The Third Player

When we think of the Big Three West Coast tech firms poised to change publishing, we think Amazon, Apple and Google. Between them they embody a shift in discovery, distribution and hardware in reading and typify a move away from the traditional centres of the book world, in favour of more new media-native presences. Kindle currently dominates the US ebook market, and is likely to have a similar impact wherever it goes (Amazon recorded strong profit growth this year driven by the Kindle). The iPhone has a real but still emergent ebook market that will be exploded with the expected arrival of an Apple tablet device next year. And Google has Book Search and the forthcoming Editions, which could rival Amazon and Apple in terms of book downloads. The playing field is set - in her recent presentation Sara has a magnificent analysis of how this field breaks down.

However regarding Google most of the strategic thinking and recent commentary, of which there is acres, has focused on either the legal controversies surrounding the settlement or the plans regarding Editions. Google is seen in terms of discovery and retail. Perhaps, though, there is another story going on here.

Mobile has been the buzzword of ereading in 2009; you practically can't turn around without being hit over the head with another statistic about how many people have smart phones and how mind boggling the potential for expansion is, and how seductively convenient it is to have convergence on one handy device. Moreover we've seen the maturing of the space - Stanza, Scroll Motion's Iceberg and Eucalyptus are all excellent readers, there is a healthy Books chart on the App Store and fine developers like Missing Ink Studios and Enhanced Editions are beginning to truly prise open the potential for books on a phone.

So it all looks great. Only, in case you hadn't noticed, it's all on the iPhone. And all of sudden people are making noises about the iPhone, and not especially pleasant ones. Inevitably when something is successful and universally adored, people will find reason to dislike it. This is just how the world works.

Which brings us back to Google. In the whole discussion of ereading somehow we largely forget about other phones, in particular the Google owned Android OS. My case is that Android has been hitherto underestimated and may end up equaling Apple and Amazon in it's own right.

Let's not pretend: if there was an iPhone vs. Android fight right now then the iPhone would win, in terms of users, user experience and reading. To a certain extent this is not Google's fault as such, seeing as they don't produce the hardware, marketing or apps for the phones, but still, no one can deny the iPhone remains far ahead. As for other competitors like Windows Mobile, the revamped Nokia with it's oddly named Ovi Store etc etc in the end they will probably converge with Android due to the sheer madness of proliferating mobile dev standards.  So the iPhone wins, and whats more, with the handsets being unchained from their sole carriers and Apple amassing an eye watering, earth shattering $34bn the growth prospects are very good indeed.

However there are also signs to suggest that Android may start picking up. Firstly it has an inherent ability to grow more widely as it can be used on any number of different manufacturers handsets. Secondly the quality of those handsets is improving all the time - the HTC Hero is gaining traction (Full disclosure: I have one, it's good but I'll admit that the 3GS is a bit better) and the Motorola Droid, to name just one other, promises to be massive. Thirdly the App Marketplace remains weak in comparison to the App Store, but is also growing fast, as Google developers and UX people plus a ton of backing make it better, has a growing audience and has none of the problems sometimes associated with the submitting to the App Store. Fourthly, in publishing terms, there has been a dearth of books or reading software on the Android which is only now being rectified. Look at the burgeoning Comics section of the Marketplace and Aldiko, who want to do for Android what Lexcycle did for reading on the iPhone.

Widespread reading on Android may therefore not be that far away.

There is a further strand to the story. Over the past couple of months it has sometimes felt the trickle of new reading devices has morphed into a full on flood. It's impossible to keep up - everyday Engadget runs a new story on some boutique new ereader. Amidst this torrent however a few things have become clear. Phones were touted as good reading devices because they came with multi-functionality and it was assumed people only wanted a single device for all their communication and media needs (to speak in press release jargon). From here the idea of the tablet or the multi use e-ink mixed display gained traction.

In order to make the devices better people needed a robust, web friendly operating system and quietly waiting in the wings was Android. Witness just two of the recent crop of readers, the Nook from Barnes & Noble and the Alex from Spring Design (currently locked in a legal battle). Both use Android as their OS, and this is just the beginning (there are other examples). Needless to say that Android has the potential to become the default operating system for many readers, and is a strong candidate for being the OS that eventually becomes dominant for reading. Google could end up with a hefty share of the mobile reading and tablet device reading markets, initially in terms of software but who knows, maybe one day even in hardware.

Ultimately Google could be in a position where everything in the book chain, from finding the book on GBS to producing the object you hold in your hands, is part of its empire.

Balanced against this though are the other two big beasts, both unquestionably expert and successful in their fields who no doubt will fight their corners with tenacity and elan. We shouldn't forget Android though, nor it's possible role in digital publishing.

DRM Is Not Evil

At Pan Macmillan we are no great fans of DRM. For a while now we have been selling a limited range of titles DRM free from our website; these are titles where the authors have requested that we retail sans DRM. Many writers are in favour of this, and so we see as it as an important service. Recently we have added the novels of David Hewson to the non DRM stable and they can be found on the website. Lets face it. DRM can be a nightmare - confusing, fiddly, prohibitively sensitive to basic uses of media. A couple of weeks ago I was setting up a friends Sony Reader and forgot quite how dis-orientating an experience setting up an Adobe ID can be. Ok, so most of us used to the web will not struggle. But what about all those other readers who get by without Twitter and Adobe IDs? No doubt, DRM isn't perfect and makes life difficult for people legitimately using files they have paid good money for. Worse, it can lead to those files becoming unusable (a situation which is inexcusable).

However the anti-DRM lobby, as vocal as it is appealing, makes DRM sound like some cultural apocalypse. Culture, the argument goes, thrives on being shared and the modern mass media is a recent aberration that cuts against the grain of creativity and the natural flow of cultural production. Advocates like Cory Doctorow and Larry Lessig make a case that is compelling, persuasive and important. Yet in the hands of many acolytes this is converted to a simple outright denunciation of any DRM and the assumption that the presence of DRM provides a moral carte blanche for piracy. Google might not be evil, but DRM sure is.

The whole DRM debate is hardly a new one but it's time someone in publishing said something positive for DRM. Yes, it often sucks, but it's not evil. Why?

Firstly because paper is a form of DRM. If you buy a book you can lend it out to a few of your friends. Can you send it to all of them? No. You are inherently limited in the spread of that book. We don't assume that it would ever be possible to distribute that book to everyone we know, only that we can do with it what we want. This is both sensible and sustainable.

Secondly and more significantly because mass culture relies on a mass business model undermined by piracy. An argument against DRM is that the web will engender a liberation and proliferation of culture free from the corporate bonds currently suffocating it; get rid of the suits and we end up in a grass roots web driven artistic utopia. This might be true. However in this scenario there will be no more Hollywood blockbusters, huge epoch defining albums and tours, door stopping bestsellers and all the other accouterments of mass culture that rely on a company infrastructure.

These require scale, a corporate scale, which requires direct and secure revenue which to date has existed in the form of unit sales., Spotify et al are pointing the way to a fantastic new business model, but alone it is not enough. DRM is one of the only tools available to prevent catastrophic loss of revenue.

My argument here is simple: if we want Harry Potter- the books, films, computer games, the whole phenomenon - then DRM has a role. While some of the web elite could happily do without this kind of mass market stuff, and while I believe the web is important in promoting material antithetical to it, I think most of us would not want to see it go away.

We all know that DRM is far from infallible and can be hacked. DRM is never going to be a final guarantor, rather it is a basic protective mechanism.

So DRM is not great, but neither is it evil. There are a few things that need to be done by publishers and others to ensure though that DRM really isn't evil. People do hate DRM. We have to make this better. My suggestions:

- interoperable DRM is a must. Seriously, until we have decent interoperable DRM then it will always be a huge and unnecessary barrier to adoption of new technologies. Getting this in place should be a priority for everyone in the content industries.

- more flexible DRM. I should be able to lend my file to people - just not torrent it at will.

- more choices and granularity of DRM available. As a publisher we don't always want to slap the heaviest DRM on all our titles. Yet this is what we have to do. Some titles could have lighter- or no- DRM while others have more restrictive controls.

- more social DRM. Watermarking and the like could be very effective, but as far as I am aware this technique is not yet widely used.

- an acknowledgment of the different uses and situations people might find themselves in. This means recognising that an inherent give in the system will make peoples experiences better.

- giving something back. If we are going to use DRM then we have to make sure that what we are offering really is great. This means harnessing digital delivery to add content and experiment with new forms of content to really make the offering attractive.

- be open to new business models. We cannot cling to just DRM; at the same time we should start earnestly evaluating other alternative means of distribution.

This might not make everyone turn round and start liking DRM, but it should make life easier for the most important people of all: our readers.

Ebooks in Africa: 2

After writing about the general landscape of digital publishing in South Africa a few weeks ago, I thought it was time to look at some of the specifics. There is a lot of cool stuff going on out there that deserves more attention. Here are some highlights: - Arthur Goldstuck is something of a web celebrity out in SA. He heads World Wide Worx, a company engaged in web research which leads of the field on the Continent. As an advocate for increasing the much needed bandwidth going into the country Goldstuck is second to none. The web needs people like Arthur to be making the case for it in the face of many competing demands for investment.

- In the absence of a major corporate books channel a young American entrepreneur Ben Williams set up This is an all round books portal, being something of a news service, blog, retailer, reviews hub and all encompassing literary destination website. In the UK there is no comparable website. Sites like Bookbrunch and Book2Book are too industry focused, while other books blogs are more personal and less plugged in to the latest news, focusing on reviews. A one stop site that is plugged into all the de rigeur social media channels would be fantastic. also comes with a business model beyond the obligatory advertising- it is aggressively plugged into retailers affiliate programs and never misses an opportunity to sell.

- SA has it's own version of Lulu, Crink. Other than the localisation I couldn't off the top of my head list any differences or advantages over Lulu. However from the demo I remember a slick looking interface and a well thought out process.

- Electric Book Works is the kind of company you can't help but love. Not only is it's founder Arthur Attwell a seriously good guy, but it's the kind of clever, agile and cool business that makes digital publishing a fun area to be in. They offer various ebook services and are doing some great bespoke digital work for, amongst others, healthcare charities. This is a great example of how publishing digitally can accrue benefits in cost, access and exposure not open to traditional forms of print publishing. Check out the informative twitter stream for some great nuggets.

- Pharos is a major publisher of dictionaries, and has just put the authoritative Afrikaans dictionary onto mobile. As mentioned previously, given the importance of mobile this is crucial- rather than create web platforms, it makes sense for Pharos to go straight to mobile with a mobile optimised experience.

- Founded by Pieter Traut and Bertus Preller digiwords is a digital services company behind the Pharos dictionary, and various other projects, like cellbook and esplash. While I haven't properly checked them out, their websites look professional and sharp. Preller is also co-founder of Christmobile, a powerful example of the Christian digital trend that is pioneering ebooks amongst South African readers.

- Pan Mac SA publish this brilliant book about trends, from super smooth agency Flux Trends. Book, agency and founder Dion Chang are all a classy act, that brilliantly entwines an analysis of global trends to local issues. If anything illustrates the ways in which SA converges and departs from the North America or Europe this is it.

- Lastly, but by no means leastly, I should highlight some of the work being done by New Holland Publishing. Their map imprints have been pushing the boundaries of what a map publisher is even as the cartographic industry has taken a shake up that makes the music industries ride look a boating trip on the Serpentine. They too have been active on the Christian front with Struik Christian Media- this is truly multimedia publishing. They are also on the cutting edge of mobile content and ebook content, so are helping to forge the space in Southern Africa.

There is then a huge variety of work taking place. For me it only goes to show how broad and deep the changes in our industry are- wherever you are in the world, people are out there doing interesting things, making change and innovation happen, creating a new wave of publishing for a new generation of readers across the planet.

Pictures (CC licence)

Cape Town Waterfront by slack12

Cape Town by Night by mrhappy

Ebooks in Africa: 1

Recently I had the pleasure of going to South Africa, and whilst there attended a conference in Joburg on how digital books are impacting publishing, and what kind of changes and strategic decisions need to be effected as a result. In this post I'll talk generally about the situation out there and in a follow up post I will highlight some of the initiatives I came across. The conference so easily could have been the same old thing we have all been hearing about for the past couple of years, but was added with a fresh set of challenges that mean ebooks and digital publishing in South Africa, and indeed the continent as a whole, are likely to be substantially different than in the UK.

There are two main challenges. Firstly is the low level of bandwidth in the country as a whole. The low capacity of the data cables in and out of SA creates expensive and slow broadband, which in turn has meant broadband penetration is slight. In the first half of the nineteenth century Cape Town was at the heart of global trade; in the 21st century only a new cable coming into effect this year is bringing SA into the terabyte, let alone petabyte, age. General desktop access is also low, reflecting this infrastructural blockage.

Secondly is that the distribution of internet access is heavily weighted towards mobile (as many as double the number of people have access to the mobile web against desktop) with this trend continuing apace. However for most South Africans the internet is way down the list of priorities, given endemic poverty, the AIDs epidemic, world beating crime statistics, mass unemployment and a host of other issues largely alien to the populations of North America or Europe. That said people are willing to spend large portions of their income on "cellphones" and the phenomenal growth in this area is expected to continue.

The retail situation is also different. I visited the brilliant people at Pan Mac SA and learnt more about how things work out. For a start Amazon has no direct presence, which alters the web retail environment immensely. Instead online portals like and distributors like Booksite Afrika are the dominant players. However somewhere like Exclusive Books will be familiar to any UK consumer who has been in Waterstone's, and even more aptly Ottakars, before the merger.

With desktop web access not being key and without the ready availability of e-reading devices, a significant amount of the content focus is on mobile, and specifically ways of cleverly adapting content to mobile. In this and related areas like micropayments we are way behind. We don't have a developed reading audience comfortable with this, and neither have we thought as deeply about how to use our content. In engaging with mobile- although not necessarily smartphone- SA publishers are leading the way.

Against c4.5 million web users there are 43 million mobile phones (80% of the population), a $2.4 billion market dominated by carriers Vodacom and MTN (collectively 82.5% marketshare) and manufacturers Nokia and Samsung. Local services like mxit, a chat app, have been in the vanguard of SA tech innovation and scaled rapidly.

Selection of content is, understandably, also crucial. In a country with the historical and present day divisions of SA, a nation of no less than 11 official languages, broad appeal is going to be tough and niches important. An ecosystem has evolved that combines local with international publishing; international being the broader base.

Interestingly many people said that it was Christian content that had a bright future in digital. This seems to be a massive area of publishing, and critically an area that is already working in digital versions- something I confess to never having previously thought of as being a digital pioneer.

In sum South Africa is, like everywhere, poised on the edge of a revolution in reading. With its feet in the developed and the developing camps, its outward looking temperament balanced against limitations in the market and the technology at home, this will differ greatly from the experience overseas, where expensive devices and online access are already realities. Yes, that might be a trite statement, but all too often we forget about the genuinely global impact of how reading is evolving and the enormous ramifications of this.

Ebooks in Africa could be a way of massively increasing people's exposure to books, people who historically have been denied the opportunity to read. That has to be important, and worth following.

Pictures (CC licence)

Johannesburg1 by lemoncat1

Joburgcity by a_kep

A Bookish Experiment

A while ago you may remember Book Camp, a day of bookish experimentation.  On the back of that I've been thinking of a bookish experiment and was wondering if it's been done. We are seeing a proliferation of reading formats- from grand, Royal hardbacks to reading on the Nintendo DS. Each of these has a different style, a different tempo to how one reads.

I'm convinced that all reading relies on rhythm in some way, a rhythm that is signified by breaks in the text. Turning the page establishes a certain rhythm, just as swiping a page on the iPhone does, or even the lines between tweets. Nonetheless what remains consistent is that we rely on the relationship between rhythm, break and comprehension for our experience of texts.

Big blocks of text have no break and rhythm, hence they are so intimidating to look at and confusing to read. Ebooks fundamentally work as they effectively recreate, if subtly alter, the rhythm and beat of reading long form texts.

My experiment would be something along the lines of: assemble the same text on every different reading platform, device and print mechanism possible.  Get a focus group and then either get them to read the passage on every device and answer a series of questions, or get everyone to read on one platform and answer a set series of questions.

The goal would be to try and work out how our understanding and enjoyment of texts shifts with the platform and the various rhythms established. With that data writers and publishers could then start to think of optimising, adapting and even composing content for different reading experiences.


A New Class of Online Media (But Would It Work for Books?)

Hello Digitalist readers! (Digitalists?) James and Sara asked me to guest blog, so I'll be posting every now and then. I'm the Internet Marketing Manager for the U.S. side of Macmillan, and you can find out a little about me here. It's best to imagine a flat American accent when reading my entries.  I'm very interested in the film industry's experiments with online content and new revenue models, especially as they attempt to sidestep the failures of the music industry. The Criterion Collection has taken an interesting step forward, almost contrary to their “mission statement.” If you're not familiar with them, think of them as a Taschen or Rizzoli of DVDs. They began creating laserdiscs of canonical films and lost classics in the 1980s, inventing both the Director's Commentary and the supplementary materials that are now de rigeur in the trade. They've been producing top-notch DVD editions of world cinema for some time now, and they enjoy a well-earned sterling reputation. (I felt my own amateur film buff status validated when the Criterion edition of one of my favorite films appeared in 2006.)

Since each Criterion DVD is as much an art object as you're going to get on a commercial scale, I would expect them to resist the digitalization of content. Well, surprise: with their website re-launch, Criterion is offering online rentals of a broad selection of their almost 500 titles. For $5 USD you get to watch the film as many times as you want for one week. A little like iTunes Movie Rentals or Netflix Instant, sure. But Criterion's real innovation is your rental fee also acts as a coupon off the purchase of the physical DVD from their online store. They’ve found a great way to link the online and offline content experience.

They can do this across territories because all of their DVD releases are region-free already. In publishing, it would be like a UK publishing house retaining global rights.

Could this work for ebooks? The subscription model idea has been kicked around the industry for a while now – what if it was tied to an easily accessed online platform? A publisher doesn't even need to experiment with rentals. Simply offer ebooks on mobile devices and dedicated e-readers cheaply, with the cost acting as a coupon toward a physical book purchase.

Shatzkin shizzle

Mike Shatzkin posted a piece yesterday that seemed to me to have the ring of truth about it. Asking the question, 'Will Amazon's current domination of the US ebook market persist?', Shatzkin answers firmly, 'No.'

He goes on to explicate the lack of a genuine compatibility between Amazon's strengths in physical product supply, handling and selling and their replication of the model for ebooks. He makes the same point about their customer base model not migrating to ebook selling either.

In the past 12 months, Amazon has built a similar customer-base advantage with Kindle. But as the ebook market grows and matures, the view from here says they won’t have the same success trying to grow it. In fact, we are probably at or near the high-water mark for Amazon’s dominance of ebook sales.

Shatzkin then lists five very sound reasons why the ebook market in the US, and globally, will slip from Amazon's grasp. All good points, but number 3 stood out for me:

3. There will be new app stores for iPhone competitors: Android and RIM, for sure, but perhaps also verticals by device manufacturer and/or telephone service provider.

Towards the end of last year, it struck me that mobile was going to be huge for e-reading in 2009. Not only was Stanza storming the beaches but there were notices proliferating about App Store clones - Android, RIM, Palm - and network decks opening up to the fittest apps - Vodafone and GoSpoken, and T-Mobile.

So, as far as ebooks on mobile go, I think it's probably safe to quip: the future's bright, the future's... erm Orange?

Pan Macmillan and GoSpoken

Pan Macmillan are going into GoSpoken, the mobile reading platform.  As regular readers of this blog will know, we are big fans of mobile reading and believe it has a hugely significant role in the future of how we read. Our lives are becoming more and more device centric while our devices get better and better.  Moving in early with mobile distribution makes sense and we look forward to expanding our mobile list. All our ebooks and a significant proportion of our audiobook titles will be available. You can download the press release below and read coverage in the Bookseller.


my tee oh see

I've had a full week now to digest my TOC experience in New York and hopefully I will manage to capture in this post the many points of real value that I gleaned from it. For those of you I didn't meet on Twitter, it was actually me behind the @thedigitalist tweets, not Sara. Like many delegates this year, I had the slightly schizophrenic experience of following Sara's keynote on Twitter whilst also watching her deliver it. In a funny way, the main 'take home' of TOC 2009 could be the usage explosion on Twitter. At one point, there was a question from the floor that had been asked via Twitter - this even surprised a roomful of webby technotypes and internet futurologists!

The themes running through the conference this year, as I interpret them, were: product, discovery, behaviour.

The product under discussion is still more ebooks than books. Ebooks are top of mind for digital publishers, although I'm not sure that's the way we'd all like it to be as there are lots of other things to be getting on with too. Twitter, for example. The encouraging news, to my mind, was that Bill McCoy from Adobe announced increased support for the export to .epub function in the Adobe suite of creative content tools, adding momentum to a standard format approach. And also, importantly, adding the creation of .epub documents to the general skill set of everyone, all users, in the same way that people have learned to create .pdf. The ability to, and tendency to, create documents in .epub will feed adoption of .epub optimised devices (i.e. readers). And that general behavioural change will benefit publishers offering content in .epub.

What surprises me though, is that ebooks seem to still be tethered, in general discourse, to the print book. Ebook = electronic replica of print book. This is the baseline, surely, not the endpoint. We saw, with magazines and newspapers, that when content goes online it first replicates print and then diverges from print and soon leaves print behind (or makes it redundant). At what point will publishing models emerge, on a commercial scale, that take advantage of content divergence for ebooks in the same way that (for example) has done for newspaper? What or who will lead that divergence - authors writing in a new way for online consumption? or publishers structuring content differently for new distribution channels and formats? Bob Stein's concept of the networked book talks to this issue - where the content and activity generated before and after the book is published as an object come to be ingested and engaged with as much as the printed codex itself. For magazines and newspapers, the drivers for divergence have been immediacy, personalisation and localisation. What are the drivers for long form content divergence online? Not sure yet.

With real energy and aplomb, Cory Doctorow also spoke to the theme of product. Reinforcing his message of 'DRM is no good, please don't use it' (Doctorow's Law: anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, and doesn’t give you the key, they’re not doing it for your benefit), Cory also highlighted the issue, for publishers, of choice. He exhorted delegates to ensure that they chose, and not their retailers, whether or not to apply DRM. The standard User License Agreement, he argued, should be: Don't break copyright law. (This thinking could be applied to so many things. London Underground: Stick to the schedule. Global bankers: Don't take absurd risks. Professional tennis: Just hit the ball.) Again, this is about product: make it attractive, make it interesting, make it easy to get to and use.

Jon Orwant, from Google Book Search, stated at TOC that 'the ultimate goal of Google Book Search is to convert images to “original intent” XML'. He explained the post-processing Google runs to continuously improve the quality of the scanned books, and to convert images to structured content. Retro-injecting structure accurately is no mean feat but when it's done, Google will be able to transform the books into a variety of formats. The content becomes mutable and transportable, in a sense it isn't yet, even though it is scanned, online and searchable. Orwant also presented three case studies - McGraw Hill, OUP, Springer - that demonstrated the benefits publishers can gain from having their books in GBS.

Highlighting the theme of discovery (to my mind), Tim O'Reilly interjected, at the end of these case studies, and made the point that O'Reilly used to own the top links to their own books in Google search results, but have now lost those links to GBS. Orwant, somewhat simplistically, responded that O'Reilly needed to improve their website to regain the top ranked link per title, as this spot was determined by Google's search algorithms. This was not a convincing response, and dodged the issue, which I understood to be that the scale and in-house-ness of GBS could seriously inhibit the ability of the publisher to represent their own products online at the most common point of entry by the consumer, Google search results. There are many compelling reasons for publishers to own the top search result link, the most obvious being: offer unique additional content around the title, start a conversation with the reader, control the brand.

In his own keynote, Tim O'Reilly spoke across all three themes: product, discovery, behaviour. These points were, in summary (with apologies to Tim for some of my paraphrasing):

  1. We don't know what's going to happen next because the internet is building into a global intelligence network the likes of which we've never seen before. Build partnerships with people who live and breath the newest technology, and then you have a chance to do something new.
  2. Mobile is everywhere. Soon, one of the main pathways to discovery will be mobile, and if you as publisher are not engaging with mobile, then your content will be invisible.
  3. Do more for authors online. With the array of low cost tools available now, it's important to re-figure the relationship between publisher and author online.
  4. Curation still matters (i.e. publishers still matter). Publishers confer status on authors, and in time authors confer status back on publishers. People in the head confer status back onto people in the tail. (See Clay Shirky's post on this topic.)
  5. People pay for access to information. So make content available wherever your readers want to find it, in whatever format they want to consume it.
  6. Participation drives revenue. Tim shared some data on the Rough Cuts products, showing that Rough Cuts titles on their own sold about as many copies as finished, non-rough titles, but that finished titles that had also been published as rough cuts sold 2.5 times as much.

And so we get to 'Googly books' and 'smart content' - my two favourite phrases for 2009. Jeff Jarvis took us on a whistlestop tour of his new book and all the various forms in which it was being released (mostly for money), including the .ppt version and the vbook (sorry Jeff, but, ugh). Jeff's point was that the more you put your content out there, and the more books become more process than product (a la Google's approach to releasing and shaping software), the better for everyone and the books. We all need a bit of SEO, said Jeff, a bit of 'Google juice', so that our content can be *discovered* (sorry, just had to emphasise that). There's a new economy and a new ethic out there, and publishers and authors need to adapt to it.

And this is where the conversation moved firmly into the theme of behaviour - of the books, the content, the readers, the publishers... everyone. Or rather, I should, say the conversation returned to the theme of behaviour, as one of the opening keynotes from Peter Brantley was a fascinating explication of the ways in which books have become networked social acts, and are a part of the pattern of our global analogue culture being 'uplifted' into a digital one. Nick Bilton from NYT R&D Labs set the conference room alight with his super-cool run-through of the history of human engagement with content, and the main characteristics of how we deal with content now. We are all inundated with content, said Bilton, and we've developed a swarm intelligence online to navigate that content flow. Smart content adapts to that flow and only puts stuff in front of you that satisfies the immediate interest. Paper is just a device - hybrid forms of narrative can engage readers in the new pathways of content, be it on mobile, in print, or online.

That's a quick run-through of what has been in my head over the past week - now we need to act on some of these points. I'm also still thinking about how to apply some of the insights from Nick Bilton... more to come perhaps.