Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Allee Willis

December 28, 2010 by  
Filed under PublishingTalks, Technology, The Future

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Allee Willis is one of my all-time favorite people.  She is best known as a spectacular and hugely successful songwriter; her songs for Earth, Wind and Fire and the Pointer Sisters were giant hits, she wrote the theme song for “Friends,” the music for the Oprah Winfrey produced Broadway musical production of “The Color Purple, collaborated with the web sensation Pomplamoose (Jungle Music), and as of the date of this posting, her song “I’m Here” was sung by Jennifer Hudson for Oprah Winfrey’s Kennedy Center Honor Award.  But all of this musical success notwithstanding, as she herself says, Allee is “a one-woman creative think-tank. A multi-disciplinary artist and visionary thinker whose range of imagination and productivity knows no bounds, her success exuberantly defies categorization-‘unique’ pales as a descriptor.”  You have to visit her website to begin to get an idea of what a creative powerhouse she is.  Her Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch is not to be missed.  She’s constantly creating, integrating music, art, video, multi-media technology and lifestyle via a series of work which she co-composes, sings, plays, produces, draws, animates, directs, designs web worlds for and stars in. The first release, “Allee Willis Presents Bubbles & Cheesecake “It’s A Woman Thang”-part of a 6-song collaboration with singer-songwriter Holly Palmer (aka Cheesecake) was selected as Official Honoree in the 2008 Webby Awards, and won three 2008 W3 Awards. Her second video, “Allee Willis Presents Bubbles & Cheesecake “Editing Is Cool” was also ‘featured’ on YouTube. At one point, Willis’ 2009 video “Hey Jerrie,” co-starring 91-year-old female drummer on an oxygen tank Jerrie Thill, was the 12th most popular video in the world on YouTube.

I wanted to talk to Allee mainly because she has been working with the internet in her work almost since the ‘web went public – as she points out, the ‘web itself is her medium.  She is the ultimate social being, her work itself is social art, her medium is her life.  Anyone working in an artistic discipline today can learn from what she knows and how she conducts herself as an artist.  I loved talking to Allee about her work and what she knows – which is a tremendous amount.  And now I am addicted to her website too.  Writers and publishers, please pay attention to what she has to say: art is social! books are bait!

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Andrew Steeves

November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under PublishingTalks, Technology, The Future

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Andrew Steeves and his partner Gary Dunfield, founded Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia in 1997, starting out, as many have done, with a literary quarterly and moving into publishing books, three in their first year, eight by 2000 when they moved to the small town of Kentfield.  In Canada, there is a long tradition of government funding of the arts, including literature, through support grants to publishers of all sizes and kinds.  Bordering the giant culture machine to the south, this is an important mechanism to keep in place a vibrant and local Canadian literary scene.  Gaspereau publishes in the tradition of the long running Coach House Press (founded by Stan Bevington in 1965 and still going strong) and the wonderful Montreal based Vehicule Press, among other highly successful independent Canadian literary presses.

But there’s much more going on here than a well run independent literary press putting out a small number of excellent books each year.  Gaspereau is also, significantly, a printer, not only of their own books, but for commercial and private customers as well.  The operation maintains a great deal of equipment too, from hand set metal type printed on hand cranked proof presses, to semi-modern offset presses that have alot of miles on them.

I’ve been deeply interested in and have admired Canadian publishing and writing for a long time.  But I only heard about Gaspereau fairly recently, when reports started circulating about one of their new books, Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists. was nominated for the major Canadian literary prize, the ScotiaBank Giller award.  I looked up the Gaspereau site, and was immediately taken with their approach to publishing and book design, and contacted Andrew Steeves to talk about the work of the Gaspereau and its fierce commitment to publishing books by hand.  We had a great talk, and that is the interview presented here.

If course a couple of days later, the big news hit – The Sentimentalists, perhaps a dark horse previously, won the Giller for its 30 year old author and her publisher.  Now in the midst of a great deal of celebrating and joy, Gaspereau is trying to keep up with the almost unbelievable demand for the book that the award has spurred.  Canada’s National Post headlined “Literary community weighs in on Gaspereau’s Giller dilemma.”  There’s a huge uproar in Canada and alot of ire directed at Gaspereau for not being able to instantly print the thousands of books needed by stores to meet demand.  Author Skibsrud is on vacation in Istanbul happily celebrating her good fortune (a $50,000 CN prize comes with the recognition) so we don’t know what she thinks about any of this.

Andrew and Gary do not want to sell the book to a bigger publisher to meet demand.  They want to maintain it as a Gaspereau book.  Personally I am on their side, but I understand the difficulty for everyone involved, including the author, and of course the many readers out there who want to read the book now.  On the one hand, selling the book off solves lots of problems, makes readers happy, puts many thousands of dollars in the hands of the author and Gaspereau, but loses them an author they have discovered and takes them out of the publishing equation, just because they are small and committed to high quality, hands on publishing.

I’d love to hear from listeners on this question: should Gaspereau stay its course, remain committed to its mission, and refuse to sell off The Sentimentalists to another publisher?  Or should they accept that the demand of mass culture is too great for an artisanal press, and maybe keep their own edition in print as the original, and license a lesser trade edition to a larger house that is built for this sort of publishing?

In any case, please listen to Andrew Steeves talking about Gaspereau, its mission, history and vision for the future.  And keep in mind that when we talked, he had no idea what was about to happen to his life. And by the way, The Sentimentalists sounds like a truly wonderful novel, and like thousands of readers north of our border, I want to read it as soon as possible!  I’m guessing I might be waiting awhile…

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Liza Daly

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Liza Daly and her partner Keith Fahlgren work together as ThreePress Consulting, providing “expert consulting services and software engineering in digital publishing.”  Liza’s name comes up constantly in discussions about ebooks and the emerging technology of publishing.  Recently I’ve become interested in how HTML5 operates, as this new standard appears to have a great deal of potential use for handling online display and consumption of digital publishing in a web browser environment and elsewhere.  Liza created Bookworm as a free platform for reading ePub format ebooks online and now with Keith, she has developed Ibis Reader, which enables reading ebooks on computers and devices without having to download ebook files or even understand how ebook files and devices work (and Ibis is written in HTML5).

In addition Liza and Keith are active in the open source technology community and are strong advocates for experimentation, agile development, and innovation in publishing. In April of 2010, Liza was elected to the IDPF Board of Directors. Both Keith and Liza are members of various IDPF EPUB Working Groups, including the EPUB 3.0 Working Group. Liza was a member of the advisory board for the Web 2.0 Expo NYC conference in 2008 and 2009, and was also on the board for O’Reilly’s digital publishing conference, Tools of Change 2009-2011.

I wanted to talk to Liza to better understand the emerging landscape of ebooks and e-reading as she sees it from her perspective.  She is so deeply involved in new technologies and also has a terrific understanding of use and useability, which of course are critical for the future of digital publishing.  I’ve used Ibis Reader now and it works really well.  What comes next will be very interesting to see and hopefully this talk with Liza will be useful to listeners who are interested, as I am, in how new technologies will create opportunities for publishers, writers and readers in the near future.  It’s critical that we understand how we interact with new software, how its use affects our comprehension of information and ideas, and how we can in turn influence the emerging future we are about to inhabit.  Since Liza is one of the proverbial “smartest people in the room” I can’t think of anyone better from which to learn.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Andy Campbell

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

When I recently accidentally discovered the work of UK writer Andy Campbell, I was completely blown away.  First because the work is so good, imaginative, creative that makes full use of the digital environment to tell stories in a thoroughly new way.  But second, simply because I was so surprised that he had been doing this work for so long, and I had never learned of it before now.  It’s just proof that the creative world we inhabit is so vast and full of creative individuals, fragmented and as full of stars as the night sky.  And it is great fun to find new kinds of writers and writing, and learn so much from their own experiences.

Andy Campbell is a digital writer who has been working at the forefront of digital fiction since 1994. He is the author of Dreaming Methods, a website described by the UK’s Times Educational Supplement as “One of the most impressive purveyors of the new art of internet reading… a distinctive voice that couldn’t be replicated in print.” He is also co-director of One to One Productions Ltd, creating and facilitating multimedia projects for charities, arts organizations and others.

Andy is great fun to talk to, has some valuable insights and thoughts about the emergence and future of digital storytelling, and I hope this talk will gain him some new readers for his really exciting story telling.  I think his work represents a profound shift in the way our culture imagines and tells its stories.  (below a small screenshot from Nightingales Playground – “a young man attends a school reunion only to discover none of his old friends remember the same things he does”).  Do visit Dreaming Methods, it is well worth the time to explore (and support this digital innovator by subscribing).

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Ron Martinez

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Ron Martinez, is Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Invention Arts. His primary focus is on [aerbook], a web-based publishing and marketing platform that helps books and potential readers find one another on the social web (www.aerbook.com). Ron is a prolific inventor, with close to a hundred and fifty issued patents and patent applications currently in flight. He brings a combination of, technical, creative, intellectual property development and management, design, and strategic and operational business experience to his work at Invention Arts, and finds that his initial interest in computing as an expressive medium continues to define his agenda.

His introduction to the medium was in the mid-80’s, when he was an aspiring novelist in New York, writing YA adventure books, contributing to humor anthologies, writing comics for Heavy Metal and other publications–anything to put food on the table. A book packager asked him to adapt an Arthur C. Clarke novel, Rendezvous with Rama, to graphic adventure format, perhaps the first major author’s works to be so adapted. Taken with the expressive possibilities of the medium, Ron taught himself to program software and built an interactive fiction system, and went on to use that and enhancements to it, as well as entirely new systems, to write interactive fiction, original murder mysteries, political simulations, and other titles for publishers like Simon & Schuster, Spinnaker, Philips Interactive Media, Electronic Arts, and others. By the mid-90’s he was deeply interested in the design of story-rich, massively multiplayer online games. His game 10Six was one of the first of these, a social/tribal million player game published and operated by Sega. (Though built in the late 90’s, it continues to thrive as an indie game at ProjectVisitor.com. 10six introduced ownable, transactable virtual goods for the first time, a technology Ron was awarded a foundational patent for in 2001. Virtual goods models have since emerged as a dominant form of commerce for social networks and social games.

Prior to his current work at Invention Arts, Ron worked for a number of years as Vice President, Intellectual Property Innovation for Yahoo! There he designed and built the IP Innovation function which over a four year period delivered high volume targeted, patentable IP and productizable innovation. He also initiated Yahoo!’s content IP asset management and operations program, implementing a global, real-time rights infrastructure called Rights Engine.

His interests include invention techniques; the evolution of books and the current reimplementation of the publishing industry, intellectual property strategy; content rights; content IP and social distribution; electronic payments; virtual property; online payments; networked games; educational software; social media; social media advertising and marketing; social media monetization; mobile media; media metadata; media sharing and reuse; media remixing; and distributed media production.

It was from Ron’s announcement of Aerbook that I learned of his work.  I was very excited as soon as I began exploring this project, because it launched just as I have been thinking about the implications of publishing as a social endeavor in the digital universe.  Aerbook in fact is created around the notion of book as a multi-channel conversation between writers and readers, and I think it demonstrates concretely how powerfully publishing can be re-imagined.  Ron’s experience as a writer who has mastered the skills and tools of software development and storytelling in a digital environment also brings forward the changes in how writers can work in this new environment.  I hope you will find this discussion as interesting and thought provoking as it was for me talking to Ron Martinez.  I think we are just now seeing the true beginnings of a “modern” form of publishing that will in fact expand the reach of writers and change their relationships with readers for the good of all.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Adam Hodgkin

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Adam Hodgkin is one of the three publishing and technology experienced founders of Exact Editions, which started as a digital publishing solution for magazines to run on the iPhone (and of course now on the iPad as well).    Exact Editions enables magazine publishers to sell “in-app” subscriptions, and notably, preserves the notion of the designed page, something that has been a concern for many publishers of illustrated books as well.  I’ve been reading the Exact Editions blog for some time and have been impressed with Adam’s understanding of the emerging digital publishing universe.  Something he wrote recently caught my attention immediately, as I have long been interested in the ways that authors, publishers and readers will learn to connect with one another in the online environment.  Here’s what Adam wrote about the Apple environment upon which EE is built:

“The Apple e-commerce system works extremely well in my view and with the freemium method that we are adopting at Exact Editions it works in a way in which the ratios between ‘sampling’ and ‘purchasing’ are extremely informative. And as we get more data and get on top of it and learn how to do SRO (SampleRevisionOptimisation – a bit like SEO and it will be an equally dark art) the business of presenting the right amount of content to optimise sales will be established. We currently recommend working at about 8-15% exposure, but its guesstimatory at this point. Amazon must know quite a lot about this from their system, but I am not sure if they have issued any guidance to publishers.

The Apple system is better than most physical bookshops because it can put ‘samples’ in the hands of thousands (many thousands) of potential subscribers/purchasers much more efficiently than can be done with printed paper pages. The economics of this are pretty compelling even if the ‘sample’ to ‘purchase’ ratio is as low as 1%. And in most cases its quite a bit higher than that.

Will probably blog something a bit more informative about this in the next few days. But just let me say that I am simply ASTONISHED by how much more takeup there is for the iPad than for the iPhone. More in absolute terms, by quite a margin, even though there are maybe 40X as many iPhone/IPod touches in the market than iPads.

The iPad is turning out to be a hugely strong reading environment. Absolutely no question about it. And its darn easy to buy stuff on it that you might want to read.”

I thought it would be interesting to talk to Adam about Exact Editions and some of the things he and his colleagues have learned through the experience of working in the Apple environment, not only with magazine publishers but now as they are expanding into working with book publishers as well.  My discussion with Adam covered his background and experience in traditional publishing, technology, and some of the lessons learned by the Exact Editions team in their work in digital publishing apps and proved to be as compelling as I had expected.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Bob Stein

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Bob Stein is for me one of the great visionary innovators and someone I greatly admire.   He most recently co-founded The Institute for the Future of the Book, which quite modestly describes itself as “a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens. We are funded generously by the MacArthur Foundation, and affiliated with the University of Southern California. We are located in Brooklyn, NY and London, UK.”  Bob’s bio includes founding the excellent Criterion Collection of classic films, which he ran for 13 years, as well as The Voyager Company, which produced more than 75 innovative multi-media projects in CD-ROM formats.  Subsequently, Stein started Night Kitchen to develop authoring tools for the next generation of electronic publishing. That work is now being continued at the Institute for the Future of the Book.

In our conversation Bob talked a bit about his background and his history of working in publishing as lead in to a wide ranging discussion of digital publishing issues.  Bob’s vision of how reading and books work in the digital, networked social environment – “books as conversation” as well as or perhaps instead of “books as objects” – and how authors and readers interact in the emerging environment is compelling.  Bob has a deep experience that combines conceptual and hands-on work on so many of the issues that concern anyone interested in books and reading which for me makes his point of view so important to experience.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Eoin Purcell

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics? Publishing Talks interviews help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends.
I believe these interviews give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed within the industry.

Eoin Purcell works and lives in Dublin, Ireland. He is a publishing industry analyst and commentator. He runs Green Lamp Media, a publishing and publishing services company and also edits Irish Publishing News.

He has worked as Commissioning Editor with one of Ireland’s oldest independent publishers Mercier Press and at Nonsuch Ireland (now The History Press Ireland). He writes occasional blog posts and columns on the Irish book trade for The Bookseller magazine.

I was prompted to talk to Eoin by his persuasive and cogent article that appeared in (Ed Nawotka’s highly recommended online newsletter) Publishing Perspectives called “E-Books are a Cul-de-sac: Why Publishing Needs to Rethink its Digital Strategy.”  In my view, Eoin consistently thinks and writes clearly about the unfolding future of a digital publishing future.  In this conversation we talked mainly about how publishers (and authors) can and must adapt to the emerging environment created by new technology (and new distribution models), including practical ideas and actions they can take to embrace new tools and methods of reaching readers in a profitable way.  He expressed his view that publishers need to focus on longer term trends, the values they can provide to readers (and writers) and then build their businesses around identifiable communities of readers.  We also talked about the differences in marketing paradigms that digital publishing establishes for publishers, the idea of “publishing as community” and much more.

Eoin provides a fresh, incisive perspective along with realistic ideas and strategies for publishers who want to embrace a new paradigm of publishing based on a web-centric environment.  I think this conversation will be valuable to anyone (publisher or author) who is interested in creating a successful digital strategy for the long term future.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Jason Epstein

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.

How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics? Publishing Talks interviews help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends.
I believe these interviews give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed within the industry.

Jason Epstein has led one of the most creative careers in book publishing of the past half century. In 1952, while a young editor at Doubleday, he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called ‘paperback revolution’ and established the trade paperback format. In the following decade he became cofounder of The New York Review of Books. In the 1980s he created the Library of America, the prestigious publisher of American classics, and The Reader’s Catalog, the precursor of online bookselling. For many years, Jason Epstein was editorial director of Random House.   He is the recipient of many awards, including the Curtis Benjamin Award of the American Association of Publishers for inventing new kinds of publishing, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Book Critics Circle for creative publishing, and the National Book Award for distinguished contribution to American Letters.  As an editor, he worked with many well-known novelists, including Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E. L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal, and important non-fiction writers as well.

Most recently he has spearheaded the creation of the Espresso Book Machine as co-founder of On Demand Books, and is the author of Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future and numerous articles and essays.

For me it was a great honor and pleasure to talk to Mr. Epstein at his kitchen table, first about his incredible career in publishing, then about his current work with on-demand publishing, and of course, his many ideas about the future of books and publishing, all of which deserve the close attention of all of us who are trying to figure out where books, publishing and literary culture is headed.  His vision of the evolving future of the nature of publishing and the value of traditional editorial skillsets will be of particular interest to many listeners.

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