around defining the average reader here – publishers seem to have a slightly distorted idea of what that might be (e.g. reading 15-20 books per year was suggested as average, which seems a bit high to me – someone else proposed a more reasonable 3-5). This session circled back to the discoverability issue, but with particular reference to people who barely read at all, have been gripped by something currently popular (e.g. 50 Shades) and inspired to read more but don’t really know how to find their next book. Serious consideration was given to the possibility of a Netflix/Spotify model for books (this also came up in the first session) with no mention of libraries whatsoever – I guess this won’t be feasible until the ebook lending model is sorted out though. A side discussion covered the importance of personal recommendations in deciding what to read next, and people seemed to agree that whilst ebooks should always contain links to suggestions for further reading they should also enable the reader to share their impressions of the book with friends on various social networks.

Session 4 – Retail zero: what if there was no money to be made from selling books?
Very interestingly, no one in this session could quite get to the conclusion that if there was no money to be made from selling books the print book would most likely disappear altogether. It was suggested that people would still write even if there was no way of earning a living from it, which seems reasonable. Most of the group seemed to agree that this would spell the death of the paperback – luxury-edition hardbacks would become popular as a way of consuming books which had a particular significance whilst ‘ordinary’ reading matter would be consumed electronically – this scenario is one which I believe is already developing (well, it is in my household, anyway!).

All in all this was a great event, and many thanks to organizers Chris, Ami & Kat for bringing together such a thought-provoking afternoon.

For other perspectives on Book^2 Camp, and interesting commentary on some of the issues raised (particularly discoverability), these other posts are worth a read:

(N.B. I’m sure there are more posts about this event which are equally worth reading, and I don’t mean to offend anyone – these are just the ones I’ve come across so far!)


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