With roughly a day and half of 2008 office time to go, thoughts inevitably turn to the year that was. Despite the near unbearable profusion of phatic and irritating "best of [insert year]" lists it seems worthwhile highlighting some of the, um, highlights from 2008 as this really was the year things kicked off for digital publishing. Something changed in 2008. For the better. Obviously not the global economy, no, rather I am talking about the publics attitude and awareness of ebooks. Anecdotally I have been amazed at the transformation of ebooks in people's perceptions from soulless book killers to the saviour of holiday reading; from impossible, unworkable uber-geek niche, to mass-market Oprah promoted consumer phenomenon.
Of course not everyone has decided ebooks are great, but certainly there is far more discussion of and openness to them. Reading devices too have broken through- in publishing they have been unhesitatingly embraced as a convenient solution by readers used to lugging around huge and cumbersome manuscripts.
Anyway without further ado, my highlights of 2008...
The Sony and Waterstone's launch: Professionally the first 8 months of my year were dominated by the run up to the September launch of the Waterstone's ebook store and the UK release of the Sony PRS-505. It was a long time coming but this event singlehandedly put a rocket up the e-backside of UK trade publishing and gave ebooks a huge momentum. Suddenly ebooks were in the papers, on TV and most importantly readily available. Yes there were ebook stores and reading devices before this, but none had quite the scale and the all round package. This was the moment ebooks broke out and became mainstream.
The iPhone 3G and the Appstore: If ebooks went mainstream then the 3G launch of the iPhone and the Appstore went stellar-humungous-out-of-control mainstream. Millions of handsets, hundreds of millions of apps and that sweet, sweet interface transformed not just mobiles but the whole raison d'etre of hand held devices. Suddenly we were all walking round with portable games consoles, reference libraries, music players, web browsers and yes, reading devices. What can I say? I'm helplessly addicted to Reign of Swords.
We Tell Stories: In their partnership with Six to Start Penguin took a bold step in redefining the role of a publisher. So this might not be the kind of storytelling that booms in a downturn. What the hell, it was great watching the ideas and narratives unfold, finally seeing the synergy between and old and new media storytelling I'd been looking for. The work of Six to Start and the continued burgeoning of cross platform entertainment (or what Dan Hon might called a "story game") has been a fantastic strand of 2008.
Anything else that should be up there?
My three highlights of the year that was are: authonomy.com, thegoldennotebook.org, and Faber Finds... And, erm, our own programme of ebook special editions, which are significant, if not wildly commercial, explorations of the potential of the ebook composition of a text.
Authonomy.com showed us again, as Macmillan New Writing did the year before, and perhaps lulu.com and Create Space the year before that, that there is a large group of web users out there who are also authors trying and wanting to be published. This community holds good writing within it and the industry should pay attention.
The online reading of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook is, I think, the first really strong example of a networked book in action that we have seen. It works both as an academic exercise in distributed and interactive reading, and as an example of how open source software and a bit of hackery can facilitate a digital approach to publishing.
Finally, Faber Finds - and by extension, Bookkake - illustrates how POD and a bit of intelligent package design (and ruthless rights hunting) can enlarge your house's list seemingly overnight! And that only a few copies sold can mean costs covered. Oh, and that the value of a book can be re-invested in that book if customers' excitement in the book itself can somehow be married to a simple act of passing the buck to suppliers when it comes to the price point.
2008 is dead; long live 2009.