The international conference on publishing studies organized by three formidable academics and enthusiasts – Benoît Berthou (Paris 13 Université, Sorbonne Paris Cité), Miha Kovač (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Angus Phillips (Oxford Brooks University, UK) – seems set to become a regular feature in the European context of publishing studies. In addition to an entirely recent Pula and quite ancient Vilnius conferences that have specific features, but adhere to the same book and publishing studies area it signifies strengthening and increasing relevance of this academic study field as well as consolidation of a particular academic community. A closer relationship of this academic community to reading scholars is developing, as one can see from the presentations in the conferences and the constellation of a recently formed COST action E-READ (http://www.cost.eu/COST_Actions/isch/Actions/IS1404).
The second Florence conference attracted a significant number of presentations from fourteen countries. Forty papers were presented over two days in thirteen sessions and there were two discussion panels. Some sessions ran in parallel and it was impossible for one person to listen to all presentations. So, I have engaged the help of my colleagues Tom Wilson and Asta Urbanavičiūtė. I am very grateful for their input into this text. I am also grateful to all those who commented the conference on Twitter. This helped me to revive my memory of the whole event.
The presentations at the conference covered a large range of issues, but they all relate to publishing and book studies. The participants were talking with just a few exceptions about a book in different contexts and of processes related to it.
As one may expect, the participants paid great attention to general issues of book publishing and distribution using several theoretical perspectives.
Zoran Velagić (Croatia) tried to map the variety of processes related to e-book production and circulation on several existing models. He noted the changes in book production and the emergence of new products that expand or take the place of the ultimate product of publishing. A number of new models have emerged to explain the new developments in book production. Media-oriented and producer-oriented models deal with more traditional issues, but author-oriented models explore the choices made by authors, while content-oriented models explain how to maximize capital in content. The presenter suggested that there should be a new model including practices of book circulation. He emphasized that publishers do not control the whole book cycle and at present are quite concerned about the fate of the sold book copy. The plurality of models emerging in book studies shows the efforts to deal with changes. These models become the indicators of the innovation and control spaces.
Frania Hall (UK) provided a practice-oriented perspective to the theoretical dimensions presented by Velagić. She had conducted a survey among strategic managers in publishing, seeking to understand their reactions to changes. Her results show that the change is perceived with great clarity. The re-organization of structures and increased collaboration are the usual responses by which the managers try to diminish risk. The collaboration in this context is especially interesting as it happens among the competitors. The network structures have come into existence to initiate collaborative projects. Thus, the book industry is at present characterised by increase in creativity and collaborative strategies.
Miha Kovač had looked into several interesting issues relating to book circulation as a whole. He presented the forecasts of the death of the book since the 16th century to this day, from some outstanding scholars and scientists. The general feature of these forecasts is the perception of reading as a too complicated and time-consuming activity. However, he illustrated the growth of publishing in titles and print-runs with some statistical data, though world print-run statistics does not exist. There are no global statistics of library loans either, but the data available in different countries together show that book production and usage has been constantly growing. At present we see that the time devoted to reading has diminished, but the number of non-readers (including non-readers of books) also diminished in all social groups. The present statistics show that some readers are lost, especially among younger age groups. This can be a real threat to the future of the publishing if books disappear from schools.
Though authors were mentioned by a number of presenters, only two of them concentrated on the authorship issues. Alexis Weedon (UK) compared the changes happening to authors at the beginning of the 20th and 21st centuries, though his talk focused on the authors from 1920s. He investigated the influence of new technologies, such as radio, cinema and television, on the behaviour of the authors of popular texts. The audiovisual culture provided them with new possibilities of marketing and branding. They started talking and reading for the public through radio and began writing stories that could be filmed. For the first time the authors have become celebrities. We can see similar changes at the beginning of 21st century, though the possibilities of multi-media, mobile reading, self-publishing, and media convergence are not yet fully developed or exploited. Melanie Ramdarshan Bold (UK) explored the significance of the author in modern book production. Celebrity authors, such as Zoe Sugg, with her book Girl Online and others capitalize on the activities in social media, such as Wattpad used by authors and readers. Wattpad is a hugely popular arena with 250,000 stories shared on it every day. The impact of the reputation and celebrity status of an author on book sales can be illustrated by increased sales of Galbraith’s book when it was revealed that it is a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling. To some extent the topic was taken up by Kristina Lundblad (Sweden) who argued from the historical perspective that the publishers are selecting and producing authors rather than texts or books. Without this outcome the publishers role in the modern book production and circulation processes is neither given nor required.
It is not surprising that many presenters were focusing on the issues of publishers‘ activities. Christoph Bläsi (Germany) explored the widening activities of big commercial publishers (Penguin books, Wiley, Kluwer) who produce not only content, but also an increasing number of side products and outcomes. The intangible outcomes produced by them can manifest as interactivity, services, contexts, and interfaces. Sara Kärrholm (Sweden) was looking into the policies and motives of republishing. She presented a number of Swedish cases showing that republishing confirms the change in the status of an author, a consecration of the genre, and the status of the publishing house. It is also a way to influence public debate on literary value. Stieg Hjarvard and Rasmus Helles (Denmark) explored the e-book as an organizational game changer in publishing. Their aim was to understand the perception of key business actors in relation to the changes produced by the e-book. The presenters have introduced the concepts of the greenfield development (creation of new infrastructures) vs brownfield development (changes and additions to existing infrastructures). The interviews with Danish publishers, booksellers, and representatives of digital streaming services have shown that the e-book is seen as an extension of existing practices. Quality is perceived as the means of defence against self-publishing and bottom up innovation. The respondents treat intellectual rights as capital and have a top down attitude to markets and customers. Amazon, Apple and Google are seen as the real competition and perhaps the future of the book. Established operators focus on gradual adaptation, and still see editors as the key employees, although they are increasingly employing new skills.
Several participants looked into the production of different digital books. Helena Seiler (France) investigated the strategies of DEPS publishers in France. Their main goal is to circulate and highlight activities and projects of public ministries and institutions. They have adopted digital publishing as means of reducing the production costs and increasing the visibility, despite the fact that some titles have been lost in the process. S.A. Hughes (UK) presented the implementation and the outcomes of the METS museum project to make the great art books openly available on the internet. She has explored the philosophy and organisation, copyright solutions, the actual working process and technology means. Claudio Pires Franco (UK) suggested that publishers have to cope with the new demands and need for new skills in the enhanced e-book environment. Positioning digital vs print books as totally competitive is not appropriate as their affordances are totally different. She outlined the potential of enhanced e-books that is based on the elements other than text, and requires new ways of authoring, marketing, and using them. Toke Ebbesen (Denmark) looked into the design of digital textbooks taking a Danish educational publishing model as a case. He applied the semiotic model inspired by Giampaolo Proni for analysis looking into the use of the artefact and discursive associations that relate it to the user. The presenter explained the new roles and relations between the authors and designers related to the new production workflows.
Several presenters concentrated on presenting the panorama of publishing in different countries. Rachel Noorda and Stevie Mardsen (Scotland) explored the significance of Scotishness in publishing for local and international markets as well as the means of expressing it through different signs. Tore Slaatta (Norway) presented an interesting insight into the Norwegian literary field and book production. Kinga Kasperek (Poland) produced a gloomy picture of Polish e-book market based on the literature review. Two presenters from Lithuania managed to convey the feeling of crisis in Lithuanian publishing. Aida Dobkevičiūtė talked about the decrease of publishing scope due to the economic crisis and emigration that reduces the number of readers. Asta Urbanavičiūtė depicted strategies of Lithuanian cultural periodicals to stay afloat despite diminishing state support and increasing competition from other media. Gulia Trentacosti (Scotland) looked at the translations of English literature in global markets and increased competence of English in non-English speaking countries, such as the Netherlands. As a result the scope of translations from English language is shrinking.
The process of editing has not been forgotten by the presenters. George Knott (Netherlands) has explored the tention between the short term profit seeking and long-term scholarly goals in production and dissemination of publications, but most significantly the impact of this tension on the work of an editor working for a commercial publisher. Susan Greenberg (UK) talked about the poetics of editing and characterised editors job as seeing the text as not finished. Katharine Reeve (UK) discussed the role of an editor as a tastemaker, talent spotter and quality controller.
A certain amount of attention was devoted to using the potential of social media and crowdsourcing for book production and marketing. Nick Canty (UK) focused on the possibilities offered by the YouTube, namely how books, authors, and readers are presented there through video blogs. Sarah Mygind (Denmark) presented the results of analysis of a social media site kiddly.dk produced by the publisher Egmont and showed how a publisher positions itself in relation to their young readers and their parents for creating an attractive environment to collect book recommendations and reviews. This becomes a powerful marketing tool harnessing free labour of the Egmont readers. Anna Kiernan (UK) approached the issue from a different side and related a case of community publishing in Cornwall, which was conducted for the entirely ideal goal of serving the community for no commercial gain. From the economic point of view it is entirely a misfit, but produced social benefits. Kim Maya Sutton (Germany) looked into the provision of funds for publishing projects through crowdfunding and demonstrated that Greek laws do not support this kind of finance acquisition at all.
Some of the participants were interested in book dissemination institutions. Ana Steiner (Sweden) is conducting a comparative study of digital change and sales of book from a historical perspective in Sweden. She overviewed the process of concentration of the book stores, the weakening of the book clubs, and emergence of alternative dissemination channels. The author also looked at what and why people are actually buying (texts or books) and how much they are prepared to pay. She explained different situation of readers and non-readers on the book market. Elena Maceviciute and Tom Wilson (Sweden) presented the situation in another book dissemination context in Sweden and explored the e-book acquisition and management in Swedish academic libraries focusing on the affordances and problems that occur on the way. Primož Južnič and Miha Kovač (Slovenia) continued this topic by comparing the sales of books and library loans in Slovenia over a longer historical period. They think that the mission of libraries is not justified by the loan patterns.
The other end of the communication chain, the readers, were implicitly present in most of the presentations. But several papers were devoted specifically to them or to changes in reading practice. Françoise Paquienseguy (France) discussed the origins of digital reading that began with the use of .pdf formats. She postulated that digital reading has emerged in a professional environment and the expectations of the readers were formed by the early digital formats. At present this behaviour is transfered into the leisure reading sphere. Srećko Jelušić (Croatia) presented a paper prepared together with Alessandro Gandolfo (Italy) and Mate Jurić. The paper was based on the results of the survey of the reading habits of students in Italy, Croatia and China. The comparison of the results (though only from one university in each country) revealed the differences in practices of buying and acquiring books, channels and equipment used for reading and other interesting features of students voluntary reading. Padmapriya Padmalochanan (Australia) looked at screen reading as the means changing not only the behaviour of readers, but also the behaviour, tools and working conditions of publishers as they should make digital texts readable in different ways and different environments.
It is only natural that a conference on publishing studies should include a whole section on education and study programmes for publishers, and there were some papers relating to this topic in other sections as well. Judith Watts (UK) was talking about the ways to use publishing theory for the development of professional skills and competencies. Franjo Pehar (Croatia) identified a number of publishing study programmes and courses and collected the data about the teaching literature used in them. It seems that quite many programmes use the same English literature and only some of the countries have produced original textbooks for publishing studies. Lucy Ry-Kottoh (Scotland) has presented a publishing studies programme in Ghana, which surprisingly was started as early as 1984. She outlined the opinions of African publishers on this study programme, discussed the shortcomings and perspectives of its further development. Arūnas Gudinavičius (Lithuania) has conducted a survey of training needs among Lithuanian publishers. It occurred that most of the workers in the publishing industry have never participated in any training. The wish to get training and even to pay for it is directly related to earlier participation in training. Rose Leighton (Netherlands) and Helena Markou (UK) talked about a very interesting collaborative project among the publishing teachers from Amsterdam and Oxford Brookes Universities. The project consisted of giving real publishing experience (experiential learning) to the students by actually producing a city guide for international students. The outcomes and the process of work were presented, the means of financing and students‘ assessment discussed.
The topic that received least attention in the conference relates to the methodology of publishing studies, though many research methods were mentioned. From this point of view two papers are very interesting. Simon Rowberry (Scotland) has explored the reverse engineering method to use the Amazon infrastructure for data mining. As any activity on the computer network leaves traces, so, despite the fact that Amazon does not share its data with researchers, one can find it independently, though this work requires special and rather skilled approach. Reverse engineering is not the best technology, but it is better than nothing. The author demonstrated the results of his pilot project that were quite fascinating. These results show that Amazon has started selling e-books from 2000 (before the Kindle was released), that it re-sells the e-books digitized for Project Gutenberg and many other interesting things. Tomislav Jakopec (Croatia) was looking into the models that help continuous monitoring of the e-book market. The problem with other online sellers is the same as with Amazon – they do not share their data considering it a commercial secret. Thus data collection has to be done manually from different sources. A possible solution for this could be building of a data model, then, based on that, developing a module-based information system, the part of which will craw, verify and report results of crawling for each vendor. The other part should describe method, report and provide analytics, and compare with previous study. One can create such a system using open source technologies, such as Selenium for Java as the crawling tool. These two interesting papers have laid good ground to the next conference in Zadar.
Two discussion panels took place during the conference. One looked into the prospect of organizing an association that could take care of further organizing the conference. Another round table explored the visions of the participants (Claire Squires, Sophie Noël, Ann Steiner, and Adriaan van der Weel) related to the future of the 21st century book.
The wonderful atmosphere of the Villa Finaly helped to feel relaxed, contributed to building friendly relationships, and generating interesting ideas for further collaboration.
(Pictures by Tom Wilson)