OOH Publishing Blog

HTML5: the language of 21st-century publishing

Alex Whittleton


HTML, the mark-up language that’s used to create websites, might be 20 years old, but its newest incarnation has only been around – in an official capacity, at least – for a few weeks. And it boasts a whole host of sophisticated new features that make it ideal for expressing feature-rich content. Here, we take a look at the software that’s widely thought to be the future of digital publishing.

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the very fabric of the Internet. In its most basic form, it’s a series of tags that describe how to present and structure content. The tags are then read by web browsers and converted into audio or visual content accordingly. These are the web pages that we see every day.

Over the years, there have been countless iterations of the language – in fact, it’s still evolving and will continue to do so. But in its cleverest and most current form, the language supports the latest trends in technology, from the rise of tablets to the demand for embedded video and audio content.

Digital content made easy

So what does this mean for the publishing industry? First and foremost, that HTML5 could provide publishers with the most exciting and intuitive way yet of producing digital content – particularly eBooks, which are already made using HTML.

Up until now, the book-publishing process has comprised a handful of stages that use different software. Sanders Kleinfeld, Director of Publishing Technology at O’Reilly Media, explains this traditional publishing model in the following way: “You author in a word-processing application, typeset and design in a desktop-publishing application and finally convert/export the content for print”.

So by producing an eBook, you’re effectively adding another conversion stage to the end of an already long and relatively disjointed process. With HTML5, on the other hand, we have the opportunity to rid ourselves of the digital “conversion” process altogether. Below, we explain how.

Going, going, gone

The digital-conversion business has been booming over the past decade. With the rise of digital publishing, countless companies have launched around the world with the sole purpose of taking print content and converting it to digital forms. This new breed of business has been so prolific, in fact, that digital conversion – including troubleshooting, clean-up and finally, output – has become a mini-industry in its own right.

But it’s a time-consuming and costly process. And with society’s tech obsession hurtling ever onwards, there’s a pressing need to find a less cumbersome, more streamlined workflow. Cue HTML5, and the “single-source workflow” it promises; in other words, one set of documents are used from cradle to grave, eliminating the need for conversions of any kind. Several leading lights in the industry are already trying it out.

A case study

The US company O’Reilly Media is one such proponent of this newly streamlined workflow, which has HTML5 at its heart. To showcase their idea, they built Atlas – a publishing tool for writing, editing and illustrating content that offers one-click print- and digital-publishing options. By standardising the formats of both source and output files – using HTMLBook, their own version of HTML5, for both – PDFs, ePUB and Mobi files are easier than ever to create.

“With this build functionality, Atlas effectively eliminated any cost or time entailed in the ebook conversion process, making it possible to release content into the market early and frequently”, says Kleinfeld.

Other highlights of the platform include the option to apply “themes” to alter the design – again, at the click of a button – and a user-friendly, collaborative interface to make in-text editing a breeze for contributors, be they authors, editors or production staff.  All in all, it’s a smart and simple way to churn out high-quality content in digital formats.

The bigger picture

In summary, the publishing possibilities brought about by HTML5 are massive. Not only is its development encouraging a “digital first” approach to content – a prerequisite for successful publishing today – but it’s increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the entire publishing process, allowing more creativity and agility than ever before.

Although the trend for using this innovative document format in publishing is still very much in its infancy, we’d bet our bottom dollar that in a few years’ time, creating content in HTML5 will be as routine a practice as using Microsoft Word and Adobe Indesign is right now. We’ll have to wait and see…

What’s your view on HTML5 in publishing? Let us know your thoughts below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks to Zhao! for the image.


iOS 8 – the Apple of our eye?

Alex Whittleton

iOS 8 blog

A few weeks ago, tech giant Apple released its latest operating system, iOS 8. This major update to the world’s most famous software came with a series of smart new features, from health and fitness widgets to family file-sharing. But for anyone in the publishing world, by far the most exciting development was Apple’s decision to make its signature eBook app – iBooks – available to all. Here, we explore how such an important step could impact reading habits – and education – across the world.

Released alongside the original iPad back in 2010, iBooks didn’t properly hit the headlines until early 2012, when it was relaunched with an innovative education focus. The new version of the software made way for digital textbooks, which could, for the first time, display interactive diagrams, animations, audio and video. At the same time, Apple released iBooks Author, an easy-to-use tool that allows anyone to create and share their own enriched textbooks.

Until now, users have had to download – albeit free of charge – iBooks from the App Store. But with the newly integrated version, every Apple customer with the latest operating system will automatically be one step closer to accessing this world of digital books, with its bestselling fiction and creatively designed scholarly titles.

Apple versus Amazon

To entice users to buy through the app and get a taste for the incredible reading experience that is – quite literally – at their fingertips, the pre-installed iBooks app comes with an initial sweetener of 54 free titles in 30 countries and nine languages.

Quite how well this freebie will work remains unknown, but a steep increase in the number of paying iBooks customers is expected. After all, there are 650 million Apple users on the planet, and 800 million iOS devices in circulation; even if only a small fraction of these users starts buying titles through iBooks, Apple’s share of the market might soon be set to rival the greatest of all digital booksellers, Amazon.

iBooks and education

As we’ve already seen, iBooks has an undeniable educational leaning – its interactive functionality is the ideal framework for illustrated-reference and education content. The experience of swiping, tapping and scrolling to view everything from animated pop-ups to videos is engaging and highly intuitive, and it’s making learning more absorbing than ever.

And according to Apple, browsing, downloading and paying for these titles – and then exploring and sharing their content – has never been easier:

“Students can find these…in the Textbooks section of iBooks. They can download a sample or purchase the entire book with one tap for a fraction of the price of a paper textbook. Textbooks purchased from iBooks are immediately available on the student’s bookshelf, alongside their other books. They can even get alerts when publishers update content, and download new updates to textbooks at no additional charge.”

Testing the water

For publishers who want to dip their toes into the interactive eBook world offered by Apple, the beauty of iBooks Author is its usability. Whether you’re a natural programmer or a complete and utter technophobe, pretty much anyone can sit down and produce something interesting, inspiring and informative – as long as they have great content to hand. And the least risky, least expensive and most popular way to do this is to repurpose tried-and-tested print or online content.

So which brands have exploited this impressive functionality over the last few years? Cambridge University Press, Hodder Education, Pearson, The Open University, Collins – to name just a few. But despite this long list of early adopters, schools and other learning establishments have continued to favour print titles as a learning resource.

iBooks forecast

For us, and for others in the field of education, there are two key questions. Will the pre-installed iBooks app, with its newfound influence through iOS 8, encourage a surge of interactive educational eBooks? And will more schools adopt these digital textbooks as their top learning resource?

It’s early days, of course, but with society’s galloping tech trend in just about every other category, as well as Apple’s enduring popularity, it seems plausible – even likely – that ambitious educators will put even more confidence in this exciting platform. After all, who wouldn’t want to tap into such a huge new audience, which is ready, waiting and poised to download?

Have you got iOS 8? Let us know what you think of iBooks below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks to Tom Raftery for the image.


Frankfurt Fever

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.


Books that Win Prizes

Alex Whittleton


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.


Pearson’s Plan for a Literate Planet

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!


A placement with Out of House

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.


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

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.



London Book Fair 2014 – The Lowdown

Alex Whittleton


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.



Literature, Literacy and World Book Day 2014

Alex Whittleton

WBD image

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.


Digital Book World 2014 and The Rise of Subscription eBooks

Alex Whittleton


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…

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