Inside Publishing’s First Hackathon

Evoke, map view

Character map from Evoke by Jill Axline, Lisa Maione and Jason Pearson

As readers increasingly find their books online rather than in brick-and-mortar bookstores, publishers are looking for digital strategies to introduce people to the books they’ll want to read. The first “Publishing Hackathon” recently brought together innovators from the worlds of publishing, design and technology to conceptualize new ways to connect readers and books—without the bookshelves.

Hackathons have become a tried-and-true approach for the collaborative development of apps and websites, but the Publishing Hackathon was the first time the book industry has officially hosted one of the competitive matchups. Publishing has yet to find the “killer app” that recreates the pleasant surprise of coming across an interesting, unexpected title when browsing a bookstore. Buying anything is now as easy as pushing a button, but with the staggering choice of over 200,000 books published every year, how do readers decide which book is right for them?

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Discovering Digital Books

BookWall: Titles

BookWall by Anke Stohlmann, Jennings Hanna, Rae Milne and Willa Tracosas

Thanks to e-readers, we can now carry entire collections of our favorite titles with us—something that’s especially welcome in the warmer months, when we can dip into a book during an impromptu stop in the park or on a longer sojourn at the beach. But for all their convenience, e-readers aren’t much of help when we’re trying to decide what to read next. In this newsletter, we take a look at the ways designers and publishers are helping readers browse and discover digital books—without judging them by their covers, or flipping through their pages.

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Publishing as a Group Activity

Illustrations from Li'l Stories

We recently used Kickstarter to successfully launch our project Li’l Stories, and we’d like to share our own story of how the crowdfunding platform became an important part of our design process—and how it may point the way to a new kind of publishing.

Like many designers, we’ve dreamed up ideas for more projects than we know what to do with—products that were never realized because we had no idea of how we could find the funding to get them off the ground. Kickstarter is a remarkable crowdsourcing platform that helps you find backers for your creative projects. Along the way it helps you shape the marketing for your product, as well as your plans for fabrication and distribution. Best of all, it allows you to get to know the people who back your project—your potential customers—who become an important part of the process and have a rooting interest in your project’s success.

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Introducing Li’l Stories

Li'l Stories cards

In addition to our client work, we often come up with ideas for personal projects that we’d like to pursue and develop. This month we’re pleased to announce our first Kickstarter project, developed in collaboration by Li’l Robin’s Anke Stohlmann and her husband Richard Baker, and inspired by their daughter, Luna.

Luna loves stories, and when she was younger Anke and Richard told them to her all the time—in the morning, on the train, over dinner, at bedtime. But sometimes they found it challenging to tell a captivating story on the spot—coming up with a funny, mysterious or whimsical plot on demand is hard. (Luna may be Anke’s toughest client.)

Thus we’ve created Li’l Stories, a series of cards that stack the deck, so to speak, with elements—characters, locations, and objects—for the start of a good story. The cards are tools for parents to help make storytelling a little easier and a lot more fun. We’re launching the project via Kickstarter, and our supporters will be able to contribute their own ideas for cards in the series.

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Digital Books That Feel Like Books

James Bridle project: Bookcubes

Bookcubes by James Bridle/Image: James Bridle

In the relatively short history of the e-book, the format has mostly been considered as a digital means of delivering text. But books have always been more than this; they are objects that are seen, used, collected, felt. This month we take a look at how designers are working to incorporate these experiences into digital books.

For all their convenience, e-books leave something to be desired for many readers, who enjoy the physical qualities of paper books and how they shape the reading experience. These include knowing how far you’ve come in a book, and how much further you have to go; easily flipping back to an earlier chapter or passage to remind yourself of a character’s origins or actions, or to revisit a bit of plot; and making the text your own by slipping in a bookmark, dog-earring a corner, or writing your own notes in the margins. At the same time, readers like to see what others are reading, and keeping books as souvenirs. (When we visit someone’s home, we can’t help checking out their shelves to get an idea of their interests or personality.) E-book designers are now exploring ways to integrate these essential aspects into digital reading.

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