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Sunday, January 18, 2009

BookCamp & Future of Books on the Tube

On Saturday I attended a fascinating event hosted by
Penguin Books about books and "book-like" technologies called BookCamp 09. Regular readers of this blog will know that the future of reading & books is pet interest of mine. But it also seems like loads of you are also interested in it too - if the comments on a previous post on the Future of Books were anything to go by.

The Penguin book of Penguin from BookCamp09

Saturday's event was no exception either and it was great to be in a space filled with publishers, authors, writers, geeks, web people, agents, bloggers, illustrators etc all exploring what might happen to the book in the future and whether or how our experience of reading will change.

Penguin Books have been a massive part of my life, as were their children's imprint, Puffin, when I was growing up. To me, they represent paperbacks & I still see loads of their orange spines & the familiar logo on my London Underground journeys. We were all kindly given a copy of The Penguin book of Penguin (pictured) above, which tells the story of the publisher and where it (and books) may be heading in the future.

Reading it on the Tube home, I learnt that Allen Lane, Penguin's founder, actually launched the business as a result of finding himself stranded on a railway platform with nothing to read. He searched a station kiosk in vain looking for something affordable, yet of good quality to read for his journey. The rest is history and it's interesting to see that at one time Penguin sold their books in "Penguincubators" dispensers like chocolate dispensers at stations

Penguincubator by Mags L Halliday

They've always been about spreading reading as widely as possible and it's great to see this includes an interest in non paper based books & online formats.

Many people at BookCamp, I'm sure will be blogging and writing about the event. We may even see a physical book as part of the discussions. Keep an eye on the wiki and Penguin's blog for more.

One of the sessions I found most interesting was on the future of children & books, led by fab children's author Alex Milway. We talked about whether children are reading more or less, what can be done (if anything) to make books capture short attention spans, can books ever compete with gaming, is gaming something that can help children read more or tell stories and whether any of this is important at the end of the day.

As Cory Doctorow who was at this session said, much of what we see in the media is not really celebrating kids that ARE reading but it focusses on kids who are not – ie the reluctant reader.

Reading papers on the Tube

I don't see many teenagers reading books on the Tube - or rather I see a lot more adults reading books than kids. However, that's not to say they're not reading. Metro and free papers like the londonpaper seem to be really popular with teenagers.

How much of that is to do with them being free or whether today's commuting kids are more interested in the news than escaping with a book, I don't know. Perhaps it's the bitesize "internet-like" format of tabloids that's important to them.

Gadget Man - Interesting e-reader on the Tube

However, as the dustjacket to the Penguin Book of Penguin says there's nothing about books to really stop them from being one of the most advanced forms of entertainment we have. Books can be paused at any time. We can re-wind or replay them if we miss a bit. There's infinite choice, they're free to share, a lot of them fit in our pockets & they're pretty cheap to run!

Nabaztag book reading rabbit at BookCamp 09 Story telling playing cards at BookCamp 09
Some of my photos from BookCamp - a few more here

The more this "interactivity", fun and "shareability" is promoted, the more chance we'll have of reading continuing and not being a lost art to future generations. Whatever happens, the book in its physical paper form or in an ebook or other digital format isn't going to go away. Perhaps in the future I might be seeing fewer paperbacks on Tube journeys, but until e-readers and electronic books come down massively in price, I don't think that will be any time soon.


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