Neal Hoskins, curator of the digital café at the Bologna children’s bookfair, looks into new initiatives and thinking that could draw publishing communities back together in a most satisfyingly human way.
In my work as an event curator I connect people and ideas everyday in the brilliantly creative book trade. I am always amazed by how many ideas all these networks of people have about the future of the industry and so many of those ideas always seem to circle back to the pillar of the book. From the writers with their magical stories, to editors with the erudite comments and refinements, from large backlists of fine work from long established publishers to new start-ups rethinking relationships with the literary world, I find myself feeling upbeat about publishing as a networked industry.
Books have always been a very interconnected and human place to do business and even with all the perceived changes afoot, the bustle of aisles in the book fairs each year, the packed shelves and rooms of booksellers come Christmas time show that much of these well-established communities are thriving. Indeed in current print book world it is the children’s and YA segment, my area of work and interest, that is driving the industry forward.
Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to take part in the some of the shaping of Bologna book fair’s future in working with the Digital Area and Cafe programme and the lovely team in Italy. I have been lucky to see a multitude of events and seminars across the globe, it has been a whirlwind tour to hear about and compute all the different ideas, experimental services and new sales areas that appear for publishers today. But talk and discussion is one thing and we have now reached a time to actually work on revenue return projects that use all of the power of this vibrant community to create more cool stuff and change some of the presentation and journies that consumers go on to get a book.
When looking at independent publishing networks and specifically the many comments that have been made about the strength in the high street bookstore trade you find a very strong narrative that provides fertile ground to nuture new ventures. The demise of chains and the contraction and closure of stores have worried many publishers and writers alike. But it is exactly there, in this very real spot that I’d like to focus this short essay and point to the bookstore or what I would call the “bookhub” as one of centers of new development of the book trade. It is a focal point through which these age old relationships can be reignited in new ways and that helps all of the businesses and stakeholders involved to move forward and prosper together.
Around about a year ago I became involved the futurefoyles project and took part in a seminar to reimagine a 21st century book store. A large group of Foyles fans (publishers and booksellers and writers) where asked many questions on what a new bookstore could be.
What would it look like?
What would it do for people?
What would people be able to do in it?
What amazing things could it do today and not mjust in the future?
The outcome was the opening on the new Flagship Bookstore of Foyles two doors down from the original address, and this new shop represents a brave and bold statement about bookselling in general with open plan spacing, more seats, cafes and open spaces – this new emporium of 200,000 books is everything you would wish for in a new store and I recommend you all visit it.
So having worked for the last five years looking to build bridges between the print and digital I thought a lot about what this meant in my mind when you put a phyisical store in the equation. Initially that covered all the pointless stuff like selling ebooks and trying to mimic the online sellers, but looking around, in the large urban areas where bookshops thrive best I couldn’t get away from the fact that more and more people where using their phones to help them run their lives and often decide what to buy be it online at home or out and about in shops.
And so Project Ariadne was born (note the name Ariadne comes from the mythological figure who guided Theseus through the Labyrinth, perhaps here used as a reference to the old Foyles bookshop)
In bringing together the Foyles team and the UK developer White October we quickly fell into a lengthy discussion on the book buyer’s journey: the looking, the finding, the thinking and, finally, the purchasing. We also discussed how indoor mapping and finding whether a book was in stock mattered to people and often they needed to do that quickly. We looked at some sales data and found some other interesting facts too: for example 35% of often leave a shop without buying any book and furthermore about 30% like to browse on their own or feel reluctant for whatever reason to ask about the book they would like to purchase.
The beta launch of the service shopsearch.foyles.co.uk, an in-store search facility with mapping, which is best viewed on a phone can be seen as a link at the end of this essay. In this mobile web based app you can search foyles entire 200,000 + stock list (book titles as well as titles, as well as DVDs, CDs, sheet music and gifts), see if they have the book in the shop and be directed to the shelf area where you will find it.
Customers automatically connect to Foyles’ free in-store wi-fi on a smartphone, – no apps to download and no passwords required. A Foyles ‘app-style’ browser pops up, where the customer is able to type in a keyword (like title, or author). The real-time search results not only tells the customer whether a book is in the store but will point them right to it – by way of a simple, Google-style map which has the route plotted on it.
Images can be added to the map to draw attention to newly launched titles, making it possible to promote specific titles and events. Foyles can do things like embellish images into the map, to enable them to promote new titles, for example. And while this app has been developed specifically for Foyles, the potential for the use of such technology in other types of retail environments is huge.
This service is fast, accurate, updated every 10 minutes and just the beginning marker for a number of new feature sets for what I would call an “augmented consumer services application” – combining the best of the real and virtual worlds we live in.
Project Ariadne goes to Europe
This year, the next steps will be to bring the ideas to a expanded network of European booksellers and to launch this collaboration with a special event planned for late spring at the new flagship Foyles store. There we will continue the original discussion on what makes a modern bookshop, so that this can be explored in more detail and add in further thoughts on what makes a great customer service retail application too.
With many disciplines of marketing evolving in response to the fragmentation of media, the digital empowerment of consumers and particularly the shrinking attention spans of people when you put this into the melting pot and it all means that many people spend less time on and have less patience with – marketing messages. So one new element may be to deep dive into what is a customer service application and how publishers and writers could work within this platform too. It’s important to see that customer services now means integration with events, promotions, publisher offers and an innovative and real recommendation engine which many indeed be your very own pocket bookworm assistant, named Ariadne that runs on your phone and can speak and get to know all your quirky, book buying pleasures.
From the very beginning in my work in digital I have always been looking for this bridge to bring communities working in the book trade together again. In a project such as Ariadne I believe we have the beginnings of a fascinating platform, of renewed vows between the trades and professions of people that bring new services in publishing, bookselling and storytelling as a whole. At some point and who knows with IOT (the internet of things) just around the corner maybe the books will talk to phones that can in turn talk to the shop and open a whole new chapter of stories and relationships for all those involved.
All opinions presented in this article are those of Neal Hoskins, independent consultant, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Foyles.
Lead Dev White October / firstname.lastname@example.org
Production Consultant WingedChariot/ email@example.com
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