London Book Fair 2015: how to merge a creative attitude with e-skills

The overall impression emerged from London Book Fair events, seminars and presentations is that technological skills are increasingly becoming an added value asset for the publishing business, from the trade sector to the specialized segments. The need to keep the pace with competitors and to adapt the production workflow to an audience used to smart solutions driven by digital technologies brings publishing professionals to integrate their traditional competences with up to date e-skills: from a bottom-up perspective, editorial teams often achieve innovative expertise through vocational training or learning-by-doing approach; from a top-down standpoint, companies are in search of experienced cross-competence profiles able to merge creative attitude and technical skills.

TISP partners attended many workshops and sessions during the London Book Fair days. Here’s a selection of the emerging topics and innovative solutions in digital publishing they have discovered.

Gamifying books and content on mobile devices: new ways to attract millennials and monetize mobile content

Marcin Skrabka (Online Solutions Manager at Young Digital Planet) presented Mobile Book Trail, his company’s solution designed to create attractive reading experiences for the younger generations. Mr Skrabka presented his company, a young Polish enterprise belonging to the Sanoma group, which provides solutions in 45 countries and in more than 45 languages. YDP specialises in digital solutions for publishers moving from analogue to digital or mobile, and also produces digital content, with a focus on supporting children and adults with special education needs.

Mr Skrabka explained that their goal was to make education more engaging and fun, as well as personalised and adaptive. He acknowledged that education can at times be boring for children, and suggested that a way to better performance could be explored seeking engagement through richer books and content. He quoted several studies to set some background about the way people learn – the process being enhanced by the use of multiple senses and collaborative processes – and provided some interesting data, such as the fact that an average person will have spent, by age 21, almost 10,000 hours in a classroom and as many or a little more gaming – most of their free time, basically, which indicates that it is an important activity for many people.

Mr Skrabka pointed out some downsides of this situation, namely that videogames are mostly played sitting, which can lead in some cases to obesity among children as well as a lack of collaborative attitude and outdoors abilities. He added that smartphones are the most common mobile device in schools but they’re rarely used in education, although eh BYOD trend is on the rise.

Marcin Skrabka presenting Mobile Book Trail

This is the background against which YDP decided to engage in the field of games and education, focusing on mobile devices (especially smartphones), with a view to get children off their chairs. Mr Skrabka also pointed out several trends in education: the rising importance of gamification, collaborative learning, project-based learning, personalisation, mobile learning, outdoors education and BYOD. He outlined several publishing facts as well: reading among Millennials is decreasing; digital publishing usually means e-books, apps with complete books or platforms hosting content; distractions diverting people from reading include the internet, social media and mobile devices.

He then argued that the future lied in gamification, using augmented reality and mobile devices. As Millennials use internet on mobile devices mainly for gamers, social media, chatting and maps/GPS, and as more than 70% of young people aged 14-18 have a smartphone (and the share is growing), YDP wondered how to connect traditional books with mobile devices. They thus developed Mobile Book Trail, a solution designed for publishers to create mobile games and for their readers to play, based on the publishers’ content.

Stories in books are ready-made game templates; once the game idea is conceived, Mobile Book Trails allows making it into a game using video, audio, maps, etc. Game-based digital components are activated via QR codes on print books; readers download the MBT app and can start playing right away. Available types of games include GPS-based games to be played outdoors, indoor games and fully offline games. One single app can contain any number of games (usually one app corresponds to one game). In conclusion, for Mr Skrabka adding a game is a great way to enrich a book.

Unfinished stories: interactive narrative and text in games 

Apart from books, are there writers for games? Of course yes! So, what are the particularities and challenges that those game writers face different from the classic book writing?

The seminar Unfinished Stories: Interactive Narrative and Text in Games tackled these questions. Four speakers captured the audience and elaborated on this fantastic topic: Rob Morgan (freelance Games Writer & Narrative Designer), Meg Jayanth (freelance writer), Ed Stern (writer at UK game studio Splash Damage) and Olivia Wood (editor at FailBetter Games).

One of the main concepts to take into account is the interactivity. A player seeks to participate in the game, to make decisions, to play a character. Therefore, classic writing cannot be applied the same for books than for games. Many people in the audience might have thought about the “Choose your own adventure” series.

The way to manage the plot in a story, or the fact that ending it is the player’s work but not the writer’s, makes writing for games a profession with its particular required skills and techniques. Writing games or adapting books to videogames are exciting tasks as well as demanding and complex. Also, games writers often need the ability to extent a game adding new content, side story lines or characters to be integrated within the game.

The speakers also pointed out the great opportunities for text-based games today. Games are not only about amazing graphics, FX and animation, they may also be based on text. Mobile devices have opened the door to text interactive games, and new tools as Twine ease the process of creating a game since no coding skills are needed. Also, producing text is extremely cheaper than producing motion or facial expression for video based characters, very far away from AAA videogames budgets.

Writer’s role in videogame production varies from one project or studio to another. In some cases, writers will work more as “fiction creators”, building fiction world’s elements (scenes, creatures, characters, objects or storylines), while for other projects the writing skills themselves will be required. In any case, one of the recommendations pointed out during the open discussion was for the game studios to count on writers from the very beginning of their projects.

In this video, live from the London Book Fair, Robert Morgan explains how text for gaming and the page can differ:

Animation in e-book

In this brief seminar, Floyd Fletcher (Client Relations Manager at Allzone Digital) spoke about options regarding animations in e-books. Animations are typically used only in children’s ones, though it is technically possible to do them in other types of e-books as well. Most children’s e-book animations are created with CSS, which allows images and text to move around on the screen along predetermined paths; this works for simpler, one-shot transitions. JavaScript can be used for more advanced functionalities, and GIFs are a quick and easy way to present animations, especially on websites. Mr Fletcher suggested for publishers to create artwork for e-books already with animations in mind. In talking about animation support and limitations on different platforms, he explained that Apple has some proprietary functionality that allows a developer to add interactive elements and functionalities via JavaScript; other devices such as e-book readers often do not support certain features.

From e-books to smart sdaptive content: the story so far

Impelsys is a provider of electronic solutions for the publishing and e-learning market which offers technology and skillset to support digital innovation, by means of two solutions: iPublishCentral, a SaaS platform enabling creators to offer their digital content online for sales & delivery , and Knowledgeplatform, helping deliver complex content and online learning to students, professionals and  researchers.

In his lecture, Sameer Shariff, CEO and Founder of Impelsys , talked about the different phases of e-book delivery and the next-generation smart content for an enhanced and personalized reading and learning experience:

e-book phase 1

This phase consists of delivery of simple PDFs as duplicated of print books. The reading experience is limited to simple sequential reading, making it a suitable method for trade content. This is done with a direct connection to customers.

Drivers in this phase are of a technological nature: content repositories, distribution platforms, e-Ink and mobile devices

e-book phase 2

In this phase, content becomes software. Support for rich multimedia content drives the adoption of  the e-book; the EPUB 3 format allows publishers to offer rich, enhanced e-books with interactive features.

Specifically for educational purposes, rich e-textbooks offer among others:

  • improved navigation;
  • easy, flexible & informative search;
  • content discovery features;
  • integrated ancillary material;
  • flexible content organization;
  • dynamic content sequencing;
  • images, video, audio and other rich content.

Drivers in this phase are more of a content nature: images, videos and animations, interactive modules, built-in quizzes, personalisation.

e-books phase 3: learning, not just reading

The third phase of the e-book adds intelligence into its contents in the form of ontologies, semantics and knowledge graphs. Contents are enriched with semantic annotations, making the book machine-readable; the extraction and linking of this collection of semantics leads to so called knowledge graphs.

For educational purposes, knowledge graphs may be used to create personalized learning paths depending on interests, reader behaviour and context.

This so called “Smart Content Delivery Platform” enables collaboration between semantic features and adaptive learning features to create a personalized learning experience for the end  user.

The next generation of (Text) Book will have several advanced features, i.e. personalized recommendation for students, analytics of learning behaviour, enriched and personalized contents, the ability to identify knowledge gaps, student performance prediction, machine learning to grade essay question.

report have been written by by Enrico Turrin (FEP), Anna Lionetti (mEDRA), Frank Salliau (iMinds), and José Tomás Romero Calle (AMETIC).

DOI: 10.17400/SB-2015-06-01

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