OOH Publishing Blog

Frankfurt Fever

Author:
Alex Whittleton

FBF image

Mid-October in the publishing calendar can only mean one thing: the Frankfurt Book Fair. The world’s biggest and busiest trade fair for books, which took place last week, attracts thousands of industry experts looking to launch books, talk trends, strike deals and network like crazy. Here, we lift the lid on a 500-year-old event that’s looking resolutely to the future.

For five days every year, the German city of Frankfurt – best known as Europe’s largest financial hub – comes alive with thousands of media types from across the world. Here, in several large halls, publishers, agents, authors, booksellers and many other industry experts get together to celebrate and sell books, in all their many forms.

Crazy numbers

In a spectacular show that puts the London Book Fair firmly in the shade, the FBF involves a staggering 7,300 exhibitors, 280,000 attendees and 9,000 journalists, who gather for a book-marketing opportunity of epic proportions.

The fair’s rather mind-boggling agenda includes some 3,400 talks, readings, panel discussions, seminars and TV and radio programmes, among other micro-events. And that’s not to mention the – literally, countless – individual meetings that take place between attendees from a total of 110 different countries. In short, it’s a colourful, cutting-edge event of almost unimaginable scope.

Join the club

This year’s FBF saw the opening of a new Business Club, which is thought to have attracted 3,000 people with its conferences, consultations and networking services for entrepreneurs and publishing specialists of every kind.

As Richard Charkin, CEO of Bloomsbury UK, said of the enterprise: “It is important that we never forget how our common interests are greater than our differences. The pressure on all sectors of the publishing industry has never been greater; yet at the same time, there have never been so many opportunities.”

Talking tech

More than ever, globalisation and digitisation were dominant themes at the fair. Some of the greatest minds in technology – from established brands, ambitious start-ups, and everything in between – discussed a series of pressing issues, including the rise of Big Data and evolving mobile technologies.

This year, the FBF announced its first ever Innovation Partner – an honour that was awarded to Samsung. The tech giant’s role at the event was overwhelmingly clear, with its many roving representatives and prominently placed devices – namely, to showcase the digital-reading capabilities of its flagship Galaxy devices.

As the FBF director, Juergen Boos, said: “Book publishers are expanding the scope of their opportunities to the maximum. They are experimenting with content and technologies, and that spirit of invention pervades the Book Fair.”

Young people, reading and education

Unsurprisingly, given the current media obsession with all things Scandi, the guest of honour this year was Finland, which had a presence in nearly every exhibition hall. The country’s focus was on youth literature and reading.

In fact, young people were in the spotlight on several more occasions at the fair: a series of round-table discussions, talks and meetings focused on education and were attended by CEOs from leading publishing houses and learning establishments. Topics ranged from cultural and education policy to developments in education to the role of technology in learning.

Future focus

An exciting event for anyone in the publishing business, the FBF is a place where contacts are made, deals are struck and competition surreptitiously weighed up – in lecture halls, at meeting tables or down any number of nameless, maze-like corridors.

Time and time again at the FBF, under the glaring strip lights of one of Europe’s largest, hottest and most bustling exhibition centres, the bedrock of future business is formed, for publishers big and small.

Did you go to Frankfurt this year? Let us know how it went below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks to Picturepest for the image.

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Books that Win Prizes

Author:
Alex Whittleton

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It’s always gratifying to see a book you’ve worked incredibly hard to produce hit the shelves for the first time. But it’s even better to see that same book win an award – and a much sought-after one at that! This summer, one of our flagship academic titles – produced last year for Cambridge University Press – won just such a prize, and we’re seizing every opportunity we can to shout about it!

Every year, the Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) – which has been representing teachers of law in higher-education establishments since 1908 – awards two prizes for exceptional books written by scholars in the early stages of their careers. The Birks Prizes for Outstanding Legal Scholarship are judged by the President, the Vice-President and the Immediate Past President of the society, with the advice of several other experts in the field, and are a fabulous feather in the cap for any ambitious legal scholar.

The winning title

Judging Social Rights, which puts forward a powerful case for constitutionalising social rights, was written by Dr Jeff King, a senior lecturer at University College London. The 400-page tome took 5 months to create, from cast-off to completion.

Rob Wilkinson, who ran the project here at Out of House, said: “Working with Jeff King was a real pleasure and I’m thrilled that we were able to produce the book to our usual high standards, thereby playing a small part in Jeff’s thoroughly deserved success. To have our name attached to the prestigious Birks Book Prize is a real honour, and hopefully we can help other legal academics fulfil their literary ambitions.”

Future gazing

Legal content is an exciting area of our business, and one that we’re looking to build on even more in the coming months and years.

As our Managing Director, Jo Bottrill, said: “Congratulations to Jeff King on winning this prestigious award. We are delighted to have supported Cambridge with the production of this important book. Managing legal content is an important strength and we look forward to supporting many more prize-winning titles in the years to come.”

Fingers crossed.

 

Huge thanks to Jeff King and the team at Cambridge University Press for making the process of producing this impressive title so rewarding, and to the brilliant Adele Furbank, who compiled the index for the book.

Thanks to Emmanuel Huybrechts for the image.

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Pearson’s Plan for a Literate Planet

Author:
Alex Whittleton

Literacy blog pic

Earlier this week, the education-publishing giant Pearson launched an exciting five-year campaign designed to boost literacy around the world. Project Literacy is an innovative online resource for individuals, organisations and communities to share and consume tips, advice, stories and news on the evolving opportunities – and challenges – in the field of literacy.

The basis of this imaginative new tool is an interactive map identifying the planet’s most inspiring literacy projects and initiatives. With the “inspire us” function, users can identify and describe the literacy endeavour that motivates, impresses or excites them the most. The results are then attached to expandable red pins on a browsable world map.

But that’s not all. The other key feature of this smart new site is the “challenge us” function, which encourages people to post their thoughts on the literacy goals they believe the Pearson project should focus on – supporting areas of the world that lack resources, perhaps, or ideas and innovations that need public attention.

As it says on the website: “Your contributions will have a direct impact on how Project Literacy takes shape in the coming years. We are committed to finding and putting resources, expertise and reach behind extraordinary projects and initiatives that stand to make a real difference in people’s lives and learning.”

Levelling literacy

The terrible truth is that there are still huge numbers of people out there who find it difficult to read and write – 800 million people, to be precise, or one in ten. And those people can be found in the least-likely quarters. In America, for example, 32 million people lack this very basic skill; that’s more than 1 in 10.

Even here in the UK, as the BBC recently reported, an “alarmingly high” proportion of adults lack the ability to read and write. Then there are areas of Africa, Asia and South America that have consistently low literacy rates. Although, overall, world literacy has improved in the last few decades, the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years. Without such a fundamental skill, people find life incredibly limited and learning opportunities few and far between.

So the long-term goal of Pearson’s project is to create a more literate world; to give everyone an equal opportunity to learn vital language skills and enrich their lives through learning and employment. In short, the project is laying the groundwork to level literacy across the land, by bringing together partners who can work together to improve the lives of millions.

As Pearson’s CEO, John Fallon, says: “We are inspired by the power of collaboration. To achieve anything worthwhile we must bring together the most talented people and give them the resources to get on and solve the challenges in front of them.”

Words and the web

Pearson’s project is being launched at a time when another form of literacy – the ability to understand and use technology – is at an all-time high. Even in the most deprived areas of the world, where books are all but absent and literacy rates low, many people have access to the Internet. Incredibly, mobiles are now more ubiquitous than books.

As the Project Literacy site reveals: “Over 90% of the world’s population has access to a mobile network.” What’s more, it goes on to say, reading on a smartphone is now much cheaper than using an old-fashioned book. Couple all this with the fact that the online world offers access to a superfluity of educational content and learning tools, and you have an impressive bedrock of material upon which literacy and learning can flourish.

The Internet, social media and mobile technology in general – these are some of the most democratic educational forces in the world today. It follows, then, that the powerful relationship between literacy and technology should be exploited to greater educational gain than ever before – to kickstart a planet-wide reading revolution.

And we think Pearson’s Project Literacy is the perfect place to begin.

Which literacy projects most inspire you? Let us know your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. – and don’t forget to post them on Project Literacy’s brand new site, too!

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A placement with Out of House

Author:
Jo Bottrill

Georgia Walters, a student on the postgraduate publishing course at Edinburgh Napier University, describes her work placement in Stroud.

I travelled to the land of Laurie Lee for my placement with Out of House Publishing, a publishing production company based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. The company’s appeal for me lay in their provision of a comprehensive project management service for the academic and education publishers they work with.

I was warmly welcomed into a sunny office on my first day, and was invited straight into a project meeting with a large global education publishing house, for whom Out of House will be managing a series of history textbooks.

Having expressed a keen interest in experiencing the project management workflow from manuscript through to final deliverables, I happily got stuck into the various tasks that each stage involves: it was great to be given the opportunity to make a real contribution to the finished products, as well as practice my editorial skills. It was inspiring to see the level of detail exercised for every title: I was particularly impressed to see a red circle around an incorrectly-italicised comma in an 8pt index!

I was able to work on a wide variety of titles, covering art history, economics, world history and sociology, and I would like to thank the team for taking the time out of their busy schedules to talk me through a number of key learning points, including education publishing, processing new titles, and the various electronic formats for final deliverables, such as XML, LaTeX, ePub and MOBI.

My desk - with Kayleigh on guard duty

Other highlights included afternoon ice lollies, and making friends with the office dog, Kayleigh – I knew I’d settled in when she started napping under my desk! It was a thoroughly worthwhile experience and I would like to thank the whole Out of House team for their time and guidance throughout the placement.

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Free For the Taking – How Our Low-Cost/No-Cost Culture is Shaping the Economy

Author:
Alex Whittleton

free sign

Every now and then, you come across an article that really, really makes you think. One of our recent favourites is a New York Times opinion piece by the American economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, which explores the fate of capitalism in a ‘sharing economy’ – defined by the proliferation of free goods, usually shared online. Below is a summary of his fascinating argument, and, crucially, how it relates to the world of scholarly publishing.

We have all benefitted from freebies online. In fact, you probably make use of them more regularly than you realise, without even thinking about it. For one, there’s the vast array of videos, music and other content you view on social-networking sites and YouTube on a regular basis. Then there are peer-to-peer file-sharing networks – from Napster in the early days to the current BitTorrent model – which allow you to share books, music, films and video games with people anywhere on the planet, often without paying a penny.

Add to that open-source software, which allows users – among other things – to build their own websites, and also (offline) 3D printers and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – a free form of higher education – and you’ll see that our world is absolutely awash with either ludicrously cheap, or entirely free, goods and services.

So what does Jeremy Rifkin have to say?

In his article ‘The Rise of Anti-Capitalism’, Rifkin discusses what he terms the ‘zero-marginal-cost economy’ – an environment in which unit costs are being driven down so much that goods are becoming either very cheap, or free. They are bypassing traditional markets and are therefore no longer subject to market forces; in other words, the ‘sharing economy’ is shaking the foundations of industry upon industry.

Rifkin goes on to discuss The Internet of Things – an impressive new technology infrastructure that will underpin our daily lives by connecting everyone and everything. Sensors attached to everything from natural resources to the electricity grid to offices and homes will feed Big Data back to the platform, which will greatly accelerate efficiency, driving marginal costs down even further in the future.

Rifkin wonders how the economy of the future will function in a world that’s more ‘about shared access rather than private ownership’. The answer, he says, lies in civil society and its non-profit organisations – a sector that’s booming in the current climate. Non-profits tend to promote community sharing, contribute a huge amount to the economy and offer a wealth of job opportunities in the fields that ‘strengthen social infrastructure’ – a boon for a labour market that’s being hit hard by a trend for automated, workerless factories and offices.

How all this relates to scholarly publishing

As we’ve touched upon already, books and higher-education courses are becoming available in free, or nearly free, forms. Without a doubt, the ‘sharing economy’ is shaping the spheres of book-publishing and education as much as any other.

Arguably, though, scholarly publishing – with its digital, shareable forms, from open-access books and journals to eLearning websites and apps – also supports the ‘communal’ character of civil society. In many ways, it does just what Rifkin says The Internet of Things does; it ‘optimizes collaboration, universal access and inclusion’.

To sum up, then, publishing – particularly in its community-led, niche, scholarly forms – is moving with the times at a galloping pace, feeding back into the new economic model that’s driving its transformation in the first place.

The challenge for us all is to contribute in a meaningful way, and for our contribution to mean enough for people to pay us for it.

To hear Jeremy Rifkin discuss this topic in more detail, tune into Radio 4’s latest episode of Start the Week.

What are your thoughts on the explosion of free, shareable content online? Where does this leave publishing as an industry? Let us know below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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London Book Fair 2014 – The Lowdown

Author:
Alex Whittleton

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For three days every spring, Earls Court Exhibition Centre in southwest London becomes a pilgrimage site for publishers, booksellers, literary agents, librarians and countless other industry experts from across Europe and beyond. The annual London Book Fair – the second-largest book-publishing trade fair in the world after Frankfurt – is a mesmerising modern-day marketplace that has to be seen to be believed. And with LBF 2014 kicking off tomorrow, now’s your chance to grab a ticket and head on down.

Over the last few decades, this one-time trade show for librarians has grown into a media mecca on a truly global scale. The event attracts more than 25,000 people from at least 100 countries; it features 1,700 stand-holders and almost 600 individual meeting places, where back-to-back discussions take place almost seamlessly over the three-day period.

What’s what

The event’s ‘market focus’ initiative throws the spotlight on a particular country or region of note; on its publishing industry, trade links and potential for commercial and cultural partnerships. At LBF 2014, this role is fulfilled by Korea, which boasts one of the top 10 publishing markets on the planet and is considered to be a rising star on the literary scene.

Other highlights include a digital-publishing conference and 300-plus seminars, talks and micro-events that make up the event’s educational programme. Every year, there’s a reliably impressive line-up of speakers, from established and aspiring authors to experienced agents and booksellers to trailblazing technologists. The choice of where to go and what to see is dizzying.

And so is the atmosphere. In fact, the exciting event – at times – approaches sensual overload. In the vast exhibition space, the overhead lights are bright, the lively chatter is incessant and, at every turn, brash, bright logos scream out brand after bookish brand. For anyone with a stake in the publishing industry, the obligatory wander from stand to stand can be an almost intoxicating experience.

Future gazing

A hotbed of networking, publicity, rights negotiations and distribution deals, the eagerly anticipated event is – for many businesses and individuals – absolutely critical to making contacts and building future business. Whether it’s a scheduled meeting, an inspiring lecture or a chance meeting in the maze of corridors that works its way between the countless stands, doors tend to open at the LBF; this is a place where plans are made, deals are stuck and people gaze ambitiously into the future.

And that’s why the Out of House team will be there on each day of the conference – to talk about our business, hear about yours and discover exciting opportunities for collaboration. Whether you need support producing your next academic or education title, advice on XML workflows and eBook conversion, or simply want to discuss digital trends and publishing news, we’d love to meet you.

We’ll be there. Will you? Let us know below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Literature, Literacy and World Book Day 2014

Author:
Alex Whittleton

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Today is World Book Day (WBD) – an annual celebration of all things bookish that sees libraries, classrooms and bookshops all over the country come to life with the chatter of book-lovers, much-loved authors sharing writing tips and costumed characters from popular fiction. Now in its seventeenth year, WBD has become part of our literary heritage – and not just as a reading frenzy for those who already love books (though it is that, too), but also as a powerful tool for boosting literacy.

Recognised in the UK and Ireland on the first Thursday in March and around the world six weeks later, on April 23rd – a date that weighs heavy with literary significance, not least as the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death – the event is an international phenomenon designed to get people excited about reading.

Its social and cultural value is clear from the support of UNESCO, which describes the day as “a worldwide tribute to books and their authors”. And that’s really what it is – thousands of book-related events take place all over the world to mark the occasion. It’s a great opportunity for bibliophiles everywhere to renew their love of literature, and also for youngsters and adults who are yet to discover the pleasures of reading to be inspired.

Reading in the digital age

That society enthusiastically embraces the written word on WBD is a sign that in our highly technological world, reading hasn’t lost its appeal. In many ways, in fact, the digital boom can be seen to have encouraged reading and writing, with eReading devices and literacy-based websites boosting accessibility to content, the productivity of publishers and, for many, an appetite for reading.

Perhaps this is because the profoundly meaningful, timeless nature of great literature – or, more generally, of storytelling – offers an antidote to our throwaway, digital culture. Reading, in this day and age, allows us to slow down, calm down, step into the past or imagine the future, ponder the lives of others and learn lifelong lessons; in other words, through books we can hold onto a little piece of permanency in an increasingly transient world.

Lifting literacy

Despite this modern-day explosion of content and the appeal of a quiet read, however, literacy in the UK is lagging behind other countries. Towards the end of last year, the BBC reported that fewer young people are reading in their spare time; this article was followed up, only days later, with another that drew attention to disappointing literacy level in British pupils.

As the National Literacy Trust director, Jonathan Douglas, said: “Our research not only reveals that children are reading less and developing more negative attitudes towards reading, but also that there is a clear correlation between this and their performance in reading tests.”

But it’s not just children struggling to read and write, as Cathy Rentzenbrink, owner of the literacy-focused website Quick Reads, explains in her recent article in The Bookseller. There are vast portions of society who find it difficult to read, for one reason or another; people who lack this truly fundamental skill, and who, as a result, find even the simplest day-to-day tasks a daunting prospect.

The power of stories

The art of storytelling is part of the very fabric of what it means to be human. It’s a way of making sense of the world, an outlet for the imagination, a source of information and an incredible social lubricant. In short, it’s as old as humanity itself, and sits right at the heart of the collective character of our species. But some people are missing out.

With this in mind, WBD is much more than just the domain of wordsmiths – though, of course, it’s a fabulous opportunity for book-lovers everywhere to shout about the wonders of their dog-eared favourites. It’s also about nurturing the skills of those who need it most, inspiring and empowering young and old, whether they’re seasoned readers or just starting out. It serves to remind us all of the enduring power of stories and to reacquaint us with some of the greatest characters in literature – characters who will stay with us for life and teach us some of the wisest lessons we’ll ever learn.

As Julian Barnes, in his novel Flaubert’s Parrot, said: “Books say: She did this because. Life says: She did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t.”

When did you fall in love with reading? Let us know your thoughts below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Digital Book World 2014 and The Rise of Subscription eBooks

Author:
Alex Whittleton

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Attracting a dazzling array of techie talent and examining some of the greatest industry innovations of our time, the annual Digital Book World (DBW) conference is one of the most exciting dates in the publishing calendar. This year’s event, which took place last month in New York City, was the biggest, buzziest and most boundary-pushing yet.

In this blog – a follow-up to our last DBW post, which discussed the merits of metadata – we’ll be looking at a new business approach that created a lot of buzz at the event. It’s called the subscription eBook model, and it’s gathering pace, fast.

The eBook empire

The rate of growth in eBook sales might be slowing slightly, but digital editions are still flying off the (cyber) shelves; at the same time, traditional print-book sales are stagnating and high-street bookshops are closing. For the moment, at least, eBooks rule.

So the question on everybody’s lips at DBW 2014 was how publishers can breathe new life into the eBook market to ensure an upward trend in buying habits. It’s a million-dollar question, but a handful of startups seem sure they have the answer in the form of subscription eBook services, which promise more downloads, more often, while keeping both customers and publishers happy.

Bang for buck

This new breed of online business was represented at DBW 2014 by Entitle, Scribd, 24symbols and – probably the most famous of the lot – Oyster, whose sites allow users to browse, download and read fiction (as much fiction as they like, in fact) for a nominal monthly fee. They are like the TV- and film-streaming site Netflix, only for books, and they seem to offer huge bang for buck.

Figureheads from all four businesses spoke on a panel at the conference, persuasively pushing the business case for the model. Not only is it good for readers, who can devour limitless titles without encountering any paywalls, but it’s also a winner for publishers, who benefit from the set-up enormously.

‘As soon as someone reads a book in Oyster, we pay the publisher’, said Matthew Shatz, head of strategy and partnerships at the New York-based company. So publishers are paid in exactly the same way as they would be in a typical retail model.

So far, so good

Crucially, confidence in subscription services are growing by the day. At DBW 2014, Oyster announced that it had managed to secure $14m in investment – no mean feat in these testing financial times.

The company already has a catalogue of 100,000 titles from more than 500 publishers, and is available on iPhone and iPads in the US. And thanks to this recent cash injection, the company now plans to increase the size of its team and release an Android app.

It all sounds good – for trade publishing, at least. But what does the eBook subscription trend mean for our business at Out of House, and for academic and education publishing in general?

Scholarly subscriptions

The truth is that the snowballing popularity of subscription eBooks will have an impact on all streams of publishing. As Tim O’Reilly, CEO of the technology-media outfit O’Reilly Media, said: ‘…there’s pretty clear evidence in many fields that it’s what consumers want.’

In some ways, academic publishers are actually ahead of the game, because of their association with the library market, which operates largely like a subscription service, taking on and lending vast quantities of content. At the moment, a huge proportion of this content is physical books, but increasingly, libraries are offering eBook lending – and that’s without the monthly fee that defines the trade-eBook subscription services.

There are also plans at most of the big academic publishers to bring journals (which are solely subscription-based) and books more closely together. What form this move will take is still largely unknown, but it goes to show that the early adopters of the subscription eBook model won’t be leaving their scholarly counterparts very far behind. In fact, they may even find themselves racing to catch up…

Would you sign up to a subscription eBook service? Let us know your thoughts below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Digital Book World 2014 and The Merits of Metadata

Author:
Alex Whittleton

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Last month in New York City, publishers were looking to the future. At Digital Book World (DBW) 2014 – the largest conference of its kind in the world – everything from social-media marketing and metadata to eBook subscriptions and the self-publishing boom were on the agenda. This exciting event has certainly come a long way since its first, tentative steps getting to know the iPad back in 2010…

The running theme of the two-day annual get-together in the Big Apple was the galloping pace of change in publishing – and how to handle it. With dwindling numbers of high-street bookshops, the relentless rise of the industry colossus, Amazon, and the growing popularity of eReaders and tablets, huge change is not only fully underway, but looks set to stay.

Techie themes

Discussions on a range of techie themes were led by a panel of CEOs from publishing houses including HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, who were joined by countless smaller houses and 1,500 attendees from across the industry – some of the brightest minds in digital publishing.

In a special two-blog mini-series, we’ll be focusing on the two DBW themes that are most relevant to our business here at Out of House – in this blog, we’ll be looking at the merits of metadata (which follows on nicely from our last blog on big data); next time, the spotlight will be on the subscription eBook model, and how it’s shaping the publishing landscape.

Big data’s little sister

Metadata is the information (about information) that contributes to big data. It’s big data’s little sister, and retailers and libraries need it to classify content, marketeers use it to push out the relevant information at the right time, and users – often without even knowing it – rely on the stuff to discover and select their next purchase.

As we explored last time, data is important for those who need to ensure their content stands out in the ocean of big data, in order to aid science and technology research. But as DBW confirmed – if any confirmation were needed – it’s also crucial for anybody in the business of content creation, who wants that content to be discovered, bought and enjoyed.

Metadata and you

As we all know, book browsing today is less about wandering down dusty bookshop aisles waiting to be inspired, and more about keywords, clicking, searching and viewing. It’s the stuff that works hard behind the scenes to organise browsing lists and match our searches. We use it to filter our options by subject, genre, author, format, ISBN and price point; you name it, metadata organises it.

It’s not a new phenomenon, by any means, but the digital boom has placed metadata at the forefront of book-selling. Whether we’re talking about print titles in traditional bookshops that need effective marketing, print titles sold online or digital-only content – where the entire experience, from discovery to delivery, is in the digital realm – metadata is more important than ever.

The metadata machine

Attendees at DBW 2014 couldn’t have left the conference hall in New York City any surer of the incredible power of good-quality, well-assigned metadata. It’s no longer an option for publishers, or merely the domain of digital-savvy businesses; no, storing metadata in easy-to-read, accessible formats like XML – as we do here at Out of House – has become one of the keys to longevity for anyone creating content.

What’s clear is that in an industry that’s no longer dabbling in digital, but completely awash with technology, the manipulation of this highly sophisticated data-filing system – the metadata machine – is not only desirable, but tantamount to success.

Is your business putting metadata first? Let us know your thoughts below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Elsevier, UCL and the Big Data Revolution

Author:
Alex Whittleton

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Here at Out of House, in typical New Year fashion, we’ve been trying to predict the industry innovations, trends and partnerships that might define the months ahead. And after the recent opening of the UCL Big Data Institute (BDI) – a collaboration between the global science publisher Elsevier and University College London (UCL) – we have a feeling that developments in data crunching will take centre stage. Here’s the lowdown on academia’s big move towards big data.

Big data explained

The term ‘big data’ refers to the torrent of data brought about by advances in digital technology. It’s the same as old-fashioned data, only there’s a lot more of it, and from multiple, ever-changing sources. We’re talking about vast, unstructured data sets that are so complex they need to be processed by specially designed tools.

The pioneering collaboration between Elsevier and UCL announced last month will focus on cutting-edge research into the analysis, use and storage of all this information. The plan is to develop innovative technologies and analytics tools that will help scientists mine scholarly content and data more efficiently, allowing them to find the most relevant information at speed. Routine tasks, such as forecasting trends, will become easier than ever.

Everyone’s a winner

A mutually beneficial partnership, the BDI will involve a two-way exchange of insights and resources. On the one hand, UCL will receive funding for research projects from Elsevier and have access to the publishing giant’s large-scale technology. Elsevier, on the other hand, will get to work with some of the brightest minds in science, and can use the initiative to build on several of its established projects in web analytics and research.

And if all goes to plan, it isn’t just UK science that looks set to benefit from the initiative; the economy will, too. As David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, said: ‘It’s estimated that the big data market will create up to 58,000 new UK jobs by 2017. Collaborations such as the one between University College London and Elsevier are vital if we are to take full advantage of the big data revolution and stay ahead in the global race.’

Thinking big

But big data isn’t just relevant to scientists and economists – far from it. This unprecedented explosion of information and the impulse to analyse it is having an impact on everyone involved in producing scholarly content; content that, in some form or other, contributes to the vast ocean of data.

If content is to stand the test of time and be useful to researchers, it must be enriched in the right ways; and it is the application of languages such as XML in the production stages that make content simpler to curate, search and analyse. Here at Out of House, our XML workflow lends itself perfectly to publishers who see the long-term potential of their content in the way that Elsevier and UCL do – as versatile, reusable, accessible and sharable.

The recent union between two of our greatest science institutions highlights the transformative potential of information. Whatever your views on the partnership, one thing’s for sure – the BDI is sure to be a game-changer in 2014. Watch this space.

How is big data shaping your business? Let us know your thoughts below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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