CONTEC (Content and Technology) took place on Tuesday, 8 October 2013, one day before the doors of the Book Fair opened. With a programme featuring over 60 speakers, from more than 20 countries, and 25 interactive sessions, the conference addressed the complexity of needs of the entire international publishing industry – trade and STM publishers, agents, techies, authors, librarians, and more.
The one-day conference offered a look at how the publishing experience is changing now that these worlds have converged. CONTEC reflected an industry in which publishing and technology have already been fully integrated.
The conference was opened with the keynote ‘Preserving in the middle’ by Stephen Smith, CEO of Wiley. He made a call for publishers to expand along the value chain of their customers, building communities of readers and giving them value through new channels. Solutions are found through deep knowledge of customer workflows to find ways to solve their pain points and go beyond their needs. Stephen Smith offered a view from an established company that is remaking itself. ‘For the 206 year-old publisher, digital offers higher value’, Smith said, and is delivering more content to customers than any time in the publisher’s history, while offering higher margins and more attractive cash flow. ‘The digital revolution we’ve talked about for many years is no longer on the horizon, it is here, and we are living in it’. Smith said that more than 50% of Wiley’s revenue comes from digital products and services. ‘But while there are many good things about the digital revolution, it really isn’t going to be enough to take us where we need to go in the years ahead’. The question is ‘How do you cope with the challenge of how to develop new business solutions at the same time as enhancing and protecting your core business?’ Publishers should focus on their content strengths and build a deep knowledge of the communities they serve. Innovation that isn’t customer led is not going to be successful.
Sascha Lobo, CEO of Sobooks, a social reading start-up launched during the Frankfurt Book Fair, followed Smith. Lobo’s new venture will focus on ‘social selling’ for e-books on the Internet. Describing the current e-book formats as ‘ancient technology’, Lobo stressed the ‘huge discontinuities’ in the processes of buying, selling, and discovering and discussing e-books. ‘The future of the book is on the Web’. Lobo stressed. ‘I’m convinced that in some years that reading e-books will mean being on the Internet, and you won’t be able to tell the difference’.
Big data and metadata are both issues included on TISP survey about hot topics in Digital Publishing and had a big presence in the fair. In Contec two panels were dedicated to them: ‘Big Data/Little Data: the practical capture, analysis and integration of data for publishers’ and ìThe future of metadata‘. In the first one, Laura Dawson from Bowker cautioned that data doesn’t stop with getting something on Amazon, information is on a massive scale and she alerted that there is a problem and an opportunity in this abundance. The challenge of managing the data is that there are many different sources and best practices in organizing metadata are emerging based on technological languages and coding.
Ronald Schild, from MVB, presented the second panel devoted to the hot topic of metadata, that is the heart of MVB new project, Semantic Search. Metadata are rapidly becoming the key driver in marketing and selling of books and media. At the same rate, the complexity of metadata is growing and future management tools for metadata will be based on standardised and automated text recognition through semantic analytics. They will have to adopt semantic and linguistic technologies, they will grow beyond language barriers and they manage and curate third party social content. He stressed the organization’s need of having only one database to collect and to provide all available metadata on books, in order to be more valuable for sales.
In the field of Educational Publishing there were a wide range of presentations and conferences as ‘Educational and academic publishers of the future. How to meet market demands in times of digitization, new media, and new learning methods‘. Digitization presents a challenge to the educational publishers but also brings new opportunities as long as the access to knowledge is no longer restricted to textbooks and teacher-controlled classroom activities. Teachers and students are moving forward taking new roles and publishers move with them being able to produce high-quality content, which is and will be a considerable value to the market. New learning environment, increasing interest in e-learning, individualized learning curves based on fragmentation of standard learning resources, all this demands that technology must be embraced at the very beginning of the production process. Teaching can be tailored to the individual person, and it is possible to measure the effect of the publishers’ solution. Gamification is an interesting tool for adding elements from games to the digital solutions used for teaching on websites, tablets, and other platforms. The purpose is making learning more intuitive, attractive, and easily available.
In the same topic about educational and learning publishing, Jouve Group presented their solutions for designing, enriching, showcasing and distributing content. Mark Witkowski, from Jouve, introduced the session by reminding the audience that the digital learning landscape is turning towards innovative and promising technologies and that the requirements to create and assemble multi-sourced content are rapidly changing. He insisted on the fact that ‘success is based on establishing strong partnership between publishers and service providers’ so to deliver the best results- a win-win situation. An analysis of the educational publishing market followed, underlining the current challenge, ie move a serial publishing model to a simultaneous product release. According to him, this collaboration means that publishers can focus on marketing/sales and editorial vision and service providers on program management, content management, editorial services and digital workflows and services.
Tiziana Ferrando and Massimo Dalmazzi, from the digital content and technology provider Bitness, presented EDUtools, their set of services for educational publishers: digital content design, web interface design and digital content creation for publishing industry. Examples of the digital products provided by Bitness are full e-books, apps, multimedia concept maps, exercises, timelines, graphics, etc., to be used in textbooks, educational publications as well as in e-learning platforms. The model applied is the SaaS (Service as a Software), which allows the customer to use the digital products provided by Bitness without the need to purchase and install the full software: users don’t need to integrate the whole software infrastructure in house, but are free to choose which kind of tool can be exploited depending on the content to be produced. The related business model foresees that customers don’t pay for the ownership of the software, but only for the user license.
TISP conference held within CONTEC programme was not the only one addressing the topic of interoperability and standardization of formats. The panel ‘Digital Publishing and the Open Web: The W3C’s Digital Publishing Interest Group’, led by Markus Gylling (IDPF) and Ivan Herman (W3C) was one of the most followed in CONTEC. They presented the ongoing cooperation between the two organisations, aiming at an effective interoperability between the standards in use in the Open web and the technical developments of digital publishing products. In the perspective taken, EPUB can be seen as a “frozen, packaged website”, it is a portable ebook format using web technologies. Hence, EPUB is dependent from the development of the web standards. Because of the massive and wide impact of the development of web technologies, the problem arises, that specific needs and requirements of the publishing industry cannot be reflected sufficiently in EPUB. In the conference, problem areas were pointed out. Institutional measures to avoid such a development were also presented; such measures are meant to keep the development of EPUB as close as possible to the development of web standards on the one hand and to equip EPUB to realize as many features desired by the publishing industry as possible on the other hand. The alignment between digital products requirements and web standards (and the other way round) is a high relevance topic as far as partnership between ICT companies and publishing industry is concerned. So they asked for a mutual participation to one another’s events and the creation of a Digital publishing activity area at W3C.
The panel ‘From Start-ups to publishing companies ripe for expansion: What investors in the media sector are looking’ put together a series of venture capitalists private equity funders, publishing start-ups and established publishers, like Nick Perrett from Harper Collins, whose growth was made possible through equity investments. They shared their experiences and offered advice to others, and discussed the pros and cons for publishers and investors working together. Some of the interesting recommendations that were heard in this panel were: do not reinventing the wheel, integrate the new technology with existing one, and to have insiders in the team (technical experience).
The panel ‘Publishing Partnership – Publishers, Start Ups, and technology companies working together’ was one of the closing sessions of the CONTEC conference. This session joined together start-ups, technology companies, and publishers who have joined forces. They shared their stories and discussed how such partnerships can result in powerful platforms that can compete with the likes of Amazon and other market share gorillas.
Richard Nash from Small Demons, joined Eldars Loginovs from Fastr, Justo Hidalgo from 24Symbols and Nathan Hull from Penguin UK held a very interesting debate where its was pointed out that a change should happen regarding the ways in which publishers have grown in their capacity to interact with start-ups, with Nathan Hull from Penguin suggesting that ‘publishers should be going to tech hubs and telling start-ups what problems they need to have solved’. On the question of whether publishers should be using their expertise and knowledge of the complex issues at stake to try and incubate their own start-ups (demonstrated skillfully by Bonnier’s R&D team with kids apps developers Toca Boca), Penguin’s Hull responded in admitting that Penguin and other major publishers were still ‘sitting on the fence’ with in-house R&D.