Publishing For Digital Minds Conference Opens London Book Fair Monday

Pillor Hall at Olympia London - Image:
Pillor Hall at Olympia London – Image:

Setting The Tone In A New Setting

Putting together a major publishing conference program is never easy. But putting one together to open one of the year’s leading trade shows is particularly tricky: there are a lot of competing interests, most of them on the commercial side of the industry. And the audience for one of these events may be among the most eclectic of the year.

Three major trade shows — London Book Fair (April 14-16), BookExpo America (May 27-31), and Frankfurt Book Fair (October 14-18) — feature extensive conference activity as part of their offerings.

London Book Fair's Publishing for Digital Minds -- #PDMC15 -- is the first of the year's major trade-show-opening publishing conferences.
London Book Fair’s Publishing for Digital Minds — #PDMC15 — is the first of the year’s major trade-show-opening publishing conferences. Image: Porter Anderson

And the first of these conference curtain-raisers goes up on Monday.

Publishing for Digital Minds opens with 9 a.m. coffee. Organizers are stressing that if you’re in London and want to attend, there still will be some seats left and available on Monday morning: you can buy at the event, and your ticket will include access to London Book Fair, itself. Advance purchase is available all weekend here.

Publishing for Digital Minds is hashtagged #PDMC15 this year, and for the first time in recent memory will be at the same venue as London Book Fair itself (opening Tuesday): Olympia London. #LBF15 is providing information on getting to the venue here. Those of us accustomed to heading for Earls Court will be working overtime to reorient ourselves to the Shepherd’s Bush area. Event facilities on the Olympia site trace a 126-year history, laid out in a handy timeline here.

Orna O'Brien
Orna O’Brien

The conference is again this year helmed by Reed Exhibitions Conference Manager Orna O’Brien, among our most seasoned producers of these events.

In charge of the whole range of conference activities, the affable O’Brien oversees not only Digital Minds but also the Education-focused What Works? program, the wide-ranging Insights series of seminar events, and the interesting new half-day Literary Festival Forum on 16th April.

It all starts Monday, however, when O’Brien’s Publishing for Digital Minds is opened at 9:30 a.m. London time (4:20 a.m. Eastern) by London Book Fair Director Jacks Thomas.

This year, O’Brien has had extensive support and backup from Midas PR’s Chris McCrudden, and her conference co-chair people are Sam Missingham of HarperCollins and John Mitchinson of Unbound.

In those two personalities alone — Missingham and Mitchinson — you glimpse the fine line being walked between the great heritage of publishing in the UK and the new demands and opportunities of the digital dynamic: HarperCollins is one of the Big Four of UK publishing, a house of immense achievement and reach, while Unbound is one of the most-honored of a new breed of publishers, incorporating crowd-funding with publication and high-level physical book production.

And the trio of Thomas, Missingham, and Mitchinson will be introducing the 2015 opener to a major new round of industry-intensive conference events.

Two Keynotes And Some ‘Curiosity’

Author David Nicholls (Us, 2014; One Day, 2010) is the first to speak, followed by Rob Newlan, Facebook’s “Creative Shop” head for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa — most recently heard speaking at IfBookThen in Milan.

After those two keynote addresses are heard, Penguin Random House’s Hannah Telfer will give a talk titled “Curiouser and Curiouser: Publishing in a Digital Wonderland. Telfer spoke at The FutureBook Conference last November and was well-received for her talk about how the new values and focus on consumer research shouldn’t overrun an understanding and appreciation of tradition and history. She was quoted by my colleague Charlotte Eyre at The Bookseller as saying:

Less than a quarter of UK population are on Twitter. It’s really about being curious and asking not only what people are doing but why they are doing it. Why do people respond to diff types of content? Why do certain books get them talking?

In a way, Telfer’s viewpoint is helpful to many of us: A great deal of what’s already known may still be valuable. But new modes of engagement require new thinking and strategy. and that’s what much of the remainder of Monday’s Digital Minds will investigate.

The Grand Hall at Olympia London. Image:
The Grand Hall at Olympia London. Image:

Niches Of Newness

As I mentioned, in fact, here at Thought Catalog in London Book Fair’s ‘Digital Minds’ Keep Heading Offshore, a deepening sense for the international perspective has been evident in the put-together of this year’s Digital Minds conference, much of that vested in the Virtual Conference program of last month.

While that’s one very big and completely unavoidable trend, here are some of the attendant directions and defining issues.

  • Marketing: A “New Trends” session is chaired by Macmillan’s formidable marketing chief Sara Lloyd with panelists including Blathnaid Healy of Mashable; James Whatley of Ogilvy and Mather; and Maya Robert, one of Lloyd’s Macmillan colleagues.
  • Subscriptions: With Nathan Hull of Mofibo at the helm on this one, panelists Lisa Van Der Herik of Iannoo-Meulenhoff; Curtrud Smith of Linhardt og Ringhof; and Doug Stambaugh of Simon & Schuster will serve as panelists.
  • Digital sharing: This is the province of Copyright Clearance  Center, and its Michael Healy will be with us to update the issues in the field now.
  • Amazon: A topic all its own, frankly, the Seattle-based retailer, publisher, and platform is the focus of a talk by The Guardian’s Charles Arthur. When I asked him what he’d be approaching the subject, Arthur was rightfully cagey — no need to give things away — and gave it to me this way:

Amazon is a terrific shop but not so great at hardware; the Kindle isn’t the threat it might seem; there are benefits to publishing from what Amazon has instituted. And not everything bad we see around us is Amazon’s fault necessarily.

Should be interesting.

Other issues, from global market snapshots for China, Norway, and India, to mobile reading (and  marketing); technology in education; and new publishing models, all are on tap.

After the presentations of a slate of Digital Innovation Awards finalists, the day will close with the UK Publishers Association’s Richard Mollet chairing a Question Time-style event with HarperCollins’ UK chief Charlie Redmayne; Cambridge University Press’ Mandy Hill; and Liverpool University’s Andrew Barker.

And while good conversation in breaks and good wishes for a profitable new year will be the order of the day, you’ll watch folks leave Monday evening — if past years are any indication — with looks of almost grim determination on their faces. The major conferences are positioned, and rightly, as celebrations acknowledgements of accomplishments and progress. But underlying them is the fact that much remains not only to be done but to be learned about the road ahead.

A digital disruption doesn’t play out quickly, we have learned. These stops along the way to take stock, take a breath, take a look around in the conference setting can be important moments for those…Digital Minds.Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson is a journalist focused on books and the industry! the industry! of publishing.

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