Here is a thought – as we remember that the Russian Revolution is 100 years old , the Frankfurt Book Fair has inaugurated its first innovation day . Well , since Gutenberg anyway . But since I am chairing the inaugural session of the innovative Innovation Day , I do not want to appear unwelcoming or dismissive – and indeed my mood is exactly the opposite . I want to use the day to celebrate the freedom of publishers to innovate . The technology which appears to allow their users to compete directly with them , the social mores which appear to allow their users to adopt a different attitude to intellectual property which undermines their business models , the distribution services in the network which undermine their market control – these are all , in a different context , immense processes of liberation which allow publishers to change roles and positions in respect of changing business models . Instead of trying to hold up the future , we have to take it on !

While not quite as momentous as the Russian Revolution , I have an anniversary of my own to celebrate . Fifty years ago today , I entered what was rightly known then as “ publishing “ and in my second week journeyed to Frankfurt in a van with the exhibition display stands to do exactly what a graduate trainee should do in the estimation of those days –  help to put up the display stand , since his abilities in any other direction were not obvious . During the ensuing 50 years I have learnt that what I thought of and was trained to appreciate as a product – the book – is in fact a service . An intermediary service which conveys creativity form its source to an end-use , reader , purchaser. In seventeenth century England , in the first great age of books , when they cut off the head of a king to demonstrate that change could not be reversed , the pamphleteers described it as “ a World Turned Upside Down “ . In 1993 , doing my very first internet strategy project I tried to describe what had happened in those very same terms , looking at a world where authors became their own publishers and where university reference publishers were re-inventions of University Presses . Now that we are reaching the point where the full inversion of the publishing model is taking place , it is incumbent upon us to think about “ what next “ , rather than how we  preserve old business models in aspic .

So , first thing , lets stop this romantic twaddle about “ print is coming back “ . Sit on any train or bus going anywhere and use your eyes . Print will never go away as long as we all love objects – the Snowden shelves in every room in my own house bear testimony – but as long as we do not measure effectively the circulation of self-published material we are only guessing , and the published figures of self-interested publishers associations are no real guide to anything , except maybe the ability of publishers to move to that dodo amongst poultry , the electronic book . Not that I do not read those as well , but I offer a simple maxim – Those who imitate Print in Digital Formats must expect a Short Shelf Life  – and look at the demise of the newspaper industry if you doubt this !

So the point is not to imitate the printed book but to exceed it . EPub3 was long heralded as the vehicle to do this – and today it reaches rather arthritically  towards the same functionality that Peter Kindersley and Alan Buckingham achieved on fixed disk CD-ROMs in the mid 1990s . Meanwhile , still using this odd word “book” which we seemingly cannot do without , we are building in non-standard software all sorts of extensions of the book . Beautiful books which add AR and VR to extend our sense of reality , appearing alongside a whole generation of books this century which , since Inanimate Alice , have driven narrative through text , sound , video and graphics . And as we speak , a fresh wave of innovative books promises  you books which will interact with all the other books in your digital library , bringing you a “live” environment , cross-referenced and updated and allowing you to read one book while having the benefit of your collection . And , as an ex-school textbook publisher and writer , I get a real kick when I hear McGraw Hill’s David Levin describe books that learn to know the learner , diagnostically and socially , suggesteing learning journies and demonstrating achievement . Books that speak to each other and books that speak to you .

Surely all this is innovation ? Yes , it is , but there is one important caveat . In many of the old publishing sectors , which , incidentally , are moving ever further apart like ice floes in global warming , The role of the intermediary/publisher in the cycle is to move to support the end user requirement . As it changes , so must she. In areas like STM and HSS, the demand may be for navigation and discovery , for semantic web mark-up of pre-print materials , for data about usage and other altmetrics , or for the availability of evidential data from the original research – bright and lively companies are being built in these areas , but not by erstwhile publishers . Instead it is researchers who are coming to their own salvation – and publishers , still clinging to the journals milch cow , who buy them as a hedge against the future . Getting these people – with the honourable exception of Elsevier – to look at the horizon has always been a struggle .


All these issues and more will be debated in Innovation Day , starting in Hall4.0 Hot Spot on Friday 13 October (!) at Frankfurt Book Fair . My opening panel has some classic innovators – Annette Thomas of Clarivate , Matt Turner of MarkLogic and Michael Clarke . See you there !


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