Future of Books

Last night I chaired another Clever Boxer event at Soho House. This one was on the ‘Future of Books’, and we were privileged to have two excellent speakers.

Max Whitby is CEO of Touch Press, who are leading the field in re-imagining the book for the iPad. Their latest app is the amazing Barefoot Books World Atlas, while previous titles include an interactive exploration of the solar system, a fascinating look at the world of skulls, and a multimedia version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land . They’ve also worked with Bjork on creating albums as apps.

John Mitchinson is a former head of marketing for Waterstones, the head of research for BBC’s high-brow quiz show QI, and the co-founder of Unbound – an innovative new business that crowdfunds books.

Max’s demo of his apps was probably the most eye-catching part of the evening, but the discussion covered many interesting areas.

The money

There was general agreement that the established business model of the publishing industry is in a parlous state, and that innovation is vital (John was at pains to point out that people at publishing houses are trying to do great work, in difficult times, for meagre rewards).

The apps produced by Touch Press are reaping huge profits through Apple’s App Store – crucially with a greater percentage of each sale going back to the publisher, and ultimately the author.

Unbound’s model allows for a 50/50 split of profits between author and publisher – again, far more than existing models allow.

Opportunities for authors

Max admitted that the costs involved in producing their apps meant they wouldn’t be publishing any first time novelists in the near future, but that the author (and excellent editing) are at the heart of what they do.

John highlighted several titles that have either raised or are currently raising funding through Unbound that, for different reasons, wouldn’t have seen the light of day (let alone any money) through traditional publishing.

‘The Fall of the House of Murdoch’ by Peter Jukes (who also joined us in the audience for the discussion) began as a blog on the Daily Kos, and couldn’t really have gone through the usual routes to market given its timely subject matter.

Charles Fernyhough’s ‘A Box of Birds’ is a literary thriller with the a neuroscientist lead character – Fernyhough was first published back in 1999, but has struggled to get this book out through traditional routes every since.

And while ‘We Can be Heroes’, a visual history of ’80s London clubland, may have been published in other ways, the strong community around the subject matter perfectly suits Unbound’s model.

Both speakers stressed the importance of authors having a ‘platform’, which is what Unbound in part provides.

Recreating the book

Although the Touch Press apps come with amazing multimedia and deep interactivity, Max was adamant that the book (and novel) as a form will continue to exist, and was highly skeptical of the hurling bells and whistles at books for little reason in order to enhance them.

John was happy to admit he’s a huge fan of Touch Press’s work, but was equally enthusiastic about the book as both a form and an object. He pointed out that it’s not the book that actually at threat, it’s the publishing business model. And people have heralded the end of the book everytime a new medium has come along (the first instance John has found is the emergence of music hall).


Touch Press has had brilliant promotion, and thus sales, through Apple’s App Store. They refuse to work with Amazon, due to the company’s demand that it can set pricing as low as it wants.

John voiced concerns about Amazon’s dominance in the book market, but accepted that this is the reality that needs to be worked with.

Both speakers stressed the importance of the author’s relationship with the audience (that’s the platform again).

Max and John both agreed that the internet and emerging digital platforms are a more disruptive invention for books than the printing press.

Exciting times.

Image above by Flickr user -boltron


UK tablet magazines: the stats

The magazine circulation figures were out yesterday. Fairly gloomy for lots of publishers, but one new addition this time is the audited figures for tablet editions.

Journalism.co.uk has a round-up of figures for the second half of 2011 here.

It’s the first time we’ve seen audited figures, and it’s still early days. Since Apple launched Newsstand (and with it proper subscriptions and entitlements for print subscribers) in mid-October, halfway through the audit period, we’ll have to wait until July for a clearer picture. But there are a few things to note.

Firstly, it’s evident that – with Cosmo as a notable exception – the leading titles are all skewed towards a male and/or techie readership. This is probably unsurprising, but as tablets continue to spread it’ll be interesting to see if this stays the same.

Secondly, there’s a mix of titles producing some manner of bespoke edition for the iPad (several using either the Adobe or Woodwing platforms), and titles that are just porting their print pdfs. Again, this is worth keeping an eye on – it’s far more expensive to go down the former route (even though making no attempt to optimise for the device seems insane in even the medium term), and publishers will all be doing the sums.

And then there’s the question mark over whether publishers should be producing replicas of their monthly editions in any form (which is done to be audited), instead of re-imagining their brands entirely for tablets.

Here’s the top ten as it stands…

Men’s Health: 7,779
T3: 7,327
GQ: 5,731
Cosmopolitan: 5,675
Men’s Fitness: 3,987
Esquire: 3,745
MacUser: 3,648
Stuff: 3,630
Wired: 3,190
Total Film: 2,910

Image above by pamhule


Future of Magazines at the V&A

As Clever Boxer, we’re running a series of events at the V&A around different aspects of the creative industries, all spinning off their excellent Power of Making exhibition.

The first event was entitled ‘Dead Wood: The Future of Magazines’, and as well as me speaking about iPad and tablet magazines we had Steve Watson of Stack giving an overview of the independent magazine sector, and Lucy Scott and Tina Smith of Lost in London talking about their experiences of lauching their own beautiful print magazine.

All the speakers were excellent, and we had lively debate and smart questions from those in attendance. Thomas Marks covered the event for the Telegraph.

We’ve got more events coming up at the V&A, several at the Soho House Group, and more to come during the year – check the website for details.

Image above by onepointzero.


Digital Magazine Awards 2011

The results are out for the Digital Magazine Awards 2011, and Condé Nast’s iPad apps had an excellent showing.

WIRED picked up Magazine of the Year for it’s iPad edition.

Having worked on WIRED from the launch of its first edition last autumn, it’s great to see their design team getting such a well-deserved plaudit. Genuinely awesomely creative people. Worth noting that WIRED also picked up the award for Tech and Gadget magazine, and the Editor award went to the formidable David Rowan.

On judge said: “WIRED has made the transition to digital effortlessly.” I can vouch for the fact that although it’s been a hugely rewarding journey, it was never effortless.

Also fantastic to see British Vogue pick up the award for best Fashion magazine. This was the latest launch I worked on using the Adobe DPS, and the design team went in completely a different direction to the other Condé titles (or indeed anyone else) – with beautiful results.

Congrats to everyone at Condé.


Vogue on the iPad

The December edition of British Vogue has arrived on the iPad.

Vogue had released two previous apps (both bespoke coded), but this is their first using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite.

It’s packed with beautifully shot videos, interactive photos, and clever moving typography and animations. It was hugely rewarding to work with the design team on this one (not least because they launched bang on time).

For the moment it’s a one-off, but look out for more from Vogue in 2012. WIRED, GQ and Vanity Fair are now running monthly on the iPad.

This is going to be my last wave of tablet editions for Condé Nast as iPad Projects Manager. I’m still going to be working with the company and its titles, but with some other projects running alongside.


Condé Nast iPad editions

The Condé Nast iPad roll-out continues.

WIRED, GQ and Vanity Fair are all now producing monthly iPad editions.

The good news is that we also rebuilt our apps in time to be included in Apple’s Newsstand on launch day. Newsstand is good news for newspaper and mag publishers, as titles will no longer be hidden away in the mass of other apps out there.

Vogue is launching on the iPad using the Adobe DPS for the December edition (previous Vogue forays onto the iPad in the UK were custom-built apps).


Make Shift magazine

On the weekend of 13-14th August, as part of the Power and Production weekend at the Southbank Centre, a group of writers, editors, designers, photographers and illustrators got together to produce an entire magazine in 48 hours. I went along to see if I could help.

It was all overseen by the brilliant Steve Watson of Stack Magazines, and Jeremy Leslie of MagCulture. The atmosphere was brilliant in a hectic way, and the guys did an awesome job of finishing it off.

I did a bit of editing and cutting, and interviewed Mark Butler-Adams, MD of Brompton Bicycles Ltd.

You can flick through the finished mag here.


Rich Mix Devcamp

As part of our ongoing Trashed project, I’ve spent the last three weeks helping to deliver the Devcamp app-building courses at Rich Mix.

The impetus for the courses came from Joe Cohen, CEO of Seatwave, and they ran as part of the Futureversity scheme that puts on activities for teenagers across London over the summer holidays. Our courses were for 13-18 year olds, and the aim was to get them creating working apps by the end of each week.

Week #1 was smartphone apps, with Ian Masters coming in to get the kids producing fantastic games for Android handsets using the smart (and free) framework Corona.

Week #2 was Facebook apps, with Satwant Kenth from Apps for Good leading the course.

The final week was web apps, led by me, and focusing on HTML with a bit of PHP.

Silicon Valley Bank also backed the project. We had huge support from SVB, Seatwave, Facebook, Skimlinks and Technlightenment providing heaps of volunteers to come in and work with the students.

Brilliant apps were produced, and we hope to do a lot more of these kind of projects in the future. Many thanks to Olwen and everyone else at Rich Mix for inviting us to work on the courses and helping them go so well.