Three weeks ago I found myself square in the middle of a hangar sized conference hall filled with book publishers. I was in awe. I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the annual gathering of all things book related. As my boss, The CEO of MarkLogic, Dave Kellogg said “This *is* the long tail of books.” Wandering around the event grounds (the fairgrounds are over 6 million square feet) one can find everyone and everything related to books from publishers and printing presses to thin paper specialists and folks making wood and stone books. It is fantastically overwhelming.
The conference is dominated by publishers. Thousands attend representing a hundred countries.
What I am interested in is where books are going. If I could find someone making stone books I figured I would also find cutting edge technologists showing off the future of books. The future of the book seemed to be simply the book in digital form on one of various eReaders. Not the exciting peek behind the curtain that I was expecting.
This technology thread was well represented of course. New eReaders, iPhone and iPad apps, conversion tools, and any number of services firms were on hand to help. But all of these technologies and people seemed to be looking at the book through the same lens, the lens of the book as an object, a complete work that should never be experienced in part. In the world of music this is akin to being limited to buying music an album at a time.
The customers I work with are pushing the boundaries. They are both big and small publishers. Some of them have gone so far as to look at the user generated conversation around a book as possibly more important than the book itself. In this cohort it is increasingly common to see the book not as an object but as content that can be used, reused, and expanded upon. Content is the key to the kingdom.
Yet everything I saw was about complete books. I certainly could have missed a vendor or two doing something interesting but it certainly was not present as a theme. While I applaud the efforts of folks to bring the book into the digital age I missed the folks doing creative work with their content (One exception was Springer although the downplayed their compelling efforts to date), going beyond the book. Maybe this is the wrong forum, maybe the majority of publishers simply have not made much progress to date, but I look forward to seeing publishers reinvent the way content is used and shared, exciting times are afoot but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the FBF10.