Interaction is Key in Children’s Publishing

Whilst mooching about the Internet today – largely job-hunting – I came across Nosy Crow’s ‘Vine’ captures; small clips demonstrating how utterly cool their children’s apps are. It is using the Internet and technology in these creative ways that make Children’s publishing so exciting and vibrant. Having fun is part of the job and that’s why I am drawn to it.

Of course, there is more to working in Children’s than messing around with apps all day, it is a serious business after all. However, it is innovative things like this, the humour, the quirks that just give me little fizzes of joy and excitement! In fact, this entire post almost solely an excuse to share how fun the apps look… I am still a child at heart.

The above Vine from Nosy Crow demonstrating how a reader can interact with a story, or app, via a touchscreen; the hidden little ‘easter eggs’ and behaviours engage interest, build enthusiasm and above all, make reading FUN for children (and adults….). This concept is by no means new, merely a re-imagining, the contemporary equivalent of pop-up and interactive books.

One of my favourite books remains to this day, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, published in the 80s. The idea of reading a book and the ‘letters’ the eponymous postie delivers to various fairytale characters completely enthralled me’. It is indicative of the appeal interaction holds that means the book has stuck with me 20-something years later. I am also unashamed to say that it still gives me the same feeling of excitement despite being a ‘grown-up’! The Jolly Postman has now sold over 6 million copies and remains in print with Puffin over twenty years later..

Reading should engage with children in order for them to build interest and expand their horizons. The technology now exists to improve and expand upon the reading experience in a multimedia fashion.I pray it doesn’t overtake print but instead enhances the activity to a point where even the most stiffened imagination cannot help but waiver and become lost in another world. I wouldn’t like to see the written word pushed out in favour of imagery and audio, no matter the medium. This is already seems to be happening, with the advent of tablets, smartphones and e-readers, our attention spans are shortening and adapting to quicker influxes on content and information. Children’s collective attention is increasingly drawn into audiovisual content, they know no other alternative. Technology and the ‘always-on’ mentality is brewing a mindset in children which means they struggle to concentrate on reading and writing.

By carefully balancing technology and literary content, Nosy Crow are walking the line down the middle. By taking an older premise – interactive books – and applying this to the children of the digital era, Nosy Crow (and doubtless, others) are creating content that satisfies the digital expectations of the young whilst ensuring they are enriched further by the written content.

Surely Amazon Needs Stopping?

Amazon: The Playground Bully

Amazon.

The bane in the lives of all retailers, publishers and anybody attempting to sell products in the modern world is set to get worse and I do not understand how they can be allowed to become so dominant.

I will admit, I find it horrendously convenient to buy things from Amazon and it has opened up a world of online shopping to myself and countless others. However, I have found it increasingly disturbing how they are being allowed to create a monopoly over multiple industries, manufacturers, and the wider retail environment. It is indicative that searching for ‘competition laws’ and ‘Amazon’ merely brings up titles on competition law that are available to purchase through… you guessed it, Amazon! *facepalm*

I remember, back in the good ol’ days of my youth, there was uproar and accusations that Microsoft held a monopoly over the technology and personal computing market. This seems to have abated to a degree with the resurrection (and near sanctification) of Macintosh and Apple products in recent years. Alongside the boom in mobile computing, smartphones and tablet use, the consumer appetite into now becoming divided into smaller segments (get me with my food-based/apple analogies!) and not before time.

So will the same happen for Amazon as time rolls on? How can one company maintain such a strong market position and be allowed to get away with it without contravening any laws of monopoly or competition? I cannot pretend to understand those complex matters but I have my own layperson’s perspective.

Amazon are not a monopoly.

They do not maintain, nor hold an indomitable position within any singular business or industry, even bookselling and publishing. Instead, they have a healthy portion of many, many separate industries that arguably do not constitute a monopoly (yet). Secondly, it seems that every country, such as the U.S.A, the U.K or the wider European Union have their own laws, the latter specifically holds online laws. How does this work alongside an online entity which operates in multiple countries and delivers across continents?

In regards to the publishing industry, I think there is a degree of laissez-faire attitude and shutting the door after the horse has bolted. I’ve come across countless publisher’s websites on my travels who have NO facility for direct B2C purchasing and this boggles my mind. B2B is great, it has worked for publishing houses for countless years but this is age where this has to change.

Publishers are too reliant on the B2B model; cut out the middle man! Amazon cannot sell books if the publishers do not supply them with the products. Thankfully the brave folks at Hachette woke up to this nonsense a few months back, took a stand and didn’t give in to Amazon’s unfair and outrageous pricing demands. If more companies joined them, then they can instigate collective pressure on Amazon – and to a degree, other bookselling outlets – to create a fair and equal discounting system (if they INSIST on maintaining this) and begin crawling toward B2C product distribution.

In the modern world, it seems that two things drive the purchasing choice of consumers; price and convenience. Unfortunately due to the collapse of the Net Book agreement, these heavy-handed drives for discounts I fear have only damaged the publishing industry and turned the bookselling marketplace into a chaotic, multi-coloured, money-off temptations that the industry will never be able to back track. Their only hope is to adopt B2C like no tomorrow.

If people can set up their own e-commerce businesses out of their garage, then publishers can do the same. The money saved from the heavy discounting can be ploughed into building self-owned distribution centres. I know this is easier said than done, and what do I know? I’m a publishing ‘noob’, but to me sometimes the only answer is to make big changes. To use another food analogy, if you were starving, would you give away that chunk of bread you have come across? No, you’d hang onto it for dear life, cram it in and munch, then you would go and look for more. You have to look after yourself, rather than feed the person next to you and starve. It sounds pretty cut-throat but I am seeing the publishing industry teetering on the edge….

Innovation is marvellous and brilliant. New products, stellar fiction novels, new prizes and e-sourcing of content is great, but what are you going to do if Amazon, the big playground bully, comes along and rips those new toys from your clutches? Innovate and change the way in which you do business people. Protect your toys people and say no to the bullies!

 

Young Adult Fiction – Why Do We Feel Ashamed?

I recently read a deep, dark secret posted on the ‘Whisper’ app. The nature of it saddened me, but I immediately felt empathy and kinship toward the poster.

I too have the same condition, a condition which is not well understood but that must be highlighted in today’s publishing world.

The whisper said:

Whisper

I understand you anonymous user, I understand.

Aside from the fact that this person feels ashamed enough to post this on an anonymous app along with people’s admissions of infidelity, it begs the question why this is an activity to feel ashamed of. It also casts an eye on why, perhaps, there has been a rise in adult readers of Children’s/Young Adult fiction.

I fully understand where this person is coming from. I am in the same age bracket and I too got very excited recently when I discovered a box of ‘vintage’ pony stories at a local fair. I became less excited when I saw the astronomical price that had been attached to these musty tomes of equestrian wonders, but that is by the by. What got me so excited was the chance to relive my childhood reading, when I truly read for the enjoyment of the stories being told, the characters and the worlds they inhabited.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy adult fiction but I don’t read fiction to plunge myself into worlds of misery, serious issues or thought-provoking narratives. I read to escape from the realities of life, much like the Whisper user. When the world around us can seem to dark and foreboding, why would I choose to continue this in my imagination?

A recent Guardian article saw author, Non Pratt, express the same sentiment:

I read because my soul sings when I’m lost in a good narrative or caught up with characters I wish were real. I read because I love reading, not because I crave the reward of being stretched.

Regarding young adult fiction, I think that a lot of us, mainly identifiying with ‘Generation Y’ in particular, read young adult fiction is that it is what we know and what we identify with still.

I feel that the literary behemoth that still is Harry Potter also holds a portion of the blame. For the first time in my memory, which granted isn’t particularly lengthy, a book series appeared that held an almost universal appeal. From the teachers who read it to their classes of eager (we hope) listeners to parents who read it at storytime to their own children, adults were sucked, en-masse, into a world that was supposed to be for children. Yet, as we now know, the story progressed down a far darker route than was initially anticipated during the opening chapters of Philosopher’s Stone and became a narrative that held you in its grip.

As they had an incremental release over the course of a decade, those same children grew up with the story as a constant in their lives. For readers like me who discovered Philosopher’s Stone at the age of 12 in 1997, remained faithful to the end with the release of Deathly Hallows in 2007 when I was at the grand age of 22.

The parents and teachers who started reading the books to their children as fresh-faced thirty-somethings finished them as forty-odd year old adults. We were conditioned (if you will) to enjoy these books no matter your age and the books were accessible and entertaining; Harry Potter became the acceptable face of Children’s and Young Adult crossover reading. To this day, I am still aghast at anyone who hasn’t read it, or at least tried.

When the Potter series ended, many readers were left bobbing, lost in a wake of similarly bereft muggles. Some moved onto other things, but the mantle of ‘obsessive book series’ was already being taken up by the ‘Twilight Saga’; a book aimed at the young adult market but that now had an easier path to tread in reaching the 20-somethings. Potter had broken down the genre/age barrier and made it acceptable for adults to read books which were aimed at a younger audience. Twilight was then soon eclipsed (pardon the inadvertant pun) by ‘The Hunger Games’. Interestingly, all have been turned into major motion picture series which only further extends their lifespan and accessibility.

In a turbulent world, many readers like myself seek to suspend ourselves from reality and escape into someone else’s life. Who knows, there may also be a sense of returning back to a younger age when there is inherently more optimism, choices yet to be made or is it a way of unmaking your mistakes? We all like to live in a fantasy land of what could be, should be; young adult fiction also provides the older reader with a mental ‘do-over’ if you will.

I cannot pretend to be a psychologist, I am sure there are many more educated reasons and theories that I can propose in a blog post. Why shouldn’t adults read books? The world will not fall into apocalyptic anarchy if I read ‘Noddy Goes to Toyland’ tomorrow, will it?

Matt Haig recently wrote an article in favour of Young Adult reading that is far more succinct that I could ever hope to be.

He argues, and I agree:

It’s not what you read, but how you read it. Never judge what someone else reads or why they read it. You don’t own the rights to culture.

Reading shouldn’t be a competition. Reading shouldn’t have a snobbery value. I shouldn’t be frowned upon because I enjoy Rowling more than D.H. Lawrence. I enjoy the authors I read, irregardless of the literary merit imposed upon them by a select group of critics with fixed ideas on what makes ‘good fiction’.

Instead, we should celebrate the fact that people still love to read in an age when there are a multitude of gadgets and devices that vye for our attention. Why does it matter to one person what the other reads? If they enjoy it, then support it, encourage it, otherwise we, as the collective publishing industry, are just putting a gun to our proverbial head.

Trade fiction publishing is fighting a battle against the likes of technology, on all fronts, to maintain its position as a provider of entertainment.

The profits from Harry Potter has allowed Bloomsbury to flourish and publish a host of literary fiction, and Mantel has undoubtedly done the same for other imprints and lists at HarperCollins. It is crucial that this continues and fiction carries on engaging the imagination of its readers and writers. Publishing is a business at its heart and any successful business needs to be self-supporting; running down one genre will act as a direct detriment to the others.

It is at this point that I realise I have rambled away from my initial topic of conversation, but literary snobbery is something that gets to me. My A-Level Media Studies (it is harder than it looks!) teacher once said ‘Everything has a purpose, everything has an audience’ and this has stuck with me to this day. When studying art at college, graphic design at University and now being a publishing graduate, I have always believed that everything has its own purpose and audience. It may not be your personal cup of charlie, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy than another and this goes for film, art, tv, music or literature.

I’m not sure anyone can convince me otherwise, just ask my bookshelves upstairs. I’m sure Peter Rabbit, Sally Lockhart, The Saddle Club and Polgara the Sorceress will have a thing or two to say.

The Penguin is no longer Random

Throughout my studies, the merger of Penguin and Random House has been one of the headline stories that has kept re-emerging. It was with a heavy heart that I read of the merger, believing that the quirky little penguin that everyone knows and loves will become eclipsed by the House of Randomness, much in the way the Wicked Witch of the East found her relationship with Dorothy’s house to be a little overbearing.

Neither can I say I was particularly pleased with the temporary logo that had an air of “Oh my God, we forgot about the logo!” about it when it was released at the same time; a frankly unimaginative merger of the two icons with little coherency.

Penguin Random House Temporary Logo

Penguin Random House Temporary Logo

 

The heavy, sans-serif typeface left me full of confusion. I guess it was an approximation of Tschichold’s infamous use of ‘Gill Sans’ on the classic Penguin covers, but this face has subtle differences and without the use of colour to graphically link with the iconic colour bands, it loses its association with the original covers.

Not to mention that it just seems a little haphazard (dare I say lazy?) to just place the two logos next to each other in an obvious graphical representation of the name. So imagine my relief when this week, PRH revealed their redesigned, global wordmark. At first, I will admit, I feared for the fate of our feathered friend, but when reading the reasonings behind the design and seeing how it works alongside individual imprint colophons, I felt it was a overall success.

I feel that the ‘wordmark’ reflects the new stage in PRH’s development. It makes sense to forge a new global identity as, after all, this is a new global company, yet the dual streaks of orange proffer a nod to the quintessential Penguin brand. When placed to individual imprint logos, it doesn’t look out of place and has a sense of coherency that the temporary identity lacked.

It also allows each imprint, which include Dorling Kindersley and Penguin who respectfully have strong individual identities, to stand on their own two metaphorical feet. The link is maintained to the umbrella PRH company, yet the orange streak physically divides the two, thus ensuring the survival of the randomly wandering penguin (and friends!).

I was also relieved to read that Michael Bierut, one of today’s most eminent and respected graphic designers, was involved in the creation of the new wordmark. When explaining his reasonings behind the design, he and his team at Pentagram wanted to steer away from a direct amalgamation of the two companies into one logo and instead took a step back:

“… it didn’t make sense to create a new symbol for a company that already has 250 symbols, none of which are going away, and each of which has its own heritage and value.The challenge was to come up with a wordmark that could at once provide a strong endorsement for each of the imprint symbols, and that could in turn gain itself in meaning through association with them.” – Pentagram Design

Being somewhat trained as a graphic and web designer, this must have seemed like a monumental task, but I think Bierut, et al. have created a dynamic and successful identity. I especially love how they have used an entirely new typeface, Jeremy Mickel’s ‘Shift Light’ to emphasise the new wordmark as being a singular publishing identity. As stated by Bierut, Shift is a development from ‘typewriter’ fonts, such as Courier that reflect the literary nature of Penguin Random House’s business. By using the light font weight, the ‘typewriter’ link isn’t explicitly obvious and crass, neither does it impinge on the individual logo identities it will be paired with. I also love the quirky curved serifs on the ascenders and the ear on the lowercase g (a particular favourite of mine).

Demonstration of the new wordmark with imprint logos. Courtesy of Pentagram

Demonstration of the new wordmark with imprint logos. Courtesy of Pentagram

So all in all, despite my initial reservations, I think Penguin Random House, Bierut and everyone at Pentagram have succeeded in re-envisaging the PRH brand going forward into a future. It is dangerous territory to mess with perhaps the only identifiable brand in publishing, but by respecting this, the tuxedo-suited flappy chappie lives on and together, they can build an even stronger, modern identity that can hopefully capitalise on Penguin’s historic recognition with the public.

Bouncing Back

Blurbify Logo

Well, dear reader (i’m still using the singular as i’m sure my audience hasn’t risen much), my publishing course is now complete and I’m job-hunting in the big wide publishing world.

The cause for my lack of posts was sheer workload. I’ve been so focused on creating, building, writing, screaming, cursing, despairing, celebrating and rejoicing over my dissertation project that I have had little time for writing my normal, beguiling words of publishing amazingness. I’ve been itching to write articles and keep seeing new ideas and finding opinions everyday that I wish to share.

The dissertation project, as it happens, was to build ‘Blurbify’; a collective blog for all of the students on the MA Publishing course, past and present. As such, any articles I have had time to write have appeared on there, along with a host of other insightful commentary from my fellows. I learnt a lot about content editing and now I keep seeing where I can improve Bookends. I must admit, at this stage I have little energy to revamp it but maybe in future? For now, I rather like having my little simplistic corner of the web where I can behave exactly how I want!

If you like, you can always pop over to Blurbify and check it out; after all it’s sorta kinda the sister blog to Bookends. I learnt it all here first!

You may also find in future, blog posts appear here and then on Blurbify at the same time – I like to keep both up-to-date and fresh but of course, I can’t go filling Blurbify with my postings every day!

Amazon’s Book Returns Policy

Well, it’s been a while, but I’ve just been subject to an incident that I cannot understand and invite you all to help.

Here is the story.

After purchasing Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Sins of the Father’ as a Christmas present for my father from Amazon, it turns out that my mother ALSO purchased a hardback copy despite knowing I’d put it on my order. The idea was to add it to mine to save postage, this was forgotten and so we ended up with two.

This morning, as in my usual fits of forgetfulness, I realised I had yet to return my copy, a paperback purchased for £4.50. I just went to fill out the form and they have told me “Here, have your refund but don’t worry, keep the book”.

Saaaaaaaay what now?

I guess it is more of a pain in the proverbial to process an item with relatively little value. Considering the RRP was £7.99 and sold to me for £4.49 – a 43% discount (remarkably low for Amazon) although I see now the book is selling for a paltry £3.86 in paperback which demonstrates that Amazon clearly jack their prices up pre-Christmas!

Even so, the fact that they can write off losses like this troubles me. In some ways, it benefits the publishing industry as they do not have to deal with paying out on returns, but they must’ve sold to Amazon at a hefty discount in the first place. That trade paperbacks aren’t valued highly and seen as disposable by Amazon is unsettling. I suppose it is no different from returning/pulping.

I am just agog – of course, it does WONDERS for their customer service and perception. After all, who isn’t going to like freebies?
Maybe I should just go to the dark side and work for Amazon Publishing.

So what is this all about? Am I right in thinking it is just too much of a palaver for them to process minor returns? Is this a good or bad thing for publishing?

Any thoughts? Get commenting!