Coding in Paradise

About Brad Neuberg

My Impressions of Digital Book World 2014

I recently attended Digital Book World 2014 in NYC and wanted to write a little bit about my experiences and opinions of the conference. First, I just wanted to thank Inkling for sending me to the conference as part of company training. Employees can elect to visit conferences and workshops and Inkling sent me to the conference in NYC from San Francisco all expenses paid, so I appreciate that.

One of my litmus tests for whether a conference was good or not is if I come home seeing parts of the world in a new way.

How was Digital Book World? Well, let me just say that it made me really miss the passing of Tools of Change. I personally found Digital Book World a bit corporate and stuffy, to be honest. I found many of the speakers not as well prepared as I would have liked, and many of them didn’t seem terribly passionate.

One of my litmus tests for whether a conference is good or not is if I come home seeing parts of the world in a new way. Did I learn some fundamental new aspect that I never quite thought of or do I have a new opinion or spin on something that I learned at the conference? Frankly I just did not get that at Digital Book World.

Photo by Robson#

I found the physical space to be pretty maze- and bunker-like; it had bad social feng shui. It was an endless maze of underground tunnels, almost like that scene from Labyrinth near the end with the upside down staircases (just no David Bowie), which I think contributed to a general malaise that I felt throughout the conference.

I don‘t mind a conference that’s focused on business either, as long as its the entrepreneurial, passionate side of the business world. For some reason though I would look around at Digital Book World and see lots of people in drab suits; I hungered for color and surprise. In fact at one point I had to take a break from the conference and went across the street to the MOMA to just see some color and beauty, because parts of the conference felt like a cold rainy day (which actually was the weather in NYC as well).

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
I really appreciate there being a conference that can act as a gathering of the tribes for those focused on digital books

With all that said, I really appreciate there being a conference that can act as a gathering of the tribes for those focused on digital books, and now with the passing of Tools of Change it seems Digital Book World is the closest thing that the community has to that. I actually had some great experiences there.

First it was great to network and see the whole #eprdctn crowd at the conference; I really appreciate this whole crew. It‘s a group of people who share their opinions, findings, and thoughts on eBooks and eBook production through Twitter. I feel like its created a nice virtual community of folks passionate and involved in the eBook world. It was great to meet up with all of them, go to bars, talk, and compare notes.

Hanging with the #eprdctn crowd

Something else that I was pleasantly surprised about was the Digital Book Awards Gala. The gala was classy, the food was delicious, and it was hosted by LeVar Burton, who did a great job and was both funny and authentic in his passion for books and literacy. The gala was a high point for me at the conference and I definitely recommend it to anyone who goes to future Digital Book Worlds. Kudos to whoever planned and executed the gala; great work.

One thing I would have liked to have seen at the awards gala was an Academy Awards-style “film roll” of what made the titles unique, because one of the roles I can see of an award like this is to raise expectations and awareness of incredible work being done in the field and raise the bar of what people are doing with next generation eBooks. The gala did this in a sense by awarding those peers who are doing a good job, but it could also help to evangelize and inform the general field of what they are doing by having an award roll showing what made these unique visually and functionally. This could have been done at the gala itself as well as being released online to raise awareness around excellence, innovation, and beauty in the field, because that's what I assume we all want to do.

There was a conference conversation happening that we've moved beyond just simple, narrative eBooks...the zeitgeist is starting to move towards next generation eBooks and non-narrative, complex content.

One aspect I found interesting was a conference undertone that we've moved beyond just simple, narrative eBooks; that this part of the industry has matured; and that the business and technical challenges in simple eBooks have been solved to a certain extent. Amazon figured that out in 2007 with the Kindle and in the last few years the industry itself has also contributed to solving simple eBooks. It seems like the zeitgeist is starting to move towards next generation eBooks and non-narrative, complex content. People were asking such questions as: How do you turn complex eBooks into a business? How do you close the business case? How do you scale production of sophisticated titles? How do you have technical foundations and reading platforms that can accomodate this world?

What I find fascinating about this is I feel this is the space and domain that Inkling has been playing in and exploring the last several years; I feel like the rest of the industry is starting to move closer to where Inkling has been in terms of thinking about these next generation eBooks, and moving beyond simple, narrative content.

I really enjoyed Bill McCoy's presence at the conference running several panels. I like the role that he's taking in the industry of a positive instigator of movement in the field to create standards and awareness.

I also enjoyed Chris Kitchener‘s presentation on eBook authoring with InDesign CC; Sanders Kleinfeld’s presentation on Atlas; and Colleen Cunningham's eBook Design: Beyond Straight Text workshop.

Finally, there was one panel I really enjoyed, the Future of Book Stores. I appreciated this panel in particular because it was headed up by an eclectic group of actual book store owners who have been successful. They were passionate and authentic about what they’ve done and what they’re trying to do, from diverse backgrounds. One of my most interesting take aways happened when one of the participants said that the actual thing that causes book stores trouble is actually a question of rent (details).

In fact, rents are going up in cities, which makes it very difficult to close the business case for book stores. I thought this was really interesting that at the end of the day the problem is rent, which actually has effected other interesting and innovative businesses because its hard for them to get off the ground. The speaker actually linked this to chain stores. Chain stores come into an area, and they have such economies of scale that they can afford very high rents. What happens is that then drives up the rent even more for everyone else, and if you’re not a chain store, if you’re not homogenized, you don’t have the economies of scale to compete and make enough profit with low enough margins to deal with these rents. I thought that was a fascinating linkage of the book store business to chain stores and rent. This is the kind of realization that I appreciate from a good conference; unfortunately there weren’t enough for me at Digital Book World this year.

One of my most interesting take aways happened when one of the participants said that the actual thing that causes book stores trouble is actually a question of rent.

Finally, another difference between Digital Book World and Tools of Change is DBW scheduled the start of their keynotes at 8:30 AM. If you're coming from the west coast, you have to wake up basically at 4:45 AM PST (3 hours behind) west coast time to make it to the keynote. This is just way too early. It would have been better to schedule them at 9, or frankly even 9:30 AM, which gives you time to get some breakfast and coffee, and wake up at a decent hour west coast time. I noticed on the second day of the conference the early times plus jet lag started to add up for me.

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Please note that this is my personal blog — the views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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